(The Southern African Times) – In December 2019 I learnt through the Guardian that Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla were all named in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by International Rights Advocates. The lawsuit pertained the issue of child labour in the DRC mining industry. I was immediately drawn to my own time spent in the DRC between 2008 and 2009 as a young researcher on African Affairs. While my initial mission was barely related to the mining industry itself I could not help but get sucked into the reality of despicable activities taking place on the mines which are located mostly in the Copper belt in Katanga and the Eastern parts of the country. Walking into the Eastern parts of the country was tantamount to walking through the gates of hell.
A Mining Weekly article dated June 2020 revealed that 15% of Congolese Children aged between 7 and 17 years of age are engaged in child labour activities. Any reader would wonder what is so important about the Congolese mines that such sacrifices have to be made. A United States Geological Survey revealed that the DRC as of 2009 had an estimated US$24 trillion in untapped minerals, such minerals include the world’s largest coltan deposits, copper and a very good share of the world’s best highest grade of cobalt. About 500km North of Lubumbashi the Congo boasts over significant lithium deposits. The question that would naturally follow from any curious mind is Why Coltan, Cobalt, Lithium and Copper.
Coltan is the source of a significant element called tantalum which is used to manufacture tantalum capacitors which are in turn used for mobile phones, personal computers, automotive electronics and cameras.
Cobalt is a by-product of copper it is used for aircraft engine parts and in batteries.
Most of the copper is used in electrical equipment these include motors and wiring.
While lithium has many significant uses such as treatment of bipolar disorder, the uses significant for our immediate purpose are in batteries and aircrafts.
Looking at the above mentioned uses of different minerals found in the gigantic Democratic Republic of Congo it is clear who are the major beneficiaries of the mining activities in the DRC regardless of the nature of those mining activities, these are many technological companies including the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article.
At the time of writing social media was awash with outrage over child labour and all forms exploitation and inhumane treatment on the Congolese mines this is against the backdrop of promises by the government to deal decisively with these concerns, a promise which has taken more than 30 years to deliver. Why has the world turned a blind eye to the price being paid to advance technology, to grow an electronic manufacturing industry which is set to grow from an estimated US$500 million to US$650 by 2026?
Whilst the world enjoys the benefits and convenience of the bloodstained technology and devices, children as young as 5 are being forced into labour on the Congolese mines for as little as the US$2 a day if they are lucky to get paid. The level of poverty in such a mineral-rich country is saddening with women visible in key mining areas offering ad advertising sexual services in desperation. While the world is enjoying fruits of her womb the Congo is bleeding to death each day. While huge companies are registering huge profit margins DRC is being robbed of her future, her children are not going to school they are working on mines. What happened to genuine Corporate Social Responsibility?
One may clearly argue that the world depends on the DRC to realise its technological goals, humanity all over the world needs the DRC. The DRC needs us, all of us across the chain of technology from the mine owner, the school child doing his/her assignment on a laptop, the CEO carrying a high priced mobile phone, the executive driving the electrical car and the tourist flying across the world. We all benefit from the country’s strategic resource, it is therefore imperative that we take care of her the way she is taking care of us, let us protect her, she holds the keys to our future.
Corporates need to do more to improve the lives of Congolese people especially women and children by adopting a solid stance against blood minerals and upholding human rights by not profiteering from child labour and forced labour against the backdrop of endless conflict which began over 30 years ago. The Congolese government needs to put necessary measures in place in order to promote Corporate Social Responsibility to the benefit and advancement of the hardworking and vulnerable Congolese Citizenry. We all have a moral responsibility and duty to act.
Kundai Darlington Vambe an Independent Political Researcher on African Affairs and a member of The Global Alliance For Justice Education.