We have great news for you!
We at SUSHI BIKES are aware of our responsibility towards the planet and people and are continually working towards greater sustainability. We recently became the first e-bike brand to join the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) to increase our impact on cobalt extraction and support fair working conditions along the entire supply chain.
In this guest article, David Sturmes , Director of Programs & Business Development at the Fair Cobalt Alliance, tells you about the challenges associated with the extraction of cobalt and why industry-wide collaboration is sought here. We have translated the article from the original language (English). If you would prefer to read the original version, you can switch from German to English using the dropdown in the desktop view at the top right of this page. In the mobile view, you can first open the menu at the top left near the three lines and then change the language.
Now we leave the rest of the post to him!
David Sturmes, Director Programs & Business Development at FCA writes:
The FCA welcomes SUSHI BIKES as a member.
We are pleased to welcome SUSHI BIKES to the Fair Cobalt Alliance. A member organization committed to responsible cobalt production in the DR Congo. SUSHI BIKES is the first e-bike manufacturer and one of over 20 organizations to join the FCA. Your decision to join the FCA is an important step in its responsible sourcing. But what's the deal with cobalt? Why is everyone talking about the battery metal?
Cobalt - the key to a green revolution?
Cobalt - a mineral that was unknown to most people just 10 years ago, is now at the center of the sustainability discussion. In the past, it was used to color porcelain blue - hence the color's name, cobalt blue. Today it is a mineral used primarily in the production of batteries used in electric vehicles, consumer electronics and energy storage.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most common batteries that use cobalt, with cobalt making up up to 20% of the weight of the cathode. The metal is added to increase the number of charges during a battery's life cycle, making cobalt a very useful material that helps extend the useful life of batteries and therefore increase the sustainability of the product.
Copper-cobalt ore mined in an artisanal mine in Kolwezi, DR Congo.
From Mine to Market - Tracing Cobalt to its Origin.
Although very useful, there are many concerns about how and where cobalt is mined. Cobalt is highly concentrated in one particular part of the world, namely the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are other countries such as Australia, Morocco, the USA and China that have some reserves of the raw material, but about 50% of the world's reserves are located in the south of this Central African country, a rather difficult environment for sourcing. Despite its unparalleled wealth of natural resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the countries with the highest rates of poverty and corruption. The Mining Law, which provides clear rules for the mining sector, was not enforced.
This has led to conditions on the ground that are described by many as unacceptable - I'm talking specifically about the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, which is responsible for an estimated 5-10% of the world's cobalt supply - where mining is carried out by Congolese men, Women and in many cases children with the most rudimentary tools, i.e. hammers and chisels, plastic bags and bicycles for transport, sometimes up to 80 meters underground.
Artisanal cobalt mining is an important source of income for more than 150,000 men and women.
The big puzzle: Is responsible, artisanal cobalt sourcing an unattainable goal?
Cobalt gained notoriety after Amnesty International published a report in 2016 highlighting its connection to child labor. At the time, UNICEF estimated that up to 30,000 children and young people could work in the Congolese cobalt sector. Unable to distinguish between artisanal and industrially mined cobalt, many companies around the world took a knee-jerk reaction and chose to stop sourcing the material from the DRC. Some companies and CEOs even went so far as to publicly state that they would focus on eliminating cobalt from their products.
The truth is that despite our best efforts, we are unable to find a solution that eliminates the need for cobalt and there is no reason to abandon this raw material for sustainability reasons. After all, it contributes to battery life, but we need to address the challenges associated with artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Even if you were to withdraw from Congo and source the mineral elsewhere - including by integrating recycled cobalt into your supply chain - chances are good that the material would be combined with material from Congo by the time it reaches battery suppliers in China , where it is currently difficult to determine whether the material comes from an industrial or artisanal mine due to a lack of traceability and the complexity of the supply chain.
A large portion of the workforce is women, who typically wash the ore to increase the purity and concentration of the material. The FCA recently provided protective clothing to ensure they are not directly exposed to the dirty water.
ASM Cobalt - an overlooked opportunity rather than a risk to be avoided.
However, we must be clear that we do not believe that artisanal mining is inherently bad. Although this may be the first time you've heard of it, the sector employs an estimated 40 million people worldwide. Artisanal mining is not a fringe activity limited to cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also includes other metals such as gold, tungsten, tin, diamonds, gemstones, sandstone and even lead, employing men and women in Asia, Africa and South America. These people, in most cases, are proud to call artisanal mining their livelihood. The mining laws of countries where artisanal mining occurs often recognize artisanal mining as a legitimate activity. They codify rules for the sector, like those that apply to industrial mining, including taxation and property rehabilitation requirements, but in many of these countries the discrepancy between the wording of the law and its implementation on the ground leads to the existing challenges .
Rather than withdrawing from the sector, our philosophy is to be part of the solution and create safe and decent working conditions locally. By definition, artisanal miners rely on the most rudimentary tools and are often unable to achieve safe working conditions and effective production processes. The key to exploiting the development potential of the sector is to provide access to the finance and investments necessary to professionalize working conditions despite the small scale of activities.
Our goal is to enable the estimated more than 150,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to work safely and earn a decent income from their hard work. We ensure that there are no children present, that the correct measures are taken and that the miners pay their fair share of taxes according to Congolese laws.
Responsible sourcing starts with taking responsibility
Since no single actor can transform the sector alone, investments in the sector on this scale are only possible through collaboration. The Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) was created as a platform for companies across the supply chain to make a positive contribution to the development of the artisanal mining sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by viewing this sector as an overlooked opportunity rather than a risk to be avoided.
For us, this means that responsible sourcing begins with taking responsibility. To achieve better practices, we must help create those practices by investing in the skills development and infrastructure necessary to keep people in work. More than five years after Amnesty International drew attention to the conditions in this sector, one thing is clear: abandoning ASM, the Democratic Republic of Congo or even cobalt in general has unintended consequences that affect the men and women who work in it sector, and above all the children we want to protect and get out of child labor could be even more at risk than they already are.
The FCA supports the local partner cooperative CMDS by conducting first aid training for more than 100 safety captains.
The Fair Cobalt Alliance; a cross-sector action platform that enables a just transition to a sustainable green economy.
The FCA is an action platform launched as a multi-stakeholder initiative - meaning not only multiple companies are involved, but also non-profit actors who have come together to address local challenges. Our members include companies from across the cobalt supply chain, from industrial mining companies such as Glencore and CMOC, to companies in the middle of the battery supply chain such as ATL, Freyr or British Volt, to customer-facing companies such as Fairphone, Signify, Sono Motors and now also SUSHI BIKES.
With the financial support of our members, we have developed a holistic program locally that includes a range of projects to create humane working conditions in the artisanal mines.
We do this by:
- training workers and advocating for investment in these mining sites
- Remedies for child labor, meaning children identified at mining sites are not simply sent away, but are given support to attend school, complete vocational training or complete an internship so that they no longer rely on the income that they achieved through mining
- The goal is to increase workers' incomes by changing the way cobalt is traded at mine sites, but also to invest in various livelihood opportunities that increase the income of people in the community - so that the Mining becomes a choice rather than the default option because there are no alternatives.
We work with local civil society and local partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including organizations such as CMDS, the local cooperative that operates the Kamilombe mine, which the FCA has supported since its inception in August 2020.
The FCA is still a young organization. The past year has been challenging due to a global pandemic and political changes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nevertheless, we were able to make significant progress, establish ourselves and form strong partnerships with local civil society and relevant government authorities. We recently published our first impact report, which is committed to transparency and openness regarding the successes and challenges of our young initiative, in which we disclose not only the successes achieved so far, but also the finances of our organization.
Infographic of the FCA impact report:
SUSHI BIKES X FCA: a commitment to sustainability beyond the immediate footprint.
We are very pleased that SUSHI BIKES is the first e-bike manufacturer to join the Fair Cobalt Alliance. SUSHI BIKES's membership not only helps us realize our vision of fully representing the cobalt supply chain and contributing to the common goal of making Congo cobalt a responsible source of cobalt, but also shows other small and medium-sized companies like SUSHI BIKES - a small start-up with a small team and still at the beginning of its journey - that responsible sourcing is not the privilege of large international companies, but everyone's business.
By joining the FCA, SUSHI BIKES demonstrates its commitment to sustainability beyond the immediate footprint of its products: it is not just about advancing e-mobility and achieving a carbon-neutral society, but also about the impact of its products throughout supply chain, directly at the source of the minerals that make our lives possible today. I congratulate SUSHI BIKES on this step in the right direction and look forward to a fruitful collaboration in the coming years.
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