LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Trafigura is investing in a project that will formalise and monitor artisanal and small-scale cobalt miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the chief executive of the commodities trader said on Monday.
Cobalt is a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles, a fast-growing sector in the auto industry, and in metal alloys used to make jet engines.
It was singled out in a recent London Metal Exchange (LME) proposal to embed responsible sourcing principles into metal brands deliverable against its contracts, as most of the world’s supply comes from Congo, often from artisanal mines where human rights abuses are rife.
Trafigura's project will be piloted on the Mutoshi mine in Congo and aims to train, provide protective equipment to and organise cobalt miners into licensed cooperatives, Jeremy Weir told a seminar hosted by the LME.
Mutoshi is owned by Chemaf, the Congo subsidiary of Dubai-based Shalina Resources.
To ensure the cobalt from Mutoshi is clean of human rights abuses, representatives from the non-governmental organisation Pact and Chemaf will supervise the artisanal and small-scale miners, administer drug and alcohol tests before they enter the site and make sure they are paid appropriately.
"It's not perfect, but it's a big step towards regularising this industry," Weir said.
"I'm completely clear about the risks and other problems involved in artisanal and small-scale mining. It would obviously be preferable if we could secure all the needed supplies through industrial mining operations. But the fact is that we’re not in that happy position."
Weir said Trafigura was also working with other industry participants through the World Economic Forum's Global Battery Alliance to establish the approach used in the pilot project as a standard that can be applied elsewhere.
Cleaning up the supply chain for cobalt has proved challenging as cobalt mining in Congo is largely unregulated.
The LME said on Friday it was preparing plans that will allow it to clamp down quickly on cobalt brands on its approved list thought to be tainted by human rights abuses.
Trafigura signed a cobalt here offtake agreement with Chemaf in April to increase its foothold in minerals that will benefit from an expected boom in electric vehicles. (Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Pratima Desai and Dale Hudson)