German automobile company BMW, in partnership with companies from diverse industry backgrounds, has launched a cobalt pilot project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to improve working conditions for artisanal cobalt miners.

Other stakeholders in the pilot project include chemicals firm BASF SE, South Korean battery maker Samsung SDI, and Samsung Electronics.

The partners have signed a contract with German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to improve the living conditions of communities based in areas surrounding cobalt mining zones.

DRC is home to the world’s largest known reserves of cobalt, which is used in making batteries that power electric vehicles and phones. The demand for cobalt and lithium is on the rise as carmakers are increasingly focused on launching more environmentally friendly electric models.

Between 80% and 85% of the country’s cobalt production comes from industrial mining, while around 15% of the production is contributed by artisanal mines.

The partnership aims to address the challenges associated with artisanal cobalt mining in the areas of environment, health and safety, and human rights.

According to BMW, the scope of the project will cover one pilot mine within the next three years.

“These measures could then be scaled up to other legal artisanal mine sites and enhance systemic challenges.”

None of the partners in the joint project will operate the mine; it will be operated by a local cooperative. The objective of the project is to identify workable solutions that improve working conditions at the mining site.

In a statement, BMW said: “If proven effective, these measures could then be scaled up to other legal artisanal mine sites and enhance systemic challenges in the longer run.”

Prior to the launch of the pilot project, a feasibility study was jointly conducted by GIZ and BMW.