Last month, in the wake of serious reports of worker mistreatment in industrial copper-cobalt mines, ten Congolese and International NGOs alongside the Congolese affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union wrote a public letter addressing thirteen industrial copper and cobalt operators in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with grave concerns about the treatment of mineworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers in the industrial copper-cobalt mines of Lualaba and Haut-Katanga provinces, many owned and operated by multinationals, have been forced to choose between being confined in the mine site or taking leave with fear of unemployment or lack of paid sick leave. For workers who choose to stay, many have been made to work excessive hours and sleep in poor conditions with inadequate food, in some cases for months on end.
“We believe that companies around the world will be remembered by how they treat their workers during these challenging times. At a minimum, companies should not require workers to be held in mandatory confinement under threat of unemployment, should provide adequate personal protective equipment and access to water and sanitation facilities for all workers, and employ social distancing measures at all times.”
— Public Letter to Industrial Copper-Cobalt Mining Companies Operating in Lualaba/Haut Katanga
Part of a global trend
This is just one case among dozens which we recently highlighted in a co-produced report – Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic – designed to expose the manner in which mining companies are putting workers at greater risk during the pandemic. For more perspective on how mineworkers are confronting these challenges, check out this piece by Kemal Ozkan and Glen Mpufane of IndustriALL Global Union.
Making Clean Energy Clean, Just and Equitable
Several of the cases featured in the report are from regions where nickel, lithium or cobalt are being extracted. Earthworks has been building relationships with communities and local NGOs on the frontlines of these expanding mining frontiers to help ensure that the sourcing of minerals for batteries and other low-carbon technologies is as just and equitable as possible. The actions of mining companies and government regulators, now exacerbated in the context of the pandemic, raise serious concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mineral sourcing for low-carbon technologies, and highlight the need for greater action in solidarity with workers and communities along these supply chains.
The report is also available in Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Banner photo: An industrial opencast copper-cobalt mine in the DRC