University of Bath film, ’Cobalt Rush’, screened at United Nations

Award-winning documentary shown at UN event to expose the ’invisible’ working conditions in the multi-billion dollar cobalt industry.

A 20-minute documentary shot on location in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which powerfully tells the story of cobalt extraction from the perspective of artisanal miners at the bottom of the supply chain, was screened last week at a UN event calling for improved working conditions in the cobalt industry.

’Cobalt Rush’ , produced by award-winning filmmakers, Roy Maconachie , Professor of Natural Resources and Development at the University of Bath, Simon Wharf from the University’s Media Production team, and Dr Bossissi Nkuba (a specialist in mining governance from the DRC), was screened at UN Headquarters in New York, during the first-ever UN General Assembly Sustainability Week (15-19 April), convened by the President of the General Assembly.

As the global demand for cobalt - an essential element in batteries for electric vehicles and consumer electronics - continues to grow apace, the perilous and abusive working conditions for cobalt miners are widely unknown, and in most cases remain ’invisible’ in the cobalt supply chain.

The film follows the lives of three workers in the cobalt mines in Lualaba Province in the DRC, exposing the extreme poverty, health concerns and exploitation they face.

"We created this film to give voice to the artisanal miners, or ’cresuers’, as they are referred to locally, who operate on the outskirts of large-scale mining operations under horrific conditions", said Professor Maconachie. "To take their story to the UN is a significant moment, and we hope it will play a key part in waking up the world to the need for social and environmental justice in the global transition for green, sustainable energy."

Hosted by the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations (WCPUN) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), the event was designed to raise awareness of the predicament of cobalt workers and to seek solutions to improve their working conditions.

Following the film screening, an interactive panel discussion was moderated by Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Special Representative to the UN. In addition to Professor Maconachie’s involvement, other panel members at the event included: Zenon Ngay Mukongo (Permanent Representative of the DRC to the UN), Cristina Duarte (UN Special Advisor on Africa), Casper Edmonds (Director of Manufacturing, Mining and Energy at the ILO), Glen Mpufane (Director of the Industrial Global Union), Patricia Veringa Gieskes (Federation des Enterprises du Congo), and Shamina de Gonzaga (WCPUN).

Simon Wharf, filmmaker at the University added: "These men and women face perilous working conditions, human rights abuses, and are paid poverty wages, but they still find hope and ambition. It was a privilege to work with them and we hope that screening the film on such an important international stage will help to bring meaningful change."

Cobalt Rush won two national honours at the Learning on Screen Awards 2023 in London: Best Educational Film Award and the prestigious ’Premier Award’, at a ceremony at the British Film Institute.

It builds on previous projects from Maconachie and Wharf , including ’Voices from the Mine’ - which focused on the artisanal diamond supply chain in Sierra Leone - and ’Gender and Fairtrade’ - which looked at conditions for female cocoa farmers in Ghana.