The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faces severe issue: child labor, particularly within artisanal mining. Despite the country's abundant valuable minerals like cobalt and copper, it remains one of Africa's poorest nations. Congolese people do not reap the benefits of these resources; instead, years of resource extraction have led to impoverished living conditions and relentless labor. Children bear the brunt of this exploitation, often coming from socioeconomically disadvantaged families and becoming vulnerable to exploitation by both large companies and artisanal miners. The issue of child miners in the DRC is complex and sensitive. Large corporations frequently breach international trading regulations and human rights laws, while government oversight of these regulations is minimal. The lack of concerted efforts to hold tech companies accountable exacerbates these breaches of international law. Although regulations theoretically exist to combat child labor, their implementation remains ineffective. Companies such as Apple, Tesla, and Samsung are significant consumers of cobalt from the DRC, sourced from both industrial and artisanal mining operations. Urgent preventive action is needed to shield children from exploitation. Addressing child labor requires a collaborative effort involving international, governmental, and local stakeholders. While underlying reasons for child labor in the DRC persist, the increasing dominance of large companies obtaining cheap cobalt further endangers the future of children. It exacerbates environmental crises with widespread ramifications for the nation and the continent.
The exploitative nature ofBig tech companies
The push to address environmental concerns and seek innovative solutions has prompted a focus on energy efficiency. Industries worldwide are embracing a transformative approach aimed at mitigating environmental issues. Cobalt has emerged as a critical component in reducing reliance on fossil fuels, making it a highly valued mineral crucial for environmental restoration and energy sustainability.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) holds more than half of the world's cobalt reserves, with 70% of global cobalt mining occurring in the DRC. This unique mineral plays a significant role in the operations of major tech companies like Tesla and Apple. Cobalt is integral to producing lithium-ion batteries, which power devices such as laptops and electric vehicles. However, the accessibility of cobalt, the complex realities of its extraction has significant negative consequences associated with mining practices.
Child labor abuses
Socio-economic disparities and poverty drive the prevalence of child labor, particularly in minings where cobalt, copper, and diamonds are extracted. With limited legal employment opportunities available, families often send their children to work in mines in hopes of earning minimal wages, sometimes as little as $1-$2 is enough. While exploitation is common in mining operations, it is not just children who are employed; entire families engage in this work to make ends meet. However, the conditions under which children work are dire. They work alongside adults, enduring grueling labor without breaks, often carry heavy loads and risk their lives in hazardous conditions, including digging the soul as deep as 200-300 meters. Mining by these children is done by bare hands and no masks, which is also risks their health.
In cobalt mining areas, there are approximately 200,000 artisanal miners upon whom millions depend for employment. Shockingly, children as young as six years old are involved in this labor, carrying heavy loads across mining sites to trading destinations. Reports suggest that around 40,000 children are employed in mining, with some as young as four years old. These children face serious health risks, including exposure to diseases and neglect.
The exploitation of children in mining violates their rights, as enshrined in international law. Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
The Future of Congo
Communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are already experiencing serious environmental degradation as a result of massive deforestation, forced evictions, and the destruction of local habitats, including agricultural fields. A critical issue exacerbating these challenges is big tech companies' systemic disregard for the rights and well-being of local populations, who are frequently forced to leave their homes to make way for mining operations, such as the mining industry's joint venture Compagnie Minière de Musonoie Global SAS (COMMUS) with Zijin Mining Group Ltd.
One of such tragedy example highlighted by Amnesty International illustrates the plight of a family rendered homeless due to the demolition of their dwelling. Thier home was in Kolwezi where entire settlement were evacuated for mining purposes. Prior to such demolitions, soldiers often issue warnings to residents, adding to the distress and uncertainty faced by affected communities. The repercussions of these actions are far-reaching, as the destruction of forests and the forced relocation of entire villages disrupt ecosystems, destroy biodiversity, and undermine the livelihoods of local populations who depend on these resources for sustenance and economic stability. Furthermore, the environmental ramifications extend beyond the local level. Africa's contribution of "five percent of carbon dioxide globally" underscores the continent's significant carbon footprint, much of which can be attributed to activities such as deforestation and displacement for mining purposes. (Lawson, 2021). This dilemma not only hampers global efforts to combat climate change but also poses a substantial challenge to the renewable energy ambitions of many corporations, highlighting the urgent need for sustainable and ethical practices in resource extraction.
In 2019, the Enterprise Générale du Cobalt (EGC) was established to enhance mining ethics and regulations. This initiative aimed to improve the overall safety and legality of mining operations, benefiting approximately two million miners while also fostering responsibility in mining communities. The primary objective of EGC was to ensure that ethical mining practices are measured and that miners are treated fairly and operate within established protocols. Additionally, international organizaitons, like the Combatting Child Labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Cobalt Industry (COTECCO), had built framework for stakeholders in the DRC to advance the working conditions of small-scale miners and promote the enforcement of policies aimed at reducing child labor. Combined international efforts has garnered improvement in the scope of understanding child labor in mining, leading to increased pressure on big tech companies to adhere to international trade regulations. As a result, major corporations like Tesla have implemented measures, such as using cobalt tracing techniques form mining sites, to ensure that resources are ethically sourced. However, despite these collective efforts from both international and governmental levels, child labor remains prevalent in DRC's mining sectors. Corruption poses a significant obstacle to effectively implementing protective regulations and policies. With the cooperation of big tech companies in adhering to these regulations, governmental oversight is sufficient to address the issue.
the issue of child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) mining sector is extremely disturbing, with children subjected to exploitation and dangerous conditions in the search of rich minerals such as cobalt. While progress has been made, concerted and persistent efforts are required to effectively eliminate child labor from the DRC's mining sector. By implementing comprehensive strategies, we can work toward a future in which all children are safe from exploitation and have the opportunity to thrive.
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Amnesty International. (2023, October 31). Democratic Republic of the Congo: Industrial mining of cobalt and copper for rechargeable batteries is leading to grievous human rights abuses. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/09/drc-cobalt-and-copper-mining-for-batteries-leading-to-human-rights-abuses/
Combatting child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Cobalt Industry (COTECCO). (n.d.). DOL. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/combatting-child-labor-democratic-republic-congos-cobalt-industry-cotecco
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