Microsoft calls for coalition to tackle informal cobalt mines in supply chains

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Microsoft has called for an industry alliance on ethical cobalt sourcing after the company’s corporate responsibility boss visited unofficial mines in the Democratric Republic of Congo.

Chief of Staff for technical and corporate responsibility at Microsoft, Michele Burlington, joined professor Dorothee Baumann-Pauly from The Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights on a fact-finding trip to the country in December 2022.

Three-quarters of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratric Republic of Congo, and a third of the country’s production comes from unofficial, artisanal small-scale mines (ASMs), which are associated with labour abuses and dangerous conditions.

According to Baumann-Pauly, rather than turning a blind eye to ASMs, brands should “formalise” them and integrate them into supply chains to improve conditions.

“I think the motivation for Microsoft was to get a clearer understanding of the situation on the ground, of what was possible with formalisation.

“Microsoft is a step ahead in that they acknowledge there are problems, they’re not defining them away, they’re acknowledging that cobalt supply chains might be intertwined with these ASMs.” She said.

Baumann-Pauly produced a report on her findings from the expedition to Mutoshi ASM, prompted because it was the site of a formalisation scheme by commodity trader Trafigura that gave informal miners access to tools and a mechanically-prepared mining site with safety standards.

The scheme began in 2018 but was halted due to Covid in 2020, and Baumann-Pauly wanted to discern its impact. She said miners’ lives were “significantly better under formalisation”.

She said Microsoft was “hoping for a coalition of companies to come together and take on that challenge jointly, because that’s the next step”.

A Microsoft spokesperson stated “Microsoft is committed to responsible and ethical sourcing, a responsibility we take very seriously. We are continuing to work on this problem. It’s an issue that will take a coalition to solve.”

Credit: Supply Management.

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