LONDON – The Democratic Republic of Congo will launch this month new monitoring and tracing mechanisms to tackle child labour in cobalt and copper production, a mines ministry official said on Thursday.
Sourcing of the metals has come into focus as manufacturers scramble to secure supplies of cobalt, a key component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, as production of electric cars surges.
Congo is by far the world's biggest producer of cobalt, accounting for more than half of global supply. But rights groups say child labour is used to produce some of that cobalt. Amnesty International calculates a fifth of the country's cobalt output is mined by hand by informal miners, including children.
Alexis Mikandji, the director general of the Ministry of Mines’ certification agency, CEEC, said the Congo had eliminated the practice in the production of diamonds, iron-ore and tungsten. Now it has moved on to tackle child labour at copper and cobalt mines, Mikandji told a metals conference in London.
"There (in copper and cobalt mines) we have stepped in to look at putting in traceability and monitoring systems," Mikandji said. "In fact, these mechanisms that I have just mentioned will be operational this very month, March 2018."
The new mechanisms would apply to artisanal or small scale miners, their customers and operations run by both small and large scale mining firms, he said.
Congo's parliament approved a new mining code in late January that would raise taxes and royalties and eliminate stability agreements for miners such as Randgold Resources, Ivanhoe, China Molybdenum and Glencore.
Mikandji declined to comment on whether President Joseph Kabila had signed the code into law. Last week, a senior aide to Kabila said the president had not yet.
Under the constitution, the president has 15 days from the time parliament sends him the bill to either sign it into law or return it to parliament for further deliberation. If he takes no action, the bill automatically becomes law.