Following recent publicity over allegations of child labour and poor working conditions at DRC artisanal cobalt mines, Apple has announced that it will this year begin to include cobalt suppliers in its due diligence protocols. They will use a similar approach to existing ‘conflict minerals’ programmes operating there for tin, tungsten and tantalum.
Issues over cobalt mining in the DRC were raised by an Amnesty International report in January 2016. The Washington Post and more recently Sky News have published their own investigations.
DRC produces around 50% of cobalt global supply, one-fifth of which is produced from artisanal mines by miners known locally as creusseurs. Most of the ore is channelled through traders to Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, China who process the cobalt for supply, mainly to lithium ion battery producers.
Apple estimates that 20 per cent of the cobalt it uses in batteries comes from Huayou Cobalt. It will now temporarily halt artisanal cobalt supply from the DRC and work with Hauyou Cobalt to verify individual mines. Aware that mining provides a vital income for hundreds of thousands of people in the world’s poorest countries Apple had pledged that these mines “will re-enter our supply chain when we are confident that the appropriate protections are in place.”
A significant volume of both cobalt and copper are mined artisanally in the Katanga area of DRC, close to where iTSCi is currently implemented and already managing risks of conflict and human rights concerns such as child labour in 3T mineral supply chains.