Mine workers posing for a picture

Project for sustainable cobalt mining.

The cross-industry project “Cobalt for Development” pilots measures for improving working conditions in artisanal cobalt mining and living conditions in surrounding communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The BMW Group took part in the project kick-off event in Kolwezi in September.

In the middle of September, the BMW Group, BASF SE, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics officially launched the project activities of “Cobalt for Development”. The pilot project is aimed at improving living and working conditions at an artisanal cobalt mine site in the Democratic of Congo for the long term.

Cobalt is a key component in the production of batteries for electronic devices and electric vehicles. The largest cobalt reserves in the world are located in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to a quarter of the cobalt extracted there is mined by means of “artisanal small-scale mining”, with miners using simple tools such as hammer, shovel and pick to extract the ore. The protection of human rights, as well as working and environmental standards, is not always guaranteed.

The companies commissioned the German development agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to pilot measures for improving working conditions at an artisanal cobalt mine and living conditions in the nearby community over a period of three years. To this end, the project and provincial authorities of Lualaba jointly selected a pilot mine site nearby Kolwezi in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Currently, the BMW Group still procures cobalt indirectly by purchasing complete battery cells. However, since it is part of the company's philosophy to consider all stages of the value chain, the company has driven the project forward decisively (Link to “Greater transparency in cobalt mining”). “Sustainability is an important aspect of our corporate strategy and plays a key role in expanding electro-mobility. We are fully aware of our responsibility: Cobalt and other commodities must be extracted and processed under ethically responsible conditions,” emphasises Dr Andreas Wendt, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Purchasing and Supplier Network. The company’s commitment to projects such as Cobalt for Development is fundamental to ensuring that suppliers also consistently comply with the BMW Group’s high social and environmental standards. “If the project is a success, these approaches could possibly be transferred to other small, non-industrial mines over the long term,” says Dr Wendt.

During the upcoming months, the pilot project will focus on analysing occupational and environmental risks to develop and implement responsible mining practices. Local partners such as the artisanal mining cooperative will participate from the beginning in developing and implementing these measures to strengthen local ownership and sustainability of the approach. In the nearby community, the focus will be to improve access to education, as well as financial literacy and alternative incomes for its residents, in particular for women.

The progress of “Cobalt for Development” is regularly monitored, both the project directly as well as a committee of local representatives, to verify  every activities impact  and to improve them continuously. These lessons learnt could then form the basis if project measures are extended to other mine sites.