Column: Is it time to embrace Congo’s artisanal cobalt miners? – by Andy Home (Reuters – April 4, 2023)

LONDON, April 4 (Reuters) – The problems around artisanal cobalt mining in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will take “a coalition to solve”, according to Microsoft (MSFT.O). The $1.9 trillion U.S. tech giant was recently in the DRC to see what the other end of the consumer electronics supply chain looks like.

Microsoft chief of staff, tech and corporate responsibility Michele Burlington paid a visit in December to the Mutoshi artisanal mining site, where up to 15,000 miners, including children, are working in highly dangerous conditions.

The irony is that Mutoshi was a highly successful pilot scheme for formalising artisanal workers until it was closed in 2020 due to coronavirus restrictions. The site’s subsequent deterioration sums up the Congolese government’s struggle to realise its vision of integrating the entire artisanal cobalt workforce into the official sector.

Yet the West still needs Congo’s cobalt and everyone agrees that formalisation is the solution to the high human and economic costs of artisanal mining. Microsoft’s reference to a coalition suggests a collective rethink is under way, not least by a U.S. government desperate to loosen China’s grip on the cobalt market.

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