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Data disruption: the key to ethical battery supply chains in ASM

A new data study by RCS Global Group‘s Better Mining team has delivered the first ever comprehensive picture of the state of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in cobalt, copper, and the key conflict minerals of gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten.

The research was made possible through the assessment of 12 months of data from RCS Global’s new “Better Mining” platform, which uses mobile-technology to permanently monitor ASM sites and deliver risk and impact information directly to auto and technology clients.

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The publication of the data research coincides with the announcement that Volvo Cars has become the first global brand to begin actively using Better Mining data.

For Volvo Cars, Better Mining will enable the company to gain greater insight over how cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries in its next generation electric vehicles and plug in hybrids is produced.

In a second development stage, Volvo Cars is looking to extend Better Mining to its 3TG supply chains.

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The data comes from five separate ASM sites in the DRC and Rwanda, all of which produce either cobalt, copper or 3TG. Each site has been assessed by RCS Global; had “corrective action plans” put in place; and are subsequently monitored continually through the Better Mining platform. 

The research finds that:

  • Risks related to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), which account for 26% of all registered incidents across the sample, are more prevalent than risks related to human rights abuses (13%) and conflict financing.
  • Rwanda sites present a lower risk profile than those in the DRC. Incident data from the DRC mine sites in the sample of comparable sizes to Rwandan mine sites represents 89% of all registered incidents.
  • Risks at ASM gold sites prove to be particularly difficult to manage compared to other minerals, which is linked to commodity and market characteristics of the commodity.
  • Since January 2019, deployment of the Better Mining program, which includes a risk mitigation monitoring process, has led to a reduction in overall risk levels at 4 out of the 5 mine sites in the sample. 
  • Out of all corrective actions recommended across all sites and risks, implementation has been most successful in human rights. 67% of recommended corrective actions have been implemented since January 2019 and 33% are in progress.
  • The complete eradication of child labour remains challenging however due to the difficulty of controlling access to mines in large, remote areas.
  • Access-controlled sites performed significantly better than the rest of the sample, with only 20% of all registered incidents having occurred at access-controlled sites over a 12 months period. OHS-related fatalities have been reduced to zero at these sites since March 2019.

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Overall however, while there are encouraging signs, risk mitigation remains insufficient.

Across all risk categories in the total sample, only 15% of recommended corrective actions have been implemented, with 32% in progress and 53% not started.

The research highlights the overarching impact that permanent, digital monitoring and associated consistency in data flows can have in offering supply chain stakeholders the tools to improve conditions in ASM.

Perceived complexity and opacity coupled with a lack of consistent data has stymied real, systemic improvements in the sector to date.    

Big global brands must stop relying on periodic audits and begin engaging and supporting upstream efforts to improve mining conditions.

Local cooperatives and off-taker companies often lack the technical and financial capacity to implement structural risk mitigation measures and urgently need the support of consumer facing brands in their downstream supply chain.

About Better Mining

Using permanent mobile technology backed mine site monitoring, the platform delivers continual and unprecedented levels of ASM risk and impact data at both individual mine site and aggregated level.

The subscription-based data service enables companies to strengthen and systematise their approach to identify, assess, and manage risks at the source of their raw material supply chains.

Crucially, it is also used to assess and support positive impacts directed at ASM communities.

“Responsible sourcing risks are the most pertinent threat to the success of the EV revolution,” says Dr. Nicholas Garrett, CEO of RCS Global Group.

“Consumers are making an emotional purchasing decision. This means they need to feel confident that brands are demonstrably taking the right steps to address supply chain risks and generate positive impact where it is needed the most.

“Volvo Cars has underlined its innovation and ethical leadership in the EV space by committing to include digital mine site monitoring tools into its growing arsenal of practical approaches to support responsible sourcing and change on the ground.”

“Prior to Better Mining, consumer brands had no idea about the development of risks at specific ASM sites and how to mitigate them,” says Ferdinand Maubrey, Upstream MD at RCS Global Group.

“We have turned this reality on its head by offering a solid data-driven window into the sector, along with a clear process to direct improvement efforts that generate positive impacts.”