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THE TRAGEDY OF ARTISANAL COBALT MINING IN THE DR CONGO

  • 70% of the world’s cobalt is produced in the DR Congo

  • Within the DR Congo, most cobalt comes from two southern copper belt provinces, one of which is Haut-Katanga province – home to our nonprofit Kimbilio, a safe haven for street-connected children including many who have labored in cobalt mining

  • Human rights abuses are rife in the artisanal cobalt mining industry

90%

The portion of DR Congo exports coming from mineral extraction

2,000

The estimated number of persons dying in artisanal mines each year

40,000

The estimated number of children working in mines in the Southern DR Congo

Worldwide demand for cobalt is burgeoning.  Cobalt, a byproduct of mining for copper and nickel, is a key component of rechargeable batteries in electric cars, computers and cellphones.  Demand for cobalt is anticipated to have tripled from 2010 to 2025. 
The DR Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, and cobalt is a critical part of its economy.  Most cobalt comes from large scale mining operations.  A portion also comes from artisanal mining that takes place alongside the larger operations.  There are an estimated 150,000 + artisanal miners in the Southern DR Congo, including men, women and children

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Q: What is artisanal cobalt mining? A: In the DR Congo, men, women and children perform freelance mining (aka artisanal mining) at sites that are often adjacent to industrial mines. Artisanal miners typically work with minimal to no tools or protective gear. It’s a way to earn a meager wage, but at a great human price.

Q: Is artisanal cobalt mining legal in the DR Congo? A: The DR Congo has laws in place which are intended to restrict artisanal mining to zones where it can be regulated. Enforcement is weak.

Q: Are large scale industrial mines completely separate from artisanal mines? A: Yes and no. Industrial mines are owned and operated by corporate entities and their miners are their employees. In this sense they are indeed separate. And, there is industry recognition that the conditions for artisanal miners in particular are abhorrent. But industrial mines are known to purchase cobalt from artisanal miners, and in the cobalt supply chain, there is no way to routinely discern the cobalt source.

Q: What are the dangers to artisanal miners? A: There are many dangers. Walls of large pits can collapse, causing death or loss of limbs and other injuries. Artisanal miners hand dig tunnels for mining, without any safety measures such as ventilation or support shafts. These tunnels collapse, too. Children are trafficked from other parts of Congo by militias to work in the mines. Significant exposure to dust containing cobalt can cause a potentially fatal lung disease as well as a multitude of other serious respiratory, cardiac and skin problems.

Q: How prevalent is child labor in the mines? A: Child labor is very prevalent. Sometimes parents have to make the horrendous choice to engage their children in mining activities in order to afford basic necessities. Children are also separated from their families after being trafficked to work in the mines, and find themselves alone and living on the streets.

Q: Do Kimbilio children have histories of working in mines? A: Yes. Artisanal mining is one of several big societal challenges resulting in children living on the streets in Lubumbashi.

Sources:

  1. The Cobalt Institute, www.cobaltinstitute.org

  2. Amnesty International, “This is What We Die For,” 2015

  3. Delve, “2020 State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector”

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