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Volkswagen joins “Cobalt for Development” initiative

Volkswagen says that it is actively engaging in improving artisanal cobalt mining conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as the living conditions for people in the surrounding communities.

Cobalt is an important raw material for the production of electric vehicle batteries. Artisanal mining involves risks to the environment and people. Volkswagen has joined the “Cobalt for Development” initiative (earlier post) and is thus supporting efforts to minimize these risks. Currently, Volkswagen does not accept cobalt from artisanal mines.

The pilot project intends to strengthen legal compliance and improve health and safety conditions as well as social well-being in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 70% of the world’s cobalt resources are located. The first trainings for mine operators and miners have just begun. The project is being implemented by GIZ and financed by BASF, BMW Group, Google, Samsung Electronics, Samsung SDI and Volkswagen.

For our e-mobility strategy, sustainable and responsible sourcing of raw materials is of the utmost importance. Cobalt plays a vital role for us, despite a decreasing amount of the raw material in newer generations of batteries for electric vehicles. We would like to extend our sustainable raw material strategy with this initiative. We are seeking to establish artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a strictly sustainable cobalt source, because the existence of many local communities depends on this sector. We want to deliver impact on the ground—in close cooperation with strong partners.

—Ullrich Gereke, Head of Procurement Strategy at the Volkswagen Group

The pilot project in the DRC cobalt belt has two focus areas: improving artisanal cobalt mining conditions as well as the living conditions for people in the surrounding communities. Progress in both areas is to be achieved in cooperation with the local mining cooperatives, government authorities and civil society organizations.

This is to be accomplished by improving mine site management and through health, safety and environmental training for miners. The surrounding communities are to benefit from improved access to education, new income opportunities and training in conflict resolution. So far, more than 1,800 residents from these communities have already benefitted from these measures, Volkswagen said.

Training curricula on more sustainable working conditions are currently being prepared, initially for 1,500 miners from 12 artisanal cobalt mining cooperatives in and around Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The objective is to test at a legally-operated site under what conditions responsible artisanal mining could be viable. So far, 36 artisanal mines have been screened to identify a suitable site.

The Volkswagen Group is constantly pushing for greater responsibility in its raw material supply chains for batteries. Apart from joining the “Cobalt for Development” initiative, the company has already entered into a partnership with the responsible sourcing specialist RCS Global. The system developed by RCS Global tracks raw materials back to sub-suppliers, refineries, smelters, mines and recyclers.

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