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Apple Cobalt Supplier Seeking Ethical Supply with Industry Pilot

"It is literally impossible at the moment for any company to say that their cobalt supply chain is highly ethical," said Nicholas Garrett, a director at the Better Sourcing Program.

A supplier of cobalt to Apple Inc. is joining with others in the industry to try to ensure the metal used in rechargeable batteries is sourced ethically after some mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the top producer, were found to be dangerous or employ child labor.

China’s Huayou Cobalt Co. is among refiners, miners, gadget firms and global carmakers collaborating in the Better Cobalt trial project that seeks to track supply from Congo mines to the batteries used in phones and vehicles, said Nicholas Garrett, a director at the Better Sourcing Program running the pilot. He declined to name other members while contracts are being completed.

The pilot will assess safety at five small-scale and artisanal mines in Congo’s southeast, and for the first time attempt to electronically track cobalt from the sites to ensure it isn’t mixed with metal from unknown sources, Garrett said.

At least two-thirds of cobalt supply was mined in Congo last year, with about a fifth from artisanal sites, where miners dig by hand in often risky conditions.

The program follows efforts to track the supply of conflict minerals like tin and coltan in eastern Congo, where London-based Better Sourcing also operates.

"It is literally impossible at the moment for any company to say that their cobalt supply chain is highly ethical," Garrett said. "We can make sourcing from the artisanal and small-scale sector a possibility for more companies and, in fact, something that is a good contribution to the regional economy."

By Tom Wilson

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