Sustainable cobalt

Umicore's pioneering approach to ethical cobalt sourcing

Umicore is the first company in the world to have introduced a Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt and is the first to obtain external validation for its ethical procurement approach in this area. It aims to minimize the risk of any connection between the cobalt in its supply chain – and subsequently that of its customers – and human rights abuses or unethical business practices.

The framework builds on the specific approach to sustainable and ethical cobalt sourcing that Umicore introduced in 2004. Since then it has evolved to address specific risks linked to unethical mining practices, such as child labour and poor health and safety conditions.  

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A worldwide leader in cobalt

For over 100 years Umicore has been a world leader in cobalt products. Cobalt is used in many applications, from tooling to rechargeable batteries for electric cars.


Cobalt supply chain risks

Cobalt ore is found in many parts of the world. The raw material can be found in many parts of the world but some reserves are in regions fraught with challenges, giving rise to unethical practices such as forced labour, poor health and safety conditions, child labour and corruption.


Sustainable cobalt sourcing

We want to ensure that no unethically mined cobalt enters our process and our sustainable procurement framework for cobalt aims to protect our customers from any association with unethically sourced materials.


Due diligence process

To ensure the traceability of materials in our supply chain we carry out detailed research and risk assessments of our suppliers. This includes visiting plants, screening policies and procedures and, if required, developing improvement programmes.


Third party assurance

We have received independent third party validation for applying our sustainable procurement framework for cobalt and are committed to make continued improvements.

Read the compliance report for the audit on the reporting year 2020

Origin of cobalt raw materials Due Diligence Archive

Umicore's Position on Sustainable Cobalt Sourcing

Umicore confirms its commitment to ethical and sustainable cobalt

Latest update on 17 December 2019

Umicore commits to supply battery materials, including cobalt, in an ethical and sustainable way. We take all possible actions and measures in order to ensure clean and ethical cobalt in our supply chain. Accordingly we strongly contest any allegations to the contrary. 

Umicore was one of the first companies to proactively address issues such as human rights, child labor, occupational health and safety conditions and environmental impact related to the extraction of cobalt. 

Almost 15 years ago, Umicore made the decision to exclude entirely from its supply chain cobalt obtained from Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), as these involve unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and very often child labor, and established its specific sustainable procurement framework for cobalt. Since then, Umicore has acted as an industry leader to promote a responsible and sustainable supply of cobalt, exempt not only from ASM but also from abuses of the environment, workers’ health and their safety, and became the first supplier of battery materials to have a reputable third party reviewing its supply chain framework in accordance with the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines. 

Being the first company in the world with such a framework for cobalt and the first to obtain external validation for its ethical procurement approach in this area, Umicore is a true pioneer in providing its customers in the rechargeable battery value chain with materials of a certified clean and ethical origin.

Umicore’s approach to ethical cobalt sourcing is further described in its Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt.


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Our approach

For over a century Umicore has been a world leader in cobalt products, used in many applications, from tooling to rechargeable batteries for electric cars.

Some reserves of cobalt ore are in regions fraught with challenges, giving rise to unethical practices such as forced labor, poor health and safety conditions, child labor and corruption.

For us, sustainable procurement of cobalt means considering economic, environmental and social performance of our suppliers, and the social and environmental impact of the supply, in the purchase of materials. To source cobalt, we have implemented a pioneering Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt and were the first to obtain external validation for our approach in this area.

The various sustainability aspects of the battery supply chain include the conditions under which raw materials are extracted and processed. Umicore is aware of the sustainability risks that are linked to the sourcing of cobalt particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities are linked to issues such as human rights abuses, child labor, poor occupational health and safety conditions. In 2004 Umicore decided to exclude cobalt obtained from ASM from its supply chain.

Umicore is the first company in the world to have introduced a Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt and to obtain external validation for its ethical procurement approach in this area. It aims to minimize the risk of any connection between the cobalt in its supply chain – and subsequently that of its customers – and human rights abuses or unethical business practices. Building on the specific approach to sustainable and ethical cobalt sourcing that Umicore introduced in 2004, the framework has evolved to address specific risks linked to unethical mining practices, such as child labor and poor health and safety conditions. Regular independent audits ensure that Umicore’s supply chain remains compliant with these policies.

To ensure the traceability of materials in our supply chain, we carry out detailed research and risk assessments of our suppliers. This includes visiting plants, screening policies and procedures and, if required, developing improvement programs. In 2020, Umicore again performed due diligence activities for all its purchased cobalt materials used in rechargeable batteries, tools, catalysts and several other applications. In 2019, Umicore piloted a new third-party site audit protocol on our largest cobalt supplier, with a plan to roll out to other suppliers starting in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the roll out of our new third-party audit was not possible. Umicore did however follow up on mitigation actions defined in the previous year’s audit.

Umicore obtained, for the sixth year in a row, third-party assurance from PwC that our 2020 cobalt purchases are carried out in line with the conditions set out in the Framework. The share of cobalt from recycled origin was also reviewed as part of the assurance process and decreased to 4% in 2020, down from 9% in 2019, in part due to the impact of COVID-19 on the availability of cobalt-containing industrial scraps and end-of-life materials for recycling.

The 2020 Due Diligence Compliance Report for Cobalt Procurement, as well as previous years’ reports are available online.

Umicore also supports the development of traceability projects across the industry. In 2019, the Cobalt Institute launched the Cobalt Industry Responsible Assessment Framework (CIRAF), a management framework which strengthens the ability of cobalt producers and buyers to assess, mitigate, and report on responsible production and sourcing risks in their operations and supply chain. Umicore is again reporting on our supply chain using the CIRAF, which we helped develop. In 2020, Umicore’s supply chain approach is aligned with the level 3 requirements of the CIRAF, an improvement from level 2 in 2019. The compliance report for 2020 is available online.

Within the Battery Alliance, Umicore continues to support the development of a battery passport to ensure transparency on the origin of the raw materials, their transformation, use and end of life. The passport will trace the origins of battery materials and monitor them throughout their entire lifecycle on a global digital platform, to help eradicate unacceptable social or environmental practices and push unsustainable materials out of the market.

  • Umicore Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt


    At Umicore we are committed to the principles of sustainable development and we seek, wherever possible, to conduct business with partners that have already made such a commitment or are willing to take steps in this direction.

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