The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to one of the world’s poorest populations, many of whom survive on less than a pound a day. It is also home to 64% of the world’s cobalt supplies – a vital mineral that powers smartphones and electric cars, and offers hope of a more renewable future.
While the majority of Congo’s cobalt is produced by some of the world’s largest mining firms, roughly a third is dug out by hundreds of thousands of informal, artisanal miners who work in dangerous conditions with few safety measures and little recompense.
The big firms use heavy duty trucks and other expensive equipment to dig out the metal. The local Congolese usually use their bare hands, with children making up a significant part of the labour force. Their efforts often end up in global battery supply chains – usually via China – and then into western smartphones and vehicles.
Conflicts between the big mining companies and artisanal miners are common with the two increasingly sharing the same space. At the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession – a sprawling site of more than 21km that is majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary – an estimated 2,000 Congolese artisanal miners trespass every day, according to the company.
Accidents are common. In June, 43 artisanal miners were killed after a landslide at an open-pit mine at the KCC concession, which is in the DRC’s southern Lualaba province. Bodies are thought to be “still under the rubble” according to Joseph Yav Katshung, the director of cabinet for the governor of Lualaba.
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