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Glencore joins IBM, Ford blockchain consortium for cobalt provenance


Yesterday, British-Swiss commodities trading company Glencore announced it is joining the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN) for ethical sourcing and production of minerals. Glencore is the largest producer in the world of cobalt an element in electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

The mineral has been plagued with issues ranging from child labor to unsafe working conditions in artisan mines (as opposed to professional mines).

Members of the RSBN consortium include IBM, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo, Huayou Cobalt, LG Chem and RCS Global. Fiat Chrysler joined earlier this week. RSBN’s platform is built on the IBM Blockchain Platform, and previously ran a trial for cobalt provenance from Huayou’s mine site in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Glencore will leverage the blockchain platform for better traceability and transparency in its supply chain.

In August, the company said it would temporarily shut its Mutanda mine in Congo, likely for two years, citing falling cobalt prices and higher maintenance and tax costs. Prices have plummeted because of lower than expected demand and high levels of supply.

Despite the imminent closure of the flagship mine which accounts for 20% of the world’s cobalt output, cobalt production of the company for the quarter ending October rose 21% year on year owing to its operations in Katanga, Congo. Earlier this year, 43 illegal miners were killed in a landslide at Komoto, owned by Katanga Mining, a Reuters report said. 

Yesterday’s announcement said Glencore will initially focus on using the RSBN platform for cobalt and will obtain full membership by the end of February 2020. In future, the conglomerate will also use the network for other minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (3TG).

“RSBN plays a key role in advancing the sustainable partnership between the producers of commodities that will enable the transition to a low-carbon economy and key consumers around the world,” said Nico Paraskevas, Glencore Head of Marketing for Copper and Cobalt.

Meanwhile, RCS Global is a key player in the RSBN consortium and assesses each participant against responsible sourcing requirements set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Glencore is also a participant in a blockchain consortium formed in October, by the World Economic Forum. Seven metals and mining companies are participants in the Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative, which is working to address a lack of standards, track the provenance of minerals, increase efficiency and track carbon emissions.

IBM Blockchain also underpins the metals and mining network from Minehub, which launched its blockchain platform in October.

One of Glencore’s big competitors, Anglo American is one of the eight founding members of the Forcefield blockchain consortium targeted at metals post-trade processes.