By Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International
I have just left Katanga in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where my colleague Lisa Tassi and I were following up on Amnesty International’s work on mining and human rights in the region.
In some ways this is easy to do. Besides mining – mostly of copper and cobalt – precious little happens in southern Katanga. But two very different methods are employed to extract these minerals. Industrial mining, involving large multinational companies, is managed from air-conditioned offices and carried out with heavy equipment; small-scale artisanal mining is frequently done in sweltering heat by men (and in some cases boys under the age of 18) working with basic tools.
Artisanal mining can be a desperate business. On top of suffering harsh work conditions, many creuseurs – meaning “diggers”, as the miners are known locally – are ruthlessly exploited by traders who buy from them along a largely opaque supply chain. In theory the state has some oversight of the system, but the reality is quite different.