From stone to phone: Livelihoods, resource governance and artisanal cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Project: Research-related funding

Project Details


GCRF Funding

Layman's description

As an essential element in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and consumer electronics, cobalt plays a critical role in the global low-carbon transition to combat climate change, and in the diffusion of information technology. Over the last decade, we have witnessed a boom in mining activities of this critical material in the Central African country of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Two thirds of the global supply of cobalt comes from the DRC, and a considerable portion of this supply is mined by an informal workforce of artisanal miners, called “creuseurs”, who face dangerous working conditions, human rights abuses and are paid poverty wages. Following China’s ‘going out’ policy, Chinese companies currently control over half of the world’s refined cobalt output and have a major presence in the DRC, both as buying agents and mining operators. The vast majority of the cobalt mined in the DRC is exported to China where more than 60% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries are produced.

The growing global demand for cobalt has focused much attention on the sustainability of the supply chain from the DRC to China, both at the point of extraction (upstream) and for end-users (downstream). Public scrutiny both locally in the DRC and internationally, has provided new impetus for multi-stakeholder responsible cobalt sourcing initiatives involving the government, companies and civil society. Numerous voluntary governance schemes now exist to promote sustainable materials, although many prioritise traceability from conflict-free areas and favour well-established miners, often failing to address the socio-economic conditions of the most marginalised diggers at the bottom of the chain.

The proposed research seeks to deepen understanding of the main governance challenges in the artisanal cobalt mining sector, focusing specifically on the role that transnational governance schemes, such as voluntary codes and certification, can play in addressing key challenges in the supply chain. Focusing on the implementation of China’s 2016 Responsible Cobalt Initiative in the DRC, it seeks to analyse how transnational governance schemes are interpreted, adopted and/or contested by local, national and international actors, and to explore the extent to which these interactions shape the governance of the artisanal mining sector at the local level. In doing so, the project brings together an experienced interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Bath (UoB), who will work closely with researchers and stakeholders in the DRC and China to facilitate the co-production of knowledge, and ensure that the work achieves maximum impact. The project will engage a diverse range of stakeholders, in the process establishing new relationships between all project partners, and building an international academic collaboration around research on sustainable natural resource management and development.
Short title£39,890
Effective start/end date1/10/2031/07/21


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