Report: Cobalt, Copper Mining in DRC Leads to Human Rights Abuses

    Report: Cobalt, Copper Mining in DRC Leads to Human Rights Abuses
    Last updated Sep 12, 2023
    Image credit: Flickr [via Wikimedia Commons]


    • In a joint report published Tuesday, Amnesty International and the Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights (IBGDH) warned that the expansion of cobalt and copper mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to forced evictions and severe human rights abuses.
    • According to the report, a majority of cobalt mining is done by "artisanal" workers, or freelance miners, who work in dangerous conditions for minimal pay. Cobalt is a product used in the manufacturing of rechargeable batteries used to power smartphones, computers, and electric vehicles.
    • The materials, valued in the billions of dollars, are mined by men, women, and children with their bare hands in toxic and extremely dangerous pits, author and Harvard academic Siddharth Kara reported in a separate exposé.
    • Batteries for smartphones and electric vehicles are reportedly made with approximately 7g and 13kg of cobalt, respectively. By 2025, the amount of mined cobalt is expected to triple from the estimated 2010 value to a total of 225K tonnes.
    • Around 80% of the world's supply of cobalt is reportedly located in the DRC, with 15-30% of it mined by artisanal workers. According to estimates by the US Dept. of Labor, the cobalt mines are staffed by at least 25K children.
    • As a consequence of the boom in mining, the report adds, not only are human rights violations on the rise, but whole neighborhoods and city communities are disappearing as they're forced to relocate and find new livelihoods to support their households.


    Narrative A

    Global activists may be quick to boycott products made with cobalt sourced through artisanal small-scale (ASM) mining, but it's often impossible to tell the difference between ASM-mined cobalt and ethically sourced cobalt. It's up to the companies making products that require cobalt to ensure responsible mining operations that support local communities and guarantee just conditions for workers.

    Narrative B

    Report after report has revealed the dangers and destruction that ASM mining is causing in the DRC. Increased demand has caused the ever-expanding industry to inflict even more suffering in the DRC. While companies must be at the forefront of combatting this, it will take a multifaceted and international effort to ensure responsible mining is taking place.

    Cynical narrative

    Exploitation and suffering in the DRC are nothing new, as the origins of these sordid practices go all the way back to the colonial period, in which the Belgians ruthlessly extracted resources from the country via incredibly brutal methods. Indeed, the current exploitation of the DRC is just another facet of contemporary imperialism and neocolonialism, as foreign powers and large corporations continue to extract the DRC's precious resources at the expense of the country's local population.

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