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9 Nov 2021

[Report] The road to ruin ? Electric vehicles and workers’ rights abuses at DR Congo’s industrial cobalt mines

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This report, based on extensive research over two years, paints a very different picture. It shows dire conditions for many Congolese workers in the industrial mines, often characterised by widespread exploitation and labour rights abuses. Many workers do not earn a “living wage” – the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living – have little or no health provision, and far too often are subjected to excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, degrading treatment, discrimination and racism...

The research focuses on five of the world’s largest copper and cobalt mines. They are owned or operated by multinational mining companies which together produced nearly half of the global supply of cobalt in 2020: (i) Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), (ii) Eurasian Resources Group’s Metalkol RTR, (iii), China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM), (iv) China Nonferrous Metal Mining Company (CNMC)’s Société minière de Deziwa (Somidez) of which the Congolese state company Gécamines owns 49% and, (v) Sino-congolaise des mines (Sicomines) a joint venture between Gécamines and a consortium of Chinese companies and investors...

Official figures show at least 26,455 workers are employed either directly or indirectly at the mines covered by our research, of which more than half (57%) are supplied by subcontractors. At some mines, it was even greater...Workers employed by subcontractors earn substantially less than those hired directly by the mining companies and most (63%) do not earn the living wage of $402 per month, the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living...

In recent years, mining companies have sought to better align with societal values. The companies featured in our report have developed internal human rights standards, joined industry initiatives for more ethical mining, or made public commitments to promote and protect the rights of their workers. Although these commitments are much needed, the degree to which they are translated into practice is often unclear. RAID and CAJJ wrote to the five mining companies to share our research findings and to seek responses to a detailed list of questions. We received responses from four companies: KCC, Metalkol, Sicomines and TFM. One of the companies, Somidez, did not respond despite repeated attempts to contact them. Despite emphasising the positive measures in place for their employees, the mining companies provided significantly less support to workers hired via subcontractors. Only Glencore, the owner of KCC, said it had acted to suspend some of its subcontractors due to safety or non-performance. None of the other companies reported taking such action. The letters and the full responses from the companies can be found on RAID’s website...

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