Ex-Microsoft manager lands Responsible Cobalt Initiative role

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former manager for Microsoft Corp in China has been named as the first executive secretary of the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI), which works to address social and environmental risks in the cobalt supply chain.

Christina Feng, who managed the U.S. tech giant’s program for the responsible sourcing of raw materials until January 2017, was appointed to the full-time RCI role earlier this month and will be based in Beijing, Feng said in an interview with Reuters late on Wednesday.

The 28-member RCI, which groups high-profile cobalt users such as Apple Inc, Sony Corp and Volvo, was established under the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) in 2016.

It is currently in the process of selecting a premises for its secretariat in the Chinese capital.

Cobalt, a metal used in lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones and electric vehicles (EVs), has shot to prominence in recent months and its price has skyrocketed due to expected growth in demand from the booming EV sector, especially in China.

But Amnesty International has warned of human rights abuses, including child labor, linked to cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which produces more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt.

“I consider my role as being responsible for the operations of the secretariat, defining the strategy of the RCI and developing work plans in consultation with board members and other member companies,” Feng told Reuters.

“I think right now the priority is to really define our strategy” for at least the next three years after a long formalization process, she added.

The RCI is currently chaired by the CCCMC, with China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co Ltd and Germany’s BMW as vice chairs.

Feng said she has never been to the DRC but is planning a visit. The child labor issue is “on the top of our radar” but a “complicated issue in the DRC context,” she added.

The RCI intends to hold an open session for cobalt market participants at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a key backer of the RCI, in Paris in mid-April, said Feng.

Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Christian Schmollinger