DR Congo copper, cobalt miners trapped in exploitative conditions: NGOs

DR Congo copper, cobalt miners trapped in exploitative conditions: NGOs
A general view of the Kamilombe artisanal mine near the city of Kolwezi, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on June 20, 2023. The Democratic Republic of Congo produces over 70 percent of the global supply of cobalt. The metal is a critical component of batteries and seen as key to the renewable energy transition. Most of the central African country's cobalt is produced by industrial mines, but the it also has hundreds of thousands of informal diggers who toil in hazardous conditions. (Photo by Emmet LIVINGSTONE / AFP)


Tens of thousands of workers in the DR Congo mining cobalt and copper -- metals essential to the green energy transition -- are trapped in exploitative low-wage conditions, two NGOs warned Tuesday.


Big mining companies are keeping workers in poverty through an employment model that results in "serious labour rights violations", a report by UK-based corporate watchdog, RAID, and a Democratic Republic of Congo human rights group, CAJJ, said.


More than half of workers employed by mining companies are subcontractors, whose average monthly salary was $330 in 2021-2022, the report said. Some earned as little as $90 a month.


The NGOs estimated the living wage for miners in the Central African country had risen to $501 a month, up from $402 in 2021-2022.


"The sad reality is that workers are getting poorer, and their living conditions are deteriorating, while their multinational employers seem to be reaping huge profits," Josue Kashal, of the Centre d'Aide Juridique-Judiciaire (Legal Judicial Assistance Centre), CAJJ, said.


Unlike direct employees, the NGOs said subcontractors are "subjected to excessive working hours, degrading treatment, violence, discrimination, racism, unsafe working conditions, and a disregard for basic health provision."


"The mining industry's claims of supplying 'sustainable' green minerals to the world's markets are simply not matched by the dire reality facing thousands of exploited Congolese workers," Anneke Van Woudenberg, RAID's executive director, said.


Cobalt is a crucial component in the production of batteries for electric vehicles, while copper is needed to build charging infrastructure.


More than 70 percent of the world's cobalt is mined at Kolwezi in DRC and the country is the world's third-largest copper producer, the statement added, released on the eve of DRC Mining Week in the southeastern mining city of Lubumbashi.