Four years after Amnesty had published its report cobalt prices have gone back down to pre-speculation levels. While the number of workers has gone down significantly, there are still several ten thousand families that continue to rely on cobalt mining as their primary source of income. In regards to working conditions, little has changed on the ground, warranting the question of what can be done to help improve working conditions on the ground.
Only a few companies have taken steps to get involved on the ground. To the contrary, various EV producers and technology companies have announced their intention to reduce drastically and if possible even eliminate the use of cobalt in their batteries instead, pouring millions of dollars into finding a viable alternative. In all fairness, the costs and potential scarcity of the mineral, as well as its significant environmental footprint, undoubtedly played a role in the decision to reduce the industry’s dependency on cobalt, a potent driver, however, appears to be the desire to distance themselves from the harsh reality faced by the artisanal mining communities. This tendency towards disengagement from ASM cobalt and even the mineral at large, however, has fueled concerns by organisations like the OECD and Amnesty International, appealing to industry actors to seek constructive engagement with ASM instead. Downstream disengagement from, or a ban of, ASM cobalt fails to constructively address the issues leading to child labour and hazardous working conditions, denying any responsibility of supply chain actors to contribute to jointly developing a viable solution instead.