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Updated May 11, 2020


A conveyor belt carries chunks of raw cobalt after a first transformation at a plant in Lubumbashi on February 16, 2018, before being exported, mainly to China, to be refined.

Cobalt is in rising demand thanks to its use as a metal in everything from aircraft engines to batteries for electric vehicles, and in its radioactive form as a cancer treatment. It has been mislabeled as a conflict mineral, despite the fact that it is mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s southern Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces, more than 1,600 kilometers from the conflict zones in the east.

“Conflict minerals” and their derivative metals, such as gold, wolfram, and coltan, are integral to the electronics and technology industries, so foreign companies’ supply chains could be indirectly funding rebel groups and bandits, contributing to the destabilization of the DRC and its neighbors. Responding to international concern, the United States included Section 1502 in the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to verify if they source metals from the DRC or its neighbors, and that they do so ethically.


The DRC holds half of the world’s cobalt reserves.


Because of cobalt’s negative yet inaccurate label, some multinational firms have withdrawn from the DRC altogether to avoid potentially violating Section 1502 or similar legislation in Canada, the European Union, or elsewhere. Given that the DRC holds half of the world’s cobalt reserves and its export is expected to balloon in the next decade, international cooperation is more important than ever to ensure that the extraction of this strategic resource benefits not just the global supply chain but also the DRC and its citizens.

Recent collaboration between cobalt producers, commodity traders, and NGOs to formalize artisanal mining proves that this type of cooperation is a net win for every sector of the DRC’s mining industry.


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