SUSHI BIKES x Fair Cobalt Alliance

We have great news for you! 

We at SUSHI BIKES are aware of our responsibility towards the planet and people and are constantly working on more 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 post tells you David Sturmes, Director of Programs & Business Development at the Fair Cobalt Alliance, on the challenges associated with the extraction of cobalt and why an industry-wide collaboration is sought here. We have translated the post from the original language (English). If you prefer to read the original version, you can switch from German to English 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 with the three lines and then change the language. 

Now let's 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 happy to welcome SUSHI BIKES to the Fair Cobalt Alliance. A membership organization committed to responsible cobalt production in 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 your responsible sourcing. But what about the cobalt? Why is everyone talking about the battery metal?

Cobalt - the key to a green revolution?

Cobalt - a mineral that was unknown to most 10 years ago, is now at the center of the sustainability discussion. In the past it was used to color porcelain blue - hence the name of the color cobalt blue. Today it is a mineral used primarily in the manufacture of batteries used in electric vehicles, consumer electronics and energy storage. 

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common batteries using cobalt, with cobalt accounting for 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 in helping to extend the useful life of batteries and therefore increase the sustainability of the product.

Cobalt RohmaterialCopper-cobalt ore being mined at an artisanal mine in Kolwezi, DR Congo.

 

From mine to market - tracing cobalt to its origin.

While 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 the Congo (DRC). There are other countries such as Australia, Morocco, 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 in natural resources, the Democratic Republic of the 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, has not been enforced.

This has resulted in conditions on the ground that many consider unacceptable - I'm talking specifically about the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, which accounts 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. H. Hammer and chisel, plastic bags and bicycles for transportation, sometimes up to 80 meters underground.

Handwerklicher Cobaltabbau

Artisanal cobalt mining is an important source of income for more than 150,000 men and women.

 

The Great Enigma: Is responsible, artisanal cobalt sourcing an unattainable goal? 

Cobalt rose to prominence after Amnesty International published a 2016 report linking it to child labor. At that 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 reacted knee-jerk, preferring to stop sourcing the material from DRC. Some companies and CEOs have even gone so far as to publicly state that they are focused on extracting 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 the sake of sustainability. After all, it contributes to battery life, but we must address the challenges associated with artisanal mining in the DRC. 

Even if you pulled out of Congo and sourced the mineral elsewhere - including by integrating recycled cobalt into your supply chain - chances are the material will be combined with Congo-originated material by the time it reaches battery suppliers in China , where it is currently difficult to determine whether the material came from an industrial or an artisanal mine due to a lack of traceability and the complexity of the supply chain.

two women washing ore at an artisanal mine site

A large proportion of the workforce are women, who typically wash the ore to increase the purity and concentration of the material. The FCA recently made protective clothing available to ensure they are not directly exposed to the dirty water.

 

ASM Cobalt - more of an overlooked opportunity than a risk to be avoided.

However, we must be clear that we do not believe that artisanal mining is bad per se. Although this is perhaps the first time you are hearing about it, the sector employs an estimated 40 million people worldwide. Artisanal mining is not a fringe phenomenon limited to cobalt from the DRC, but includes other metals such as gold, tungsten, tin, diamonds, precious stones, sandstone and even lead, employing men and women in Asia, Africa and South America. These people, in most cases, take pride in referring to artisanal mining as their livelihood. The mining laws of countries where artisanal mining is practiced often recognize artisanal mining as a legitimate activity. They codify rules for the sector as they apply to industrial mining, including taxation and land reclamation requirements, but in many of these countries the discrepancy between the wording of the law and its local implementation creates challenges .

Rather than retiring 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 sector's development potential is to provide access to the finance and investment needed to professionalize working conditions despite the small scale of activities. 

Our goal is to enable the estimated 150,000+ people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to work safely and earn a decent income from their hard work. We ensure that no children are present, that the right measures are taken and that 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, investing in the sector on this scale is only possible through collaboration. The Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) was created as a platform where companies from across the supply chain can make a positive contribution to the development of the artisanal mining sector in the DRC by viewing this sector as an overlooked opportunity and not a risk to be avoided.

For us, this means that responsible sourcing starts with taking responsibility. To achieve better practices, we must help create those practices by investing in developing the skills and infrastructure needed to keep people employed. More than five years after Amnesty International drew attention to the conditions in this sector, one thing is clear: abandoning ASM, the DRC, or even cobalt in general has unintended consequences that will affect the men and women working in this sector, and especially the children that we want to protect and get out of child labor, could be even more at risk than they already are.

Erste Hilfe Training der Fair Cobalt Alliance

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-sectoral platform for action that enables a just transition to a sustainable green economy.

The FCA is a platform for action that was created as a multi-stakeholder initiative - this means that not only multiple companies are involved, but also non-profit actors who have come together to tackle the challenges on the ground. Our members include companies from across the cobalt supply chain, from industrial mining companies like Glencore and CMOC, to mid-battery supply chain companies like ATL, Freyr or British Volt, to customer-facing companies like Fairphone, Signify, Sono Motors and now also SUSHI BIKES. 

With the financial support of our members, we have developed a holistic local program that includes a number of projects to create decent working conditions in the artisanal mines.

We do this through:

  • training workers and advocating investment in these mine sites
  • Remedy for child labour, d. H. Children identified at mine sites are not simply turned away, but are given support to attend school, pursue vocational training or do an internship so that they are no longer dependent on the income they generate from mining have
  • 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 incomes of people in the community - so that the Mining becomes an option and not the default option because there are no alternatives.

    We work with local civil society and local partners in the DRC, including organizations such as CMDS, the local cooperative running the Kamilombe mine, which FCA has supported since its inception in August 2020.

    The FCA is still a young organisation. The past year has been challenging due to a global pandemic and political changes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nonetheless, we have been able to make significant progress, establish ourselves and form strong partnerships with local civil society and relevant government agencies. We recently published our first impact report, which is dedicated to transparency and openness regarding the successes and challenges of our young initiative and in which we not only disclose the successes achieved so far, but also the finances of our organization.

    Infografik der Fair Cobalt Alliance

    infographic des FCA impact reports: 

     

    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. Membership of SUSHI BIKES not only helps us realize our vision to fully represent the cobalt supply chain and contribute 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 his journey - that responsible sourcing is not a privilege of the big 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's not just about advancing e-mobility and achieving a carbon-neutral society, but also about improving the impact of its products throughout supply chain, right at the source of the minerals that make life possible today. I congratulate SUSHI BIKES on taking this step in the right direction and look forward to fruitful cooperation in the years to come.

    More information and links:

    • visits sushi-bikes.com/impact and learn more about sustainability at SUSHI BIKES
    • read one Guest post by Andy, Founder and CEO of SUSHI BIKES on joining the Fair Cobalt Alliance
    • let here Download the FCA's 2021 Impact and Finance Report