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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Responsible sourcing and the (in)visibilization of Congo's artisanal cobalt miners in the age of the green energy transition Deberdt, Raphael


This dissertation provides an ethnographic exploration of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through the lives of artisanal miners who operate in the Lualaba and Haut-Katanga provinces. The extraction of cobalt is at the fore of the transition away from fossil fuels. Key to battery manufacturing, the DRC provides 70 percent of the world’s cobalt; 20 percent of which originates from the labor of artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM). My research explores the implementation of localized responsible artisanal sourcing projects inscribed in extractive practices defined by (post)colonial structures and implemented in the geopolitically strategic green transition. Through multi-sited fieldwork, with online and in-person interviews, participant observation, and archival work, conducted between 2019 and 2023, I address the following questions: (1) How do these criminalizing and Othering practices impact the ways in which individual miners conceive of their individual and collective identities? (2) How does the responsible minerals industry both integrate and reject the artisanal production and the workers involved in this production? (3) How do these exclusionary responses by the corporate expand our understanding of what it means to be an artisanal miner inscribed in the global rush for minerals? The data I gathered reveals a multi-faceted industry. My main findings highlight that (1) artisanal miners are concomitantly visibilized and invizibilized. This practice is achieved through (2) the use of technocratic auditing tools that both question the legitimacy of ASM and justify new mining frontiers. Finally, (3) the geopolitical ramifications of the strategic nature of cobalt are a recentering of Congo and its constitutive provinces in global supply chains fueling the green transition. This dissertation informs future directions for research on the extraction of cobalt in the DRC and, more broadly, on the climate extractivism forced upon many areas of the Global South by the green transition.

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