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In 2019, The Impact Facility (TIF) started working out a programme to address the complex challenges in the ASM cobalt sector. The initial result of this effort was an analysis of the needs and wants of miners at two mine sites based on interviews with miners, observations from a multidisciplinary team of experts and input from local authorities for ASM (SAEMAPE) focussing on two mine sites, then linked to CDM, Huayou Cobalt’s Congolese subsidiary. We had published our reflections through the form of the Digging for Change report, laying out our vision for the continuous improvement of working conditions and incomes of miners, tackling the hazardous depth of tunnels, establishing controls against the occurrence of child labour and advocationg for more transparency when selling and buying cobalt.
Due to ongoing negotiations of a contract renewal between cooperative CMDS and its previous offtaker and mine site operator CDM since the beginning of 2021, CDM is currently unable to guarantee the safety standards and operational practices at the Kamilomobe mine site. This has led to a temporary situation with increased numbers of miners as well as traders operating on site, making it difficult for the Fair Cobalt Alliance to work effectively at the site. Hence we have decided in January to suspend our activities on the ground and withdraw our FCA staff members from the site until the mine site is back under operational control of a single mine operator. We expect to get more clarity on a new arrangement between the cooperative and operator over the coming weeks/months. In the meantime the FCA continues to actively engage with both CMDS and CDM.
Just this week, our team has organized a workshop with CMDS, inviting representatives of SAEMAPE, diggers, washers, traders and security guards for a discussion about the state of Kamilombe and the improvements stipulated by our CIP.
During the workshop, the group discussed the issue of appropriate protective gear that is both affordable but also user friendly. The diggers were keen to discuss how topsoil removal might impact them and their peers, as tunnels might need to be shut down in order to introduce safer working conditions. Participants also voiced their interests in more regular exchanges between workers and the cooperative to ensure that everyone is well informed about plans and can provide input from a worker perspective.
The meeting was closed with re-ignited interest among participants in operationalising the CIP in collaboration with the FCA. We will keep in touch and are currently exploring how we can continue to provide support until the offtake agreement has been negotiated and increased controls and investment on the ground can be guaranteed.