ERG AFRICA INTERVIEW: “The DRC is a cornerstone of ERG’s copper and cobalt business”


Exclusive interview with Mr Patrick Mulumba, President Directeur General at ERG Africa’s Metalkol RTR project in the Haut-Katanga province. ERG Africa is a gold sponsor at the upcoming DRC Mining Week in Lubumbashi from 19-21 June.

Welcome back to DRC Mining Week! You have been a much valued, longstanding partner of the event. Why the decision to partner with the event again and tell us how your experience was in 2018 and what you are planning in terms of your presence at the event in 2019.

Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) is committed to Africa and has a number of projects across the continent. We have invested billions of dollars in mining operations and associated social and infrastructure development initiatives. The DRC Mining Week offers an excellent platform from which to share our experiences with local communities, as well as with other mining companies and investors.

Last year Luck Mumba, Head of Community and Responsible Mining Development at Metalkol RTR, participated in a session which explored solutions to Artisanal and Illegal Mining. The session on this vital topic was very engaging for all involved, and ERG both gained and shared a great deal of strategic and technical insight.

In 2019, we will share the details of our commitment to sustainable cobalt production by discussing the launch of our Clean Cobalt Framework, as well as our experiences as a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance.

Can we talk about ERG’s activities in DRC. There is a proud history there.

The DRC is a cornerstone of ERG’s copper and cobalt business. Both materials play a crucial role in the global battery sector and the rapid rise of electric vehicles across the global economy, and are central to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Consequently, demand for the metals is high, and set to increase over the medium term. As a founding member of the Global Battery Alliance, ERG is committed to meeting this growing demand in a sustainable manner, through its activities in the DRC and internationally.

Our flagship Metalkol RTR project – a hydrometallurgical facility to decontaminate historic copper and cobalt tailings from previous mining operations – is nearing completion. We invested several billions of dollars in this project. At full capacity, Metalkol RTR will produce 24,000 t/y, making it one of the world’s leading cobalt producers.

ERG’s focus on responsible production is underpinned by its Clean Cobalt Framework. Launched recently at Metalkol RTR, the framework aggregates and clarifies the Group’s commitments to sustainable production. Important features of the framework include:

• Our cobalt is free of child labour
• Our cobalt is traceable
• Our cobalt does not come from artisanal and small-scale mining
• Our production process complies with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals
• We restore the environment
• We collaborate to support sustainable community development
• We support our industry as it seeks to establish more sustainable cobalt value chains

ERG’s proud history in the DRC also includes a wide range of social development initiatives, which we have undertaken to improve the quality of life for local communities, and which incorporate multi-stakeholder efforts to establish a responsible supply chain. ERG has pledged more than US$1 million to support a three-year partnership with the Good Shepherd International Foundation. The partnership involves community development initiatives in the Kolwezi region that focus on helping children find ways out of ASM, alternative livelihoods, women’s empowerment and social business development. The Group is also launching “Children out of Mining-Northern Kolwezi”, led by international development organisation, Pact. This initiative aims to raise awareness and strengthen child protection norms in order to reduce the diverse social risks local communities face in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM).

Are there any particular mining projects that your organization is involved in that you are particularly excited about currently?

We recently started the developed of a blockchain-based solution (on the IBM Blockchain Platform) at our Metalkol RTR operation. The solution will help enhance the provenance and traceability of cobalt in the supply chain. Blockchain technology creates the ability to ensure that each bag of cobalt is traced to the mine where it was produced, and therefore allows ERG to give stronger provenance assurances to buyers. Our vision is that this technology will create increased levels of trust and transparency. The Blockchain initiative is therefore an important part of our on-going commitment to ensuring sustainable cobalt production through our Clean Cobalt Framework.

What in your view are the main challenges to the African mining sector? And the DRC in particular?

Uncertainty is a challenge to the African mining sector. Investment and operational decisions are often made on the assumption that the regulatory environment will be steady and predictable over the long term. However, this is often not the case, and mining businesses can face unexpected costs and operating conditions. This can render projects unprofitable, which can also put investments as a whole at risk. An uncertain and erratic environment has the potential to dissuade mining businesses from making investments and deepening their involvement in the socio-economic development of the countries they are operating in.

What is your message to prospective investors about the opportunities in the DRC mining sector?

Home to almost 50% of the global cobalt reserves, the DRC offers a range of important opportunities to the mining sector. Mining companies that have aspirations towards industry leadership would do well to consider the DRC and its repository of potential resources. They should also consider the broader macroeconomic and political environment, in order to ensure that potential risks have been weighed up.

What is your vision for the sector?

Our vision is that the sector continues to encourage businesses to make commitments to the sustainable and responsible sourcing and production of materials. Promising initiatives should be recognised and, where applicable, replicated. Lessons learnt should be carefully articulated, and adopted by the mining sector as a whole. In this way, the mining sector can continue to make a valuable contribution to the DRC economy (as well as internationally), especially with regards to local community development and environmental protection.

How important is Lubumbashi as mining hub for the sector moving forward and being an example for the rest of the country?

There are several areas that are important to the DRC mining sector – not only Lubumbashi – but also the Kolwezi region, where our flagship Metalkol RTR operation is located. At the heart of the aforementioned initiatives is ERG’s fundamental commitment to the responsible sourcing of cobalt. We hope other mining businesses will echo these initiatives in their own work, in the DRC and globally. Within this context, Lubumbashi plays a crucial role as a mining hub. It has the ability to set industry standards for other regions to follow.

What are you most looking forward to at DRC Mining Week? How important is this forum on the mining calendar?

We are looking forward to using this opportunity to contribute to a very important national and international dialogue, and continuing to advance the DRC mining sector as a whole. DRC Mining Week also offers an opportunity to connect with other mining businesses, to exchange ideas and to form or deepen commercial relationships and joint voluntary initiatives and partnerships.

What will ERG’s message be at the event in 2019?

ERG’s message and main commitment is built around the principle of responsible production – which it embeds across its business in the DRC, and internationally.

Materials which are found in abundance in the DRC, including cobalt, are helping to power the Fourth Industrial Revolution and to drive positive global change from an environmental point of view. It is important that strong global demand for such materials is met with sustainable practices, and that the benefits of economic activity are experienced not only across the supply chain, but also in local communities and across DRC society as a whole.

It is only through partnering with governments, NGOs and businesses from across the supply chain that meaningful progress can be achieved. This is why we have been working so hard to help the World Economic Forum establish and further develop the Global Battery Alliance, and we are pleased to explore how many diverse partners are co-ordinating their efforts to change the world for the better.