Chinese mining industry contributes to abuses in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Chinese mining companies operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) need to do more to prevent their operations from leading to human rights abuses, Amnesty International warned today in a new report.

Profits and Loss: Mining and human rights in Katanga, examines the impact of the mining industry in south-eastern DRC. 

The 41-page report documents a number of serious abuses involving local and foreign companies including forced evictions – illegal under international law – and dangerous and exploitative working conditions.

The report pays particular attention to the role of Chinese companies, which are on course to become the most influential and powerful foreign economic actors in the extractive sector in the DRC – a country with some of the world’s most important mineral reserves.

In Luisha, hundreds of families have been kicked out of their homes to make way for a mine owned by a Chinese company and moved to land with no housing or other facilities. Nearby, another community had their access to water blocked by a deep three-metre wide trench dug by a Chinese-Congolese joint venture. The resulting protests led to one man being killed by a stray bullet fired by police.

China also imports significant amounts of cobalt and copper from the DRC, much of which continues to be extracted by small-scale miners – also known as artisanal miners. The report reveals widespread abuses against these miners by local companies. The miners often work with bare hands, without protective clothing and in poorly ventilated underground shafts where temperatures can be extremely high. Scores die or are seriously injured every year.

At Tilwezembe mine 30km from the town of Kolwezi, Amnesty International found evidence of abusive and harmful labour conditions and ill-treatment. Frequent injuries and some fatal accidents occurred at the mine site as a result of landslides, falling boulders and asphyxiation due to a lack of adequate ventilation.

Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, Audrey Gaughran, said:

“Mining operations in the DRC have resulted in decades of abuse against artisanal miners and the neighbouring communities

“The DRC authorities have not only failed to prevent mining companies and traders abusing rights, they have themselves violated human rights to facilitate mining operations.”

When questioned by Amnesty International, several of the companies included in the report attempted to absolve themselves of any responsibility by highlighting the authorities’ involvement in the abuse.

Audrey Gaughran said:

“The failure of the DRC authorities to protect human rights does not let the companies off the hook for their own actions and omissions. Disturbingly, some companies pointed to police involvement in an attempt to legitimise their own contribution to human rights violations.”

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility to respect all human rights.

Governments of countries where companies are headquartered, including China, also have a responsibility to ensure that their companies do not abuse human rights when operating in the DRC.

Audrey Gaughran added:

“We urge all companies with mining interests in the DRC to end the excuses and start demonstrating they are serious about respecting the rights of the communities where they operate.

“If all companies involved in the extractive industry carried out due diligence checks to ensure that they are not purchasing ore and minerals extracted under exploitative and degrading conditions, this would go a long way to clean up the mineral trade.”

The artisanal miners at Tilwezembe sold their ore to Misa Mining, a private trading company operating at the site. State agencies, including police, were also present at Tilwezembe to oversee mining but did nothing about the appalling, life-threatening working conditions. Misa Mining claimed it was unaware of human rights problems at Tilwezembe.

Audrey Gaughran said:

“Greater transparency in the supply chain could help to prevent abuses such as those we found at Tilwezembe.

“If all companies involved in the extractive industry carried out due diligence checks to ensure that they are not purchasing ore and minerals extracted under exploitative and degrading conditions, this would go a long way to clean up the mineral trade.”

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