Renewables MMI: Advocacy Group Shines Light on State of DRC Cobalt Mines

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Green, Metal Prices

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell two points this month, down to a November MMI reading of 101.

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Cobalt Mining

According to the head of commodities trader Trafigura, unregulated cobalt mining cannot be “wished away,” the Financial Times reported last month.

In 2017, nearly 60% of the world’s cobalt was mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where smaller artisanal mines are often unregulated, leading to routinely unsafe working conditions and, according to reports by advocacy groups, the use of child labor.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 64,000 tons of cobalt were mined in the DRC last year out of a global total of 110,000 tons. Cobalt is coveted for its use in electric vehicle batteries.

According to Jeremy Weir, the head of Trafigura, cobalt demand is expected to at least triple by 2025.

“The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the DRC who earn a living through work in the ASM sector,” Weir was quoted as saying. “It’s illegal in many cases; it’s unregulated and can be very dangerous. But it can’t be wished away.”

Last November, Amnesty International released a report that offered criticism of a number of industry giants, including Microsoft, for a lack of progress with respect to assuring their cobalt supply chains are ethical and conflict-free. Apple and Samsung were listed among companies that had taken “adequate” steps toward that goal.

“Our initial investigations found that cobalt mined by children and adults in horrendous conditions in the DRC is entering the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest brands. When we approached these companies we were alarmed to find out that many were failing to ask basic questions about where their cobalt comes from,” Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying last year.

Since then, the issue has remained on the international radar.

According to a Reuters report last week, U.S.-based advocacy group Enough Project said electric vehicle demand is fueling a rise in child labor at cobalt mines in the DRC.

Enough Project recently published a report, titled “Powering Down Corruption: Tackling Transparency and Human Rights Risks from Congo’s Cobalt Mines to Global Supply Chains,” which was the culmination of a two-year study.

Rising Neodymium Demand

Like cobalt, another material, neodymium, is also forecast to see a surge in demand in the coming years.

Neodymium is used in magnets — along with iron and boron — that can be found in a wide range of applications, including cellphones, wind turbines and headphones, among others.

According to a CNBC report, the neodymium-iron-boron magnet market was worth $11.3 billion in 2017.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The price of Japanese steel plate rose 0.9% to $761.97/mt. Korean steel plate, meanwhile, dropped 2.8% to $656.92/mt. Chinese steel plate fell 3.7% to $689.72/mt.

U.S. steel plate jumped 0.9% to $1,001/st.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

Neodymium fell 3.9% to $56,998.90/mt. Silicon fell 1.5% to $1,476.95/mt. Cobalt cathodes fell 1.5% to $95,356.60/mt.

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