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25 Nov 2021

Pete Pattisson and Febriana Firdaus, The Guardian (UK)

DR Congo: China’s dominance of copper-cobalt mines raises concern as Congolese workers complain of unfair pay and degrading treatment

"‘Battery arms race’: how China has monopolised the electric vehicle industry", 25 November 2021

[...] As the world transitions to electric vehicles (EVs), companies are racing to secure and strengthen their positions in the battery supply chain, from mineral extraction and processing to battery and EV manufacturing. [...] And in what has been dubbed, the “battery arms race”, China is in pole position. [...] Most of that cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where almost 70% of the mining sector is dominated by Chinese companies. [...]

But China’s dominance of DRC’s copper-cobalt mines comes at a price, according to claims by Congolese workers employed at them.

“The Chinese treat Congolese very badly. They like to insult us. They like to raise their voices. Even for a small fault, you’re punished. The Chinese are there as the boss to control Congolese,” says a worker employed at Sicomines, a mine majority-owned by a Chinese consortium, which includes Huayou Cobalt.

Workers at Sicomines claim they are paid less than Chinese workers who do the same jobs, and are subjected to degrading treatment by Chinese supervisors. [...]

A spokesperson for CMOC in DRC says, “We are devoted to providing a safe, healthy, and decent work environment to all employees and attach great importance to protecting the rights of employees.” The spokesperson says the company is committed to observing international labour conventions and local labour laws, adding that all DRC national employees are members of trade unions. [...]

Sicomines itself did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, in a statement Huayou Cobalt says, “Sicomines, as a responsible company, strictly abides by DRC laws and regulations and respects human rights and fulfils best labour practice.” [...]