November 29, 2018 / 2:32 PM / 18 days ago

BMW joins project to improve conditions for cobalt mining in Congo

FILE PHOTO: An artisanal miner carries raw ore at Tilwizembe, a former industrial copper-cobalt mine, outside of Kolwezi, the capital city of Lualaba Province in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, June 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German carmaker BMW is exploring ways to improve working conditions for mining cobalt in Congo through a pilot project also supported by chemicals giant BASF, battery maker Samsung SDI and a development agency.

Carmakers seeking to boost sales of electric cars are struggling to get their hands on cobalt, a scarce but vital component in the production of batteries. The world’s largest known reserves of this raw material are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

BMW said the companies were working together with German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to explore ways to improve working and living conditions in areas where cobalt is extracted using manual labour.

“It seeks to contribute to identifying workable solutions that lead to better working conditions at the mine site,” BMW said. “If proven effective, these measures could then be scaled up to other legal artisanal mine sites and enhance systemic challenges in the longer run.”

The scope of the project will cover one pilot mine within the next three years, BMW said. BMW will not directly purchase cobalt from the mine, the carmaker said, explaining that the mine will be operated by a local cooperative.

Industrial mining accounts for approximately 80-85 percent of Congolese cobalt production, with manual mining operations producing the remaining 15-20 percent, BMW said.

Currently, companies are facing challenges in the areas of environment, health and safety, and human rights when cobalt is extracted through so-called artisanal mining.

Reporting by Edward Taylor. Editing by Jane Merriman

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