When subterranean slavery supports sustainability transitions: Congolese cobalt mining

Sovacool, B. K. (2021) When subterranean slavery supports sustainability transitions: power, patriarchy, and child labour in artisanal Congolese cobalt mining. The Extractive Industries and Society. 8(1). 271-293

Global demands for cobalt continue to rise as next-generation batteries and other sustainable technologies are developed and manufactured. This has driven a boom in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Drawing on extensive original fieldwork, including interviews with industry experts, engagement with local communities working in and around the mines and site visits to several mines, processing centres and trading depots.

The study reveals patterns of human rights abuses, including child labour, prostitution, and slavery, that surround many small-scale mining projects in the DRC. Miners are observed to be exploited by government, police, traders, and others in the local community. The author also notes the gendered aspects of this abuse, as women and girls are most powerless and vulnerable in the face of often horrific conditions.

Revealing the extent of human suffering perpetuated by cobalt mining in the DRC, the study suggests policy reforms for the Congolese government, suppliers and industrial users of cobalt, and the wider international community of government and trading bodies.

The full study can be found here.