The UK’s – and the world’s – ‘green industrial revolution’ is intrinsically tied to the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This largely informal sector produces approximately 12–21% of the world’s cobalt each year – a vital component in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries powering the global transition to a low carbon economy and employing as many as 200,000 cobalt miners in DRC as well as supporting hundreds of thousands more people in related livelihood activities. Yet many artisanal cobalt miners suffer dangerous working conditions, human rights abuses, and abuses relating to child labour. Addressing these issues of modern slavery in ASM is therefore vital to the achievement of all 17 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG1 No Poverty, SDG13 Climate Action, and crucially, SDG8 Decent Work Economic Growth which includes Target 8.7 to ‘end modern slavery’ – the first international framework specifically using the term modern slavery.
However, with ASM largely absent from modern slavery policy formation, there are significant gaps in how the concept is applied and addressed in ASM and overlaps with existing responsible mineral sourcing legislation and initiatives. The aim of this chapter, therefore, is to enhance understanding of how the term modern slavery is applied to ASM activities, examine the accompanying modern slavery legislation regarding ASM, including the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act, and explore how communities and companies perceive, report, and address such issues in their mineral supply chains. Based on an in-depth review of the literature and drawing on the findings of practical research and training workshops held in the UK and DRC (January–March 2020), four recommendations are made to better address modern slavery in DRC-UK cobalt supply chains. To maximise the development potential of DRC’s ASM cobalt industry, the chapter argues that aside from the moral responsibility, there is a need to clearly demonstrate the market-driven ‘business imperatives’ for companies to engage directly in ASM formalisation initiatives that unlock shared value and move beyond compliance with modern slavery and responsible mineral sourcing and reporting requirements.