‘Environment friendly’ electric cars exploit 40,000 child mine workers

China is exploiting children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in its cobalt mines. They’re being forced to work under hazardous conditions to mine the cobalt that powers electronic devices and electric cars.

“On the backs of trafficked workers and child labourers, China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DRC to fuel its economy and global agenda,” a congressional hearing on human rights violations heard this week

Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Catholic priest who has worked to expose child labour and human rights violations in the DRC’s mining sector, testified to the dangerous working condition at the mines.

The children work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. He described their working conditions as being “like slavery”.

Injuries are common, and for those who are hurt or become sick, lack of medical care means “the majority will die due to various untreated illnesses”, he said.

US representative Christopher Smith, who chaired the “Child Labour and Human Rights Violations” in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo, clearly voiced his views on the violations.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for cobalt for batteries and lithium for solar panels to power the so-called Green Economy motivates human rapacity as an estimated 40,000 children in Congo toil in non-regulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions.”

The DRC produces over 70 percent of the world’s cobalt. 15 to 30 percent of this is produced in artisanal mines.

Smith said that, for years, these small-scale operations have been notorious for human rights violations. The congressional Council on Foreign Relations attributes some of the inhumane working condition to the DRCs instability – “a country weakened by violent ethnic conflict, Ebola and high levels of corruption”.

Congolese civil rights attorney Hervé Diakiese Kyungu told the hearing children are trafficked and exploited because they are small.

Kyungu explained this is because the artisanal mines “are often no more than narrow shafts dug into the ground.

“Children are recruited — often forced — to descend into them, using only their hands or rudimentary tools without any protective equipment, to extract cobalt and other minerals.”

At the Chinese company Dongfang Congo Mining, children are often exposed to radioactive minerals, injuries, and deadly and painful diseases as they work to extract the valuable ore, Kyungu testified.

They are also unpaid and exploited. The work is often fatal as the children are required to crawl into small holes dug into the earth.

“Officially artisanal mines are supposed to be owned by Congolese citizens working in ‘cooperatives’.

“In reality, they are selling the product extracted from these to the Chinese and other foreigners such as Pakistanis or Indians. The vast majority of this ore, however, is trafficked through Chinese intermediaries.”

Chinese representatives are on site, overseeing the operations.

On one occasion “two persons identified as Chinese citizens… instructed two Congolese military officers to whip two Congolese who were found on their site”.

The whipping, which was shared on the internet, demonstrates the cooperation between Chinese companies and DCR government officials, Kyungu said.


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