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7 Nov 2021

Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID)

DRC: Report reveals dire working conditions, discrimination & low pay across cobalt mines supplying electric vehicle manufacturers

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"Exploitation of Workers in DR Congo Taints Electric Vehicles", 7 November 2021

New research...reveals dire conditions, discrimination and extremely low pay at some of the world’s largest industrial cobalt mines operated by multinational mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo..

...The acceleration of EV production...appears to be linked to serious labour rights abuses, as revealed by the new research at five industrial mines in Congo where cobalt is produced...

Congolese workers interviewed for the research said they received very low pay and were subjected to excessive working hours, degrading treatment, violence, discrimination, racism, unsafe working conditions, and a disregard for even basic health provision. 

Some workers described being kicked, slapped, beaten with sticks, insulted, shouted at, or pulled around by their ears. Others reported severe discrimination and abuse at Chinese-operated mines...

The labour rights abuses are directly linked to an outsourcing model whereby workers are...employed indirectly via subcontracting firms...Those interviewed for the report...said the multinational companies do so to reduce labour costs, to limit their legal liabilities and to prevent workers from joining unions.  

Workers hired indirectly by the mines earn extremely low wages...They have limited healthcare benefits, sometimes as low as $10 per month, or none at all, even though Congolese law requires employers to provide free healthcare to workers and their dependents...

The findings are based on detailed research over 28 months and 130 interviews by...Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), and Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ)...

Four of the five mines featured in the research said they abide by international and industry standards and pointed to internal human rights standards they had developed. The degree to which these standards applied to a mine’s entire workforce (direct as well as indirect hires) was often unclear. 

In their report, RAID and CAJJ trace the cobalt from the five mines through the supply chain to EV manufacturers...These consumer-facing companies say they seek to source minerals responsibly. Although such commitments are much needed, none of the growing number of industry initiatives aimed at supply chains are binding and many do not cover workers’ exploitation or a broad range of labour rights...

Part of the following timelines

DRC: Subcontracted workers on Cobalt mines supplying electric vehicle manufacturers report discrimination, abuse, low wages & precarious working conditions; incl co. comments

DR Congo: Electric vehicles, energy transition and Chinese investment in cobalt and copper