Like Apple, Samsung is going to source cobalt directly from DR Congo

PR disaster waiting to happen
PR disaster waiting to happen
Image: Reuters/Jonny Hogg
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Close on the heels of its corporate nemesis Apple, Samsung has also moved to secure a cobalt supply in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Samsung is in talks with Somika, a Congolese mining company to secure a supply of the metal used in everything from smartphones to electric vehicles. The talks are still in process and it’s unclear how much cobalt Somika will mine from its site at the Kisanfu mine in Katanga, Bloomberg reported on Mar. 13.

Apple has already been reported to be planning to  source cobalt directly from miners in the DRC. Like car manufacturers BMW and Volkswagen, the two tech giants are joining a global rush to buy cobalt as consumer demand for rechargeable batteries continues to rise.

Samsung refused to confirm, but the move to work directly with Congolese suppliers could be seen as the result of Samsung’s participation in the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

The initiative aims to address concerns over the origins of cobalt, specifically in the DRC. Signatories are obligated to ensure that the miners they work with, whether artisanal or industrial, adhere to guidelines of responsible acquisition in conflict areas. The guidelines have seen efforts like the introduction of a blockchain pilot scheme to track the origins of cobalt.

Given the DRC’s tumultuous political environment, it is clear why manufacturers would want to ensure a consistent, ethical supply. In November last year, Amnesty International criticized major electronics companies and car manufacturers for not doing enough to ensure cobalt mining was not accompanied by human rights abuses like child miners and deadly working conditions.

Congolese lawmakers are not ignorant to the world’s clamor for cobalt. Earlier this year, the mining ministry moved to have cobalt identified as a “strategic metal,” which would see royalties increase for any miner. As the price of this once ignored metal rockets, it’s a lucrative market for anyone involved.

What is still unclear though, is whether the move to go straight to the supplier will guarantee ethical sourcing and bypass the corruption that has characterized the DRC’s mining sector.