The Centre for Child Rights and Business and Save the Children are currently co-conducting a study on child rights in cobalt supply chains in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The aim of this study is to understand the situation of children in artisanal and small-scale (ASM) mining communities and how the actions of different players from international companies to local NGOs and mining cooperatives are either improving or aggravating child rights. Subsequently, Save the Children and The Centre would like to draw on these learnings to develop interventions to prevent and remediate child labour, to identify and promote decent labour opportunities for juvenile workers, and to offer greater protection and support to pregnant women and mothers, both within and outside the mining sector.
Why focus on mining in the DRC?
Global demand for cobalt has risen in recent years due to its use in lithium-ion batteries that are used in the e-car industry and consumer electronics sector. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the world’s largest cobalt miner by far.
Sourcing from the DRC however poses serious due diligence risks and the industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, particularly the working conditions in the artisanal mining of cobalt, which accounts for a significant fraction of the cobalt mined in the country. Challenges range from reports of worst forms of child labour, low wages, negative environmental impacts, insufficient health and safety standards to the risk of exacerbating violent conflict in the region.
What has been done so far?
Since the second half of 2020, the study collected second-hand data from well-known sources in recent years and conducted qualitative interviews with leading international companies sourcing cobalt from the DRC and international NGOs working to improve the conditions of ASM in the DRC. Since early 2021, the research teams have conducted interviews with 142 children and mining families in four mining communities where parents and/or children engage in illegal and informal artisanal mining activities. Our research teams have found:
Extremely high rates of children dropping out of school early to work in mines, mainly due to poverty
More than half of the children who dropped out did so between 2020-2021, indicating that the pandemic is having a huge impact on children's access to education
About half of the interviewed children who are working are no longer attending school
The average age for children to start working is 12.6
Work injuries are very common with 44% of interviewed children having been injured while working
98% of interviewed mining families struggle to pay for basic expenses and not being able to afford school fees is the number one reason for children to stop going to school
At the time of writing (May 2021), the study is in phase II and preparations are underway to deploy research teams to collect data in more formalised and organised ASM mining sites in order to compare the situation observed in phase I.
The full findings will be published in a study in Q3, 2021.
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