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20 Feb 2024


DRC: Increasing number of cases successfully hold cobalt mining companies accountable using national labour laws, NGO says

"Congolese workers challenge mining companies in DRC courts", 20 February 2024

... Recent legal challenges by workers against companies operating in the cobalt sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) show signs that workers are beginning to demand a change in corporate behaviour. Together with... lawyers, mine workers are using national laws against companies who fail to respect labour rights. And they are winning.

Cobalt, primarily found in DRC, is a critical mineral that makes up part of the lithium-ion battery used in electric vehicles. In 2021, research... exposed dire conditions, discrimination and extremely low pay at some of the world’s largest industrial cobalt mines. The conditions were worse for those hired through subcontractors...

CASE 1: A win for union representation

Subcontractor at Sicomines / Direct employees at Somidez

In 2022, CAJJ, on behalf of workers, initiated a... legal action on the rights of workers to unionise. The case against Bangde Construction SARL (a subcontracting company of Sicomines, jointly owned by Sinohydro Corp, China Railway Group and the Congolese government) exposed Bangde Construction’s failure to permit the election of trade union delegates. ... A similar legal action was also used against Société Miniere De Deziwa (Somidez), a joint mining venture between the China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group and Gécamines, the Congolese state mining company. As a result, Somidez also subsequently organised union elections. Both cases represent an important success for workers seeking to raise standards through unions.

CASE 2:  Injured worker sues for medical treatment

Subcontractor at La Minière de Kalukundi SA (LAMIKAL)

This case was directed against the LAMIKAL mine, majority owned by China’s Wanbao company, and against its subcontracting company BALTO. A security agent working with BALTO was seriously injured when he was shot in the leg during an attempted robbery at the mine site. ...

In February 2023, CAJJ submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office against both LAMIKAL and BALTO. The prosecutor summoned the two directors of BALTO to appear for questioning. When they failed to turn up, he issued an arrest warrant, which resulted in BALTO quickly paying the medical bill for its employee. The case was concluded in July 2023.

CASE 3: Compensation order for unlawful termination of employment

Congo Invest Corporation (CIC), subcontractor at Glencore’s Mutanda (MUMI) mine

On 28 October 2022, the Kolwezi Labour Tribunal decided on an individual case brought by CAJJ against CIC… allegedly unlawfully ended the contract of more than 100 workers and failed to pay salaries... between 2019-2021. CIC was ordered to pay $9,000 compensation... CIC is appealing the decision.

CASE 4: Challenging inhumane conditions and degrading treatment

Kalongwe Mining S.A.

In November 2022, CAJJ brought one of the first ever complaints before the Prosecutor’s Office at the Lualaba Court of Appeal for [allegedly] degrading treatment and inhumane conditions at an industrial mine. The case against Kalongwe Mining, majority owned by China’s Chengtun Mining, was brought by 10 workers. ... The case is ongoing.

CASE 5: Class action on widespread violations of the labour code.

Elias & Matis Trading SARL, subcontractor at Glencore’s KCC mine

In [a]… class action launched in November 2023, a group of workers represented by CAJJ filed a claim against subcontractor Elias & Matis Trading… The subcontractor is accused of widespread labour law violations, ... The class action is in progress.

These legal cases demonstrate that workers are not waiting for companies to voluntarily act in the best interest of local communities. Instead, they are putting their own national laws to the test...