A sample of cobalt taken at a mine in DRC. Photo: Flickr/Fairphone

IndustriALL warns car industry of worker abuse in Glencore cobalt mines

22.03.2018

IndustriALL Global Union is calling on the car industry to pressure Glencore to clean up its operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after revelations of dire working conditions at the company’s cobalt mines in the country. 

IndustriALL, which represents workers in the mining and auto industries, is using its global trade union network of hundreds of auto unions to raise awareness in the industry of Glencore’s mistreatment of cobalt workers in the auto supply chain.

The auto industry is becoming increasingly dependent on cobalt, a critical battery metal, as it ramps up production of electric vehicles. Glencore is the world’s biggest supplier of cobalt.

A report from an IndustriALL fact-finding mission to DRC in February 2018, reveals that workers mining cobalt at Glencore’s the Kamoto Copper Company and Mutanda mines are only allowed 750ml of drinking water per 12-hour shift and that Glencore provides expired food and no decent eating places with protection against the elements.

There are no proper showers or ablution facilities at the mines risking contamination and occupational respiratory diseases for workers and their families: “We are so filthy when we get home that we cannot hug our children,” said one worker.

The mission also found workers and their families have to travel 42 kilometres to Glencore health facilities, meaning that they must leave in the early hours of the morning only to return late at night, and in some instances without being treated.

The mission took place at the urgent request of IndustriALL affiliate TUMEC in DRC, which represents workers at both the Kamoto Copper Company and Mutanda mines.

TUMEC is considering strike action over disparities in wages at Glencore’s mines in DRC where, for instance, a white supervisor earns US$4,000 a month and his immediate Congolese assistants earn US$600 a month.

The report outlines Glencore’s disrespect for the collective bargaining agreement with TUMEC and its refusal to renegotiate. The mission also found that there has been no salary increase for workers in five years.

Over 60 per cent of the global supply of cobalt comes from DRC, which is one of the world’s poorest countries. Swiss-based Glencore expects demand for the metal, which is also a key component for smart phone batteries, to increase by 67 per cent over the next three years.  Cobalt prices have more than doubled in the past year.

At the end of last year, the Drive Sustainability partnership, a group of the world's leading car companies, including BMW, Volkswagen and Ford, launched a new initiative to identify and address ethical, environmental, human, and labour rights issues associated with the sourcing of raw materials. IndustriALL is calling on all car manufacturers to carry out due diligence in the sourcing of cobalt for the industry. 

IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

“Auto companies need to live up to their customers’ expectations that the electric vehicles they sell are produced responsibly. Cobalt from Glencore, which is so critical for the batteries in those electric vehicles, is anything but.

“We’re not asking them to not buy from Glencore, we’re asking them to pressure Glencore to live up to Glencore’s own claims to produce responsibly and to respect workers’ rights and the communities where it operates.”

IndustriALL has written to the Glencore CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, with a list of demands to redress the situation of workers at its mines in DRC. 

Glencore employs about 15,000 people in DRC, through its subsidiaries Mutanda Mining and Katanga Mining, which owns the Kamoto Copper Company. In 2016, seven workers died at Katanga when the wall of an open pit mine collapsed.