SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Violent gunmen still menace pick-and-shovel miners in eastern Congo, a new report finds, despite years of efforts to loosen their grip by local reformers, Western activists and companies like Apple and Intel that use minerals from the African region in their products.
Conditions are improving for miners who dig the ore that’s processed into tin, tungsten and tantalum for smartphones and other electronics, though some still face interference from armed groups. But slumping demand and depressed prices for those minerals have driven many workers to dig instead for gold that’s used in electronics, jewelry and other consumer products sold by Western companies.
Armed groups hold sway over mining sites where nearly two-thirds of Congo’s gold miners ply their trade. There, under threat of violence, workers are often forced to pay illegal “taxes” that support corrupt army units, rebel groups or unauthorized militias. Sometimes they’re conscripted into forced labor.
Those are the findings of an extensive field survey by the International Peace Information Service, a Belgian nonprofit whose research is frequently cited by activist groups and policy advisers to European and Western officials. IPIS is releasing its findings today.
The detailed report bolsters the recent observations of activists. “Things are slowly but surely changing,” said Holly Dranginis, a senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, a U.S.-based advocacy group. “But armed groups still benefit from gold, and they are wreaking havoc on communities that are near the mines.”
REIGN OF VIOLENCE
IPIS has sent researchers, teamed with industry and government officials, to inspect more than 1,600 mining sites in Congo over the last four years. Nearly 240,000 people, mostly men but many supporting families, work as so-called artisanal (i.e., independent) miners at those sites.
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