Cobalt Mine Investigation Reveals Extensive Worker Rights Violations
Our first major investigation of a cobalt and copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has revealed significant worker rights, health and safety and environmental problems. The investigation, which included extensive worker surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews, was conducted in collaboration with Southern Africa Resource Center (SARW) and Initiative Bonne Gouvernance et Droits Humains (IBGDH).
- Image: Raf Custers
"We work without rest from 6am to 6pm and without means of transportation to get to the place of work," mine workers told investigators, adding that they do not get paid for overtime. Working in open-pit mines, they also denounced the absence of shelters against heavy rains, when they are forced to crawl under trucks for protection. They complained about hazardous work without protections. In one team of 10 mining operators, there are only four gas masks, so they wear nose plugs which provide scant protection against cobalt-laden dust which causes respiratory problems. They get one pair of gloves per month, two helmets and a raincoat every two years. "In the event of a death, the company does not compensate the family," mine workers also told investigators. If they refuse to perform unsafe work they will be dismissed, they said.
The workers also highlighted the absence of appropriate risk management measures to minimize the release of hazardous substances from the mining operation into the air, water and soil which harms the surrounding communities.
While they worry about the possibility of reprisals, these workers are seeking remedy from both the regional authorities and companies.