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Calls for sustainable mining after 43 artisanal miners killed in DRC landslide

4 July, 2019The death of 43 artisanal miners at a Glencore-owned Kamoto Copper Company mine in Kolwezi, Lualaba Province, highlights the vulnerable situation of artisanal miners in Sub Saharan Africa.

A landslide at an open excavation pit at KOV mine on 27 June killed 43 miners, with others still missing. The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has responded by sending the army to the mine where over 2,000 artisanal miners dig for cobalt.

“IndustriALL condemns the decision of the government to deploy the army and regards this as mistaken and unfortunate as it only worsens an already volatile situation and could lead to further bloodshed and loss of life.

“It is a short-term solution to a complicated problem and reflects policy failure on the part of the government and the mining industry in the DRC,”

said Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is legal in the DRC. Miners dig for copper and cobalt, which is in high demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and smart phones. The miners, locally known as creuseurs, use basic tools such as picks, shovels and panning equipment.

In some cases, they mine the same concessions as large multinational companies. However, the companies are favoured by the government whilst the artisanal miners are ignored and blamed for damaging the environment and operating illegally. They work without support in dangerous conditions.

IndustriALL regional secretary Paule Ndessomin said:

“In the DRC, the miners are arbitrarily and sometimes violently moved from one place to another after concessions they previously mined are sold to multinational corporations and Chinese companies. The cobalt they mine is sold in an unfair formal market exploited by traders who operate in a shady supply chain.”

Said Isaac Kiki, the chairperson of IndustriALL Lualaba Province, a committee of IndustriALL affiliates OTUC, UNTC and CDT:

“We are saddened by the death of so many miners; our brothers that we live with in the same community who died while trying to find means to escape poverty. The government must put in place measures to make artisanal mining safe.”

The unions support the revised Mining Code which promotes mining as a source of inclusive development. There are over 12 million artisanal miners in the DRC who mine 30 per cent of the country’s cobalt.

Despite ASM being ostracized and laws to formalize it being unclear in some countries, the African Union’s African Mining Vision recommends transforming “ASM communities from vulnerable and marginal enclaves of unorganized groups of miners and other actors into integrated and functionally sustainable and resilient communities.”

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director of mining concurs that ASM should be transformed using the International Labour Organization’s fundamental principles and rights at work.

“We recommend responsible mining which considers the ILO principles and national labour laws and support due diligence in the mining supply chain to ensure that sourcing of the minerals respects the human and labour rights of miners. Governments should also formulate policies that formalize and recognize ASM, especially its importance to social and economic development. ASM shouldn’t be marginalized as it contributes to poverty reduction.”

At the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa in February, one of the recommendations was for multinational companies to work with ASM for sustainable mining that is inclusive and beneficial to marginalized communities.