Global supply chains are being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 3T mineral supply chain is no exception. Companies are faced with difficult decisions to manage health risks and act rapidly to ensure their businesses survive through the short term. ITSCI members are generally smaller companies with limited means to ride-out these extraordinary circumstances, and the ITSCI Programme, as well as the livelihoods of local mining communities, are dependent on continued trading of our members. This, as well as operating on the ground in high risk areas, creates unique challenges.

To ensure the safety of our staff, as well as to support member companies, government and civil society stakeholders, we have taken a proactive approach and developed a simple pictorial guide focusing on measures to suppress the spread of the disease. We have made the guide available in English, French, Lingala, Swahili, Kirundi, and Kinyarwanda and are seeking funding to re-purpose our network of field teams and communication infrastructure in the remotest areas of central Africa to help raise awareness as widely as possible among the tens of thousands of people in the 3T mining communities.

In addition to the serious implications for people’s health, COVID-19 is having a dramatic negative impact on businesses, particularly in countries where the feasibility of financial support from government cannot be guaranteed. The combination of depressed markets and mineral pricing, with lockdown of major smelters, and logistical barriers to trading such as border closures for personnel, make the fight to continue business activities even harder. During these unique and challenging circumstances companies are willing to address the specific issues impacting the sector, whether setting up hand washing stations, or sourcing personal protective equipment, but have limited resources to go further in the current unprecedented negative trading environment.

To support our members as they plan their response to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, we’ve been providing them with regular updates and practical insights into the evolving situation in the Great Lakes Region. As our programme is implemented at cost with no profit, the dramatic fall in metal prices and therefore mineral trading is a significant challenge. We have also reduced our activities on the ground in all areas, and, when required to comply with government advice, our staff are working from home. Non-essential expenditure on training, equipment replacement, travel and other similar items has been postponed while we focus on core activities providing traceability and incident reporting.

The 3T sector has made huge efforts over the past 10 years to implement responsible sourcing, and no-one would wish to see this investment go to waste. ITSCI is therefore determined to do everything we can to continue work in this extremely tough period, to support the mineral trade, and therefore communities whose livelihoods rely on its continuation. We are following developments closely and are actively engaged with in-region governments on this issue. By working together in partnership, we will find a way through this difficult time.