The Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) is a multi-stakeholder action platform that brings togetheractors across  the cobalt mineral supply chain to improve the lives of mining communities in the DRC.

A full overview of our current membership can be found here.

All members of the FCA are signatories of the FCA’s Call to Action that publicly attest to an organisation’s commitment to:

  • Recognising the legitimacy of cobalt from responsible ASM operations.
  • Contributing resources to the FCA integrated programme.
  • Promoting the goals of the FCA.

The FCA was launched in August 2020. The FCA was set up by founding members Glencore, Huayou Cobalt, Signify and Fairphone and is managed by The Impact Facility (TIF).

Key individuals involved have worked in mining for over two decades across Africa, South America and South-East Asia and saw a real need to ensure that the legacy of mining is a positive one – that means purposeful action to see safe working conditions in mines, as well as economic benefits in neighbouring communities.

To do this means collaboration along the whole supply chain, from mine to manufacturing, a shared responsibility. No one else was specifically focussed on this, nor are they still. So, that is why we are established and why we do what we do. Mining is a long term prospect and we’re in this for the long haul. A positive mining legacy for host countries and communities.

Yes, the FCA is actively seeking to expand its membership to increase its potential for positive impact. A diversity of members across the entire value chain is essential to drive the message home. Every company – and potentially every consumer – should play their part to ensure the miners of this essential commodity are not only safeguarded from harm in their daily occupation, but should receive a fair recompense.

The membership of the FCA is global. The initiatives supported by the FCA are focused in the DRC, where more than 60% of the world’s cobalt is produced. The FCA has staff working from the UK and the Netherlands and has its office and DRC team located in Kolwezi, currently running projects on the ground in the Lualaba province.

The FCA is needed because the global energy transition means that the demand for cobalt is widely expected to increase – a material commonly used in battery production.

Around 60% of cobalt is produced in the DRC, 10% of that through artisanal mining. The cobalt mining industry is one of the few sources of employment, providing a livelihood for many thousands of people.

Yet the production and trade are associated with hazardous working conditions, child labour and unfair trading practices. While the global appetite for cobalt grows, those who take the greatest risks in excavating the material at its source, so often miss out on their share of the benefits.

It is our belief that this is unfair and unsustainable.

To address these issues, we need investment. The FCA was set up as an action platform to pool resources and expertise along the value chain and channel investment to where it will have the greatest impact.

We believe it is not the role of one company, country or stakeholder, acting in isolation to drive positive change, but that it should be a joint ambition and responsibility. We believe responsible sourcing starts with responsibility.

Even if we disengage entirely, ASM isn’t going anywhere, it’s a part of the reality of the cobalt sourcing world. Besides, attempting to shut down cobalt ASM completely could put over 200,000 people out of work, leaving many of these families without any source of income. Therefore, our view is that we should not avoid ASM but rather engage by helping support safer and fairer practices, working towards professionalizes ASM as a safe and dignified livelihood. The FCA offers a platform to put an end to the unsafe and unfair practices surrounding ASM, while simultaneously working towards greater community and economic development so that mining is no longer seen as the only viable option for work.

The FCA is a highly collaborative platform that coordinates with the DRC government, private businesses, contractors, universities and non-profits. Each party brings different skills and resources to the effort to realise the vision of the FCA. It is necessary to have financial investment, but the technical knowledge, expertise and practical operational experience already in the DRC is a valuable resource that we intend to tap into through our partnerships.

The members of the Fair Cobalt Alliance will work towards three objectives:

  • First, driving the development of fair cobalt by supporting the professionalisation of ASM site management, ensuring an uptake of responsible mining practices and channelling financial investment into mine improvements.This with the goal of making mines safer, minimising environmental impact and creating decent working conditions for men and women working at the mines.
  • The second is working towards a child-labour free cobalt sector in Kolwezi by working with local cooperatives and civil society to build a scalable child labour referral system to assist operators to establish effective control and monitoring mechanisms to keep children out of the mines. In order to remediate and mitigate child labour not just inside the mines but throughout the communities, the FCA will establish a funding mechanism to support the enrolment of children into school. By these means allowing children and youth access to education and vocational training.
  • Lastly, we will work to increase household incomes by investing in off-site broader community programmes, designed to create sustainable livelihoods for as many community members as possible.

FCA started working with local operators and cooperatives at two mining sites, Kasulu and Kamilombe in the DRC in 2020. Full implementation in these sites and communities will take three to five years. We have the ambition to scale and reach more mines over time.

Late 2019, the government of the DRC established the Entreprise Générale du Cobalt or EGC,  a government endorsed trading arm to control the offtake of artisanally produced cobalt in an effort to ensure acceptable production practices on the ground and increase (tax) revenue generated from cobalt trade. Additionally, the DRC government also created ARECOMS (Strategic Mineral Substances Market Regulation and Control Authority) in November 2019. ARECOMS is the designated national authority in charge of formalising artisanal mining activities, determining appropriate standards and issuing certificates of conformity with responsible mining standards. Both developments indicate significant and positive steps towards accepting ASM material into global supply chains.

Kasulu: However, the materialisation of EGC’s future operations on the ground has also led to some uncertainties, as EGC and its partners Trafigura, PACT and KUMI have shown interest to work at Congo’s singular artisanal mining zone Kasulu as well.

As the final decision which ASM mine sites can be operated and by whom lies with her Excellency the National Minister of Mines, ARECOMS and Lualaba’s Provincial Government.We patiently await DRC’s state advice and directions.

On the short term this concretely means that our current investment and engagement at both mine sites is occuring at a slower pace than anticipated, and that the FCA has decided to hold off on further investment at Kasulu for the time being, to see how the developments will unfold.

Kamilombe: Due to ongoing negotiations of a contract renewal between cooperative CMDS and its previous offtaker and mine site operator CDM since the beginning of 2021, CDM is currently unable to guarantee the safety standards and operational practices at the Kamilomobe mine site. This has led to a temporary situation with increased numbers of miners as well as traders operating on site, making it difficult for the Fair Cobalt Alliance to work effectively at the site. Hence we have decided in January to suspend our activities on the ground and withdraw our FCA staff members from the site until the mine site is back under operational control of a single mine operator. We expect to get more clarity on a new arrangement between the cooperative and operator over the coming weeks or months. In the meantime we continue to actively engage with both CMDS and CDM.

Fundamental to our approach is supporting the government in its formalisation of artisanal mining and to that end we are coordinating with relevant DRC authorities, including but not limited to: the mining ministry and SAEMAPE, the Congolese state service organising stakeholders on site level active in both mines, to work with artisanal miners and cooperatives towards safe mining practices.

We work in alignment with DRC government policies and regulations regarding the ASM sector.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, to assist artisanal miners, cooperatives and the DRC government to formalise these mine sites and improve mining practices.

FCA therefore welcomes other initiatives that work towards the same objective (a responsible ASM cobalt sector) like EGC/Trafigura/PACT; Cobalt for Development; and Better Mining.

With Better Mining specifically, which monitors ASM mine sites and surrounding areas for incidents and risk areas, we have signed an MoU to coordinate our actions at mine sites where we are both active to avoid duplication of efforts.

Also with Cobalt for Development we have identified common goals between our programmes and our objective to positively impact working conditions of artisanal miners. Therefore we are engaged in continuous conversations to see how we can collaborate on the implementation of mine-site improvement plans and assistance to cooperatives through capacity building.

We are currently drawing on private sector funding from companies across the supply chain, as well as development grants and public funding. We aim to leverage this mixed type of financial support into the future as we grow and scale our operations.

Each site is a little different and there is no ‘model’ mine, but there are features that we have included in the FCA mine improvement programme, including control systems to prevent children entering the site, health clinics, access to potable water, sanitation and PPE availability. In our 2020 publication Digging for Change, we reflect on the elements needed to operate a mine safely. Sites such as Kasulu and Kamilombe, utilise a wall and a trench respectively, for example. As we work to expand to more sites, we will work with local cooperatives to assess the risk of uncontrolled ingress and implement effective solutions.

Our first year in operation, taking into account the travel restrictions and challenges presented to us by COVID 19, has been focused on mobilising membership, fundraising and planning.

We’ve developed a step by step improvement plan with the mine site operators to improve conditions over 3-4 years time; ultimately with the aim of achieving best practices certification.

What does continuous improvement look like at those sites?

1. Improved access control to develop a core workforce (where CDM controls access at the gate at both Kasulu and Kamilombe)

2. OHS training

3. Mine planning including excavation to reduce tunnel depths and risks of OHS accidents (such as the large scale excavation programme implemented by CDM and SAEMAPE in 2020)

4. First-aid facilities (such as clinic at Kasulu), and

5. Equipment lease (such as water pumps, ventilators, winches) to increase safety and productivity, and in turn income.

  • ASM is an important livelihood for mining communities in the Copperbelt.
  • over 150.000 people throughout Lualaba and Haut-Katanga depend on ASM for their living.
  • Additionally, Congolese artisanal material forms an important complementary source to industrial cobalt in the global cobalt supply.
  • If we engage and invest in making artisanal mine sites responsible and safe areas to work, artisanal mining can become a dignified livelihood and a very important source for development of mining communities in the regions for generations to come.
  • ASM mines are often hazardous places to work with people working at the mines at risk of severe injury or even death by mine collapse. They require significant investments and further professionalization before the operations could reasonably be described as meeting acceptable standards.
  • Many mine workers are concerned about how much they earn and their incomes depend on how much cobalt they are able to produce and price fluctuations.
  • In a region that is characterised by widespread poverty, child labor will remain an issue.
  • There is a current lack of viable alternatives to mining to remediate widespread poverty.

The FCA is working directly with cooperatives to help professionalise their operations. This means that our team and local partners engage with the coops and mine workers to build technical capacity and develop mine improvement plans and associated investment plans (and access to capital). This will enable a transition to safer and dignified working conditions for all workers.

As such, miners are engaged as partners through a participatory process identifying investment needs and benefiting from FCA’s fundraising for these investments. In the last few months, our collaboration with local cooperative CMDS focused on increasing workers’ capacity to deliver first-aid as well as general awareness raising around workplace hazards and child labour sensitisation.

More about this here:

For most companies to start sourcing, three challenges need to be overcome.

1. Legality of mine sites
The DRC Mining Code allows artisanal mining operations on so-called ZEAs (Zone for Artisanal Exploitation). Most active artisanal operations, however, are not located on said ZEAs (due to a lack of geological data and resulting uncertainty around the viability of these designated areas as commercial artisanal mining operations). The FCA actively supports efforts to legalise existing mine sites, to allow investment into and sourcing these operations.

2. Clear sourcing expectations
Over the last year, the FCA has partnered with the RCI and RMI to help codify progressive requirements for ESG management. More about that on www.asm-cobalt.org.

3. Changing political environment
With the Congolese government having changed in 2021 and the announcement of EGC starting operations in the coming months, we are patiently awaiting guidance from the relevant authorities to establish what role FCA and its members can play to foster the development of a formal route to market.

The last comprehnsive study on child labour in the region was conducted by the CEGA institute of Berkley University.

  • 60% of households in the copper / cobalt belt have mining as a source of revenue.
  • 11% of children in these communities aged 3–17 work outside the home.
  • Of these, 19% work inside the mines and 4% work in processing minerals. The majority work in agriculture (49%) or as hired domestic labour (30%).
  • The children in mining work mainly as sorters (26%), surface workers (23%) and cleaners (17%). 65% are 15 years or older.
  • Children >15 years of age work in surface excavation (26%) and cleaning minerals (19%).
  • Children <15 years primarily work in sorting (38%) and surface excavation (18%)
  • The mean work hours for these child workers are 38 hours per week, with a median of 36 per week. The total hours of work vary based on the reason for working, such as household income needs versus making good social impressions, as well as variations in family wealth.

The FCA will work towards a child-labour free operations by supporting ASM operators in establishing effective control and monitoring mechanisms to keep children out of the mines. But more so, we recognise that this is not the full solution; we need to look at it from a child rights perspective, not only ensuring there is no child labour in the mining sites but addressing the root causes and making sure children do not end up in other labour or exploitative situations, i.e. just moving the problem. We are therefore also investing in off-site, community programmes including efforts to prevent and remediate child labour.

To support government efforts driving the inclusive development of the ASM sector, the FCA is an active partner in the Global Battery Alliance Cobalt Action Partnership (CAP) and has agreed to technically advise ARECOM – the regulatory body tasked to oversee the ASM Cobalt sector – in the development of an inclusive framework for ASM development. This inclusive ASM framework is based on FCA’s initial ESG framework, and is currently undergoing global consultation in partnership with other key players in the sector such as the GBA’s Cobalt Action Partnership and the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI).

The problems experienced by many at artisanal cobalt sites are systemic, and require a systemic response. Our approach is integrated and falls into three areas: improvements on the sites to reduce health and safety risks and increase productivity and incomes for workers; off-site focus on children’s rights by bolstering access to schools and after-school programmes; and, building up a resilient economy through encouraging alternatives to mining. While much effort in the near term is placed on the on-site mine improvements, we believe that expanding the source of income and options for making a dignified living both in mining and beyond is the goal we should be aiming for long term sustainability.