Human Rights Abuses in the DRC
The mining industry proves essential for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) economy. The DRC boasts 70% of the world’s cobalt, roughly 3.5 million metric tons of cobalt reserves. This amount has attracted foreign investors who see the potential of the resources, but it has also led to unfortunate human rights abuses in the DRC. 

Though foreign direct investment should be beneficial to any nation, historically, investment in the mining industry has had a negative impact on the DRC for a number of reasons. These reasons include human rights abuses in the DRC as the profit-seeking companies are forcefully displacing Congolese people from their homes. Action on the part of the Congolese government is lacking as human rights abuses in the DRC continue due to mining activities. The Borgen Project spoke with Marie Mujinga, a Masisi, North Kivu resident, who witnessed first-hand these human rights abuses in the DRC taking place around the mines.

Companies Exploiting and Violating Rights

International companies that have had or still have a significant stake in the DRC’s mining industry include the Compagnie Miniere de Musonoie Global SAS (COMMUS). China owns 72% of the COMMUS company shares and the DRC owns the other 28%. Then, there is Metalkol SA, owned fully by Luxemburg. Canada owns 39.6% of Kamoa Copper SA while China owns 39.6% and the DRC owns 20%. Various global companies have taken their place in the DRC’s mining industry, but this has come with consequences.

In 2022, in two separate instances, Amnesty International and the Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights (IBGDH) interviewed 133 people at six mining projects in Kolwezi. These individuals reported being forcibly evicted and threatened to leave their homes without sufficient money to relocate to new locations.

Another example is COMMUS’ involvement in the DRC. Since 2015, COMMUS has demolished various homes in Kolezwi, where 39,000 people live for mining purposes. COMMUS claims it gave adequate compensation packages above market prices, but the displaced citizens disagree. The Vice President of Zijin Mining Group, the Chinese company involved in COMMUS, wrote a letter to Mark Dummett and Donat Kambola, activists from Amnesty International and IBGDH, in May 2023. The letter said COMMUS is “committed to mining for a better society” and “to promote the protection of human rights and the wellbeing of the people.” The stories of Congolese citizens paint a different picture, as mining companies have violated their rights in pursuit of mining goals.

Child Labor 

Child labor is also a pressing issue in the mining industry. Masisi resident Marie Mujinga describes the human rights abuses she has witnessed. Masisi is home to the Rubaya mines, the largest producer of coltan, a mineral, in the country. The DRC also is the biggest producer of coltan globally. Coltan is used in mobile phones, meaning this area attracts many foreign investors, such as technology companies. 

Mujinga says that, in Masisi, international forces and companies, local gangs and neighboring countries like Rwanda and Uganda have involved themselves in mining activities. “They’ve used small children as [young] as five or six to go into the mines to get gold, titanium and coltan as they know children are cheap labor.” 

Impoverished children have no choice because their little money from this adds to the household income. Mujinga says she knows many kids who went underground and died due to the dangerous working conditions. For example, Mujinga noted, “A lot of these mines have water inside of them. The children have to go in dirty water inside the mining caves barefooted and unprotected. This is where they catch bacterial-related diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhea.” Not only children but also adults would go through the same ordeal, Mujinga adds.

Preventative Measures

People internationally have noticed the suffering and abuses of children and others that mining has exploited. In July 2023, a bill was introduced into the U.S. House to ban “imported products containing minerals critical to electric vehicle batteries but mined through child labor and other abusive conditions in Congo,” AP News reported. “The measure also would require the president to identify and impose sanctions, including visa and transaction prohibitions, on foreign actors who facilitate and exploit child labor in Congo,” AP News says.

This step is significant and will hopefully help promote safer methods of mining. The U.S. is a big market that companies may lose if they continue using exploitative methods. This change can also influence other countries to take similar actions. In the U.K., Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, while Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, said in 2022 that the U.K. is working with international partners to help prevent illicit mining 

Many parties are still trying to get the most out of DRC’s natural mineral resources regardless of who gets hurt. International companies are not the only organizations involved in the abuses of miners and children. Internal forces have been mining for their gain at the expense of their people. This policy creates further issues in trying to help prevent human rights abuses for mining from internal and external bodies. International bodies have tried to highlight theming-related human rights issues, with Amnesty International and IBGDH spotlighting unethical and exploitative companies working in the DRC. Similar human rights abuses can be prevented on a larger scale if such work continues. 

– Christelle Wealth-Mukendi
Photo: Flickr

The TalibanOn August 15, 2021, the Taliban marched into Kabul and took control of Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani fled, and the world watched helplessly as more than 100,000 people were airlifted between August 14 and August 31 — a deadline agreed upon by the Taliban.

The story of those unable or unwilling to leave their homeland is harrowing. Of the millions remaining in Afghanistan, the International Rescue Committee has estimated that some 300,000 face the risk of persecution by the Taliban. Abdul Abid is among those under threat. As an ex-soldier, Abid’s profession disappeared overnight when the Taliban took over. Yet, there is little to no media coverage of plights such as his.

International anxieties and media outlets have justifiably channeled their efforts towards the implications of Taliban rule for women and girls. For example, Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the U.K., spoke out against the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan, declaring a “crime against humanity” was taking place.

A rough timeline of events:

  • March 23, 2022 — The Taliban reversed their promise to allow the education of girls beyond the sixth grade, forcing all who turn up for classes to return home.
  • December 21, 2022 — The Taliban forbids women from attending university. Education up to the age of 11 becomes the best a woman in Afghanistan can hope for.
  • March 9, 2023 — the U.N. declares Afghanistan the most repressive country in the world for women and girls, undoing twenty years of gender progress in the region.

World leaders have thus far watched a return to orthodoxy unfold, no doubt keenly aware that past interventions inflamed hostilities in the region. However, the world remains ill-informed of the cataclysm of unemployment that struck Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, promised full amnesty for the newly unemployed (who had worked for the former Western-backed government) in his first news conference. Despite fears that this was a superficial amnesty on Mujahid’s part, there remains hope to be taken from the narrative for those defiantly finding a way to live through the conflict.

Abid’s Story

Abid’s safety was compromised the moment the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Having been a soldier in the U.S.-backed republic government’s intelligence agency, Abid and thousands of other soldiers were hesitant to trust the Taliban’s promise of amnesty. “No one knew what was going to happen to us,” he explained. Thus far, Abid’s life has not been threatened. However, with a family of 16 to feed, it became clear that poverty, not state terror, would be his downfall. And so, in early 2022, Abid and his fellow miners leased a plot of land and began mining for gemstones.

Al Jazeera investigated the gem mines of Nuristan in August 2023. They found that, despite harsh and unpredictable working conditions, the risk was worth the reward for miners. Abid, for example, was pictured covering his mouth and nose with a green shawl before disappearing into the dust. His motivation was “a payday glimmering in the rubble” — one which he was eager to find.

A Pathway Out of Poverty?

The drawbacks of mining for gemstones are clear. For one, Abid’s income varies drastically from one month to the next. Mining is a profession defined by luck, unlike soldiering, which offers financial stability. Second, a percentage of mining profits are demanded as tax by the Taliban. Artisanal mining was banned by the U.S.-backed government due to profits falling into Taliban hands, effectively fuelling the arsenal which would be their downfall. Once reinstated, the Taliban “spread the word that people were free to mine,” an offer conditional upon 2% of profits being surrendered to the Taliban. So there is the issue of instability and the dilemma of supplying the Taliban with cash flow.

However, the unforgiving cloud hanging over Abid’s head, threatening to strike, is poverty. The World Bank reported in June 2023 that the average unskilled laborer in Afghanistan earned approximately $25 per week. In a good week, Abid makes five times this amount. Artisanal mining is by no means perfect, but the gem mines of Nuristan have been a way out for these men who, overnight, found themselves with little to no cards left to play.

Looking Forward

As of April 10, 2023, Afghanistan was the U.N.’s lowest-funded humanitarian operation. This international commitment, or indeed lack of it, disregards that Afghanistan remains the biggest humanitarian crisis facing the modern world. This hands-tied attitude has given Afghans little hope: “Only God knows what the future will bring,” said Abid.

While these men have found a momentary armistice in the gem mines of Nuristan, it remains a dark and uncertain time to be a citizen on Afghan soil.

– Imogen Townsend
Photo: Flickr

Kinshasa Economic Forum 
The first-ever Kinshasa Economic Forum occurred in March 2023 which included the DRC, the EU and, most notably, France. The leaders of both DRC and France, Presidents Felix Tshisekedi and Emmanuel Macron, respectively, met at the forum alongside multiple international investors and CEOs. The meeting took place at the Palace of the Nation in Kinshasa.

Discussion on Conflict

First, Macron condemned the ongoing conflict occurring in the DRC and the M23 rebel group, saying that there will be sanctions in place for any party who supports the group. The EU also announced at the Kinshasa Economic Forum that they would be setting up a humanitarian air bridge to help the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Eastern DRC, to ensure that aid can reach those who are harder to reach.

The violence between government and non-government groups has been a significant ongoing issue that has, as previously mentioned left many Congolese people in the eastern region displaced. The UNCHR reported that in February, 200,000 people had to flee their homes in the province of North Kivu. A total of 800,000 people experienced displacement between March 2022 and March 2023 alone. The EU has given about 47 million euros in humanitarian aid to the DRC.

Discussion on Other Investments

Though there was a focus on conflict as this is currently the most pressing issue in DRC and an important factor that has impacted the growth of the economy, people discussed and pledged on other matters in the Kinshasa Economic Forum as well.

The European Union (EU) announced that it would invest 50 million euros into DRC’s mineral sector and its infrastructure. DRC’s mineral sector is a key part of their economy. In 2020, the DRC was the largest cobalt miner in the world, producing 41% of the globe’s cobalt. The DRC’s copper industry is also growing, with the nation having some of the highest-quality copper reserves in the world. Despite the drawbacks that the COVID-19 pandemic brought and ongoing conflict in the DRC, their mineral sector proves to be of great aid to their economic growth. The EU’s investment in this sector will prove to be of great help to ensure further expansion of the DRC’s mineral sector. Many investors are also interested in the DRC’s mineral sector, notably American firms, seeing potential in DRC’s mineral market which is worth trillions of dollars.

Concluding Thoughts

The Kinshasa Economic Forum, though being the first of its kind, brought together many people to see the potential to help the DRC in different ways. With international investors tapping into the potential that the DRC mineral sector has, and Macron wants to see an end to those supporting those who are playing a role in conflict and the EU wants to provide aid to those who need it the most.

– Christelle Wealth-Mukendi
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Cobalt Mines In 2014, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that about 40,000 children worked in mines in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with many of the children engaging in cobalt mining. Research by Amnesty International and African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) in 2016 found that constant exposure to cobalt dust leads to fatal respiratory diseases such as asthma and hard metal lung disease. Child labor in cobalt mines exposes children to the risk of developing diseases and injuries as they often work without the appropriate protective gear.

Poverty and Child Labor in Cobalt Mines

Cobalt is a type of metal commonly used in lithium-ion batteries. The DRC is the leading mecca for cobalt production as the nation holds more than 50% of the global cobalt reserves. The excavation fields are mostly small artisanal mines, often lacking resources and protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, necessary for safer mining activities. Due to poverty rates in the country, child labor is common in mining and other sectors. In 2022, close to 62% of Congolese people, equal to around 60 million individuals, survived on less than $2.15 a day, the World Bank highlights.

Despite the poor and hazardous working conditions, children continue to work in these artisanal mines out of necessity. Impoverished families struggle to meet their basic needs and cannot afford the cost of school fees, therefore, many parents push their children to contribute to the household income by working in small mines that operate under little to no regulations. Some children do not attend school at all and engage in mining work full time while others do attend school and engage in this work after school or on weekends.

Although the Congolese government enacted the DRC Child Protection Code of 2009, which provides” free and compulsory primary education,” the lack of sufficient government funding for education places the responsibility of paying non-tuition fees, such as teachers’ salaries and uniform costs, on parents. Parents have to pay between 10,000 to 30,000 Congolese Francs ($10-30) a month, an expense unaffordable for many.

The Child Labor Experience

The exact nature of child labor in cobalt mines differs from site to site. Generally, children excavate in ditches, work in rivers, turn and sort the metal and haul heavy materials. If children are too young to work alone, they work with their mothers, helping with digging or sorting. According to research by Amnesty International and Afrewatch, children work for up to 12 hours a day in the mining fields. Even schoolchildren work similar hours on weekends.

In 2015, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers interviewed 17 Congolese children who worked or still work in the mines. The child miners shared their experiences, with many recounting that the mining areas are often sweltering or drenched with rain, lacking any overhead protection. The interviewees also reported that some security guards hired by the mining companies physically mistreated them or stole their wages.

Ending Child Labor in Cobalt Mines

UNICEF and the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), “a public-private collaboration platform founded in 2017 at the World Economic Forum to help establish a sustainable battery value chain by 2030,” are working to end child labor in the cobalt mines of the DRC. One of the partnership’s aims is to reintegrate into education 500 children from Kipushi territory who exited work in the mining sector. Social workers working for UNICEF register the children in the civil registry and some are placed in foster care if necessary. Children who have experienced violence or abuse also receive counseling and medical services. In 2021, 271 former Congolese child miners returned to school.

In 2021, UNICEF collaborated with RCS Global Group to develop and distribute a toolkit to help prevent child labor in cobalt mines as part of their Mitigating Child Rights Deprivations in ASM (Artisanal Small-scale Mining) Communities Project. Mining companies and supply chain stakeholders utilize the toolkit for identifying infringements on child rights and implementing more effective social protection measures in the affected communities.

Hope for Children in the DRC

Several organizations are working to eliminate child labor in cobalt mines. Alongside other alleviatory initiatives, these organizations are pushing for appropriate regulations in the mining industry. These efforts will allow Congolese children to participate in education without having to bear their family’s financial burden.

– Amber Kim
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Myanmar’s Gemstone IndustryMyanmar, previously known as Burma, is a country flourishing in high-quality gemstones and other precious stones that bring a rise in income to the nation. Despite the quantity and quality of stones naturally produced, corruption and mismanagement in Myanmar’s mining industry as well as a weak political system lead to the ongoing cycle of both environmental and economic deterioration, also known as the “resource curse.” Myanmar’s gemstone industry has caused instability and conflict rather than improving the quality of life for citizens and providing additional employment to the country. This is also the main reason Myanmar remains economically underdeveloped.

Myanmar’s Deadly Landslides

On February 28, 2022, a landslide from mines in Myanmar’s town of Hpakant buried dozens of scavengers and miners in search of jade stones. Some official media sources confirmed two deaths, while aid workers and residents claimed a minimum of 23 deaths that day and an additional 80 missing individuals. This is an additional indication of the obstructive corruption occurring in the country.

Myanmar’s Current Poverty Conditions

In 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) predicted that by 2022, 48.2% of Myanmar’s population could end up living in poverty compared to 24.8% living in poverty in 2017. Those living in poverty survive on 1,590 kyats daily, which is equivalent to $1 per day. Because Myanmar is a resource-rich nation, the country has significant potential for reducing poverty rates throughout the nation, yet, only a few individuals share in the revenue that comes from Myanmar’s gemstone industry. Locals do not benefit from the wealth the gemstones bring to the country.

Corruption in the Gemstone Mining Industry

Corruption is rife in Myanmar’s gemstone mining industry. Mining companies must pay a permit fee to the Mynamar mining industry to secure a mining permit. However, these figures are undisclosed and companies have to sign confidentiality agreements with authorities that must not be revealed to others. Failure to provide illicit payments to the ministry and local authorities can lead to delays in permits. Although the laws remain, all mining licenses in the township of Hpakant expired in 2019 and 2020, but mining still continues.

Gemstones Galore

Hpakant, a town rich in many types of gemstones and precious stones, contributes to Myanmar’s gemstone industry the most. In these mines quartz, jade, amber, chrysoberyl, sapphire, moonstone, topaz, diamonds, tourmaline, peridot, garnet and ruby are a few of the many types of stones that miners can find.

However, many ethnic minority groups have to compete with Myanmar’s armed government to proceed to mine. This means resources fall into the hands of only a select few, increasing both inequality and poverty across the nation.

Global Economic Assistance

Myanmar is struggling with a severe economic downturn as more than 20 million people, in 2021, endured poverty. The United Nations has about 2,500 people working in Myanmar to provide those in poverty with assistance. About 1.7 million people received cash and food aid from the U.N. in 2021. But, even the U.N. is facing monetary shortfalls and is having trouble reaching those who need assistance as permission is necessary to travel to certain areas. The U.N. describes this permission process as “long, lengthy and bureaucratic.”

Establishing Change

Certain human rights activists are asserting that many major jewelers should not proceed in buying gems from Myanmar as a way of applying “pressure on Myanmar’s military leaders by limiting profits from the country’s lucrative mining industry.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks introduced the Burma Act of 2021, which forbids any imports of Myanmar’s gemstones to the U.S. Popular jewelry companies such as Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston, Kay Jewelers, Jared and Zales have also declared that they will not purchase any gemstones sourced from Myanmar. The House of Representatives passed the Burma Act of 2021 on April 6, 2022.

Since 2015, more than 500 deaths have come about through landslides in Myanmar, with many of these landslides stemming from mines.

The attempt to call on the international community to halt purchases of gemstones from Myanmar is a step in the right direction as it limits the profit that the Myanmar government yields. With the help of the U.S. Congress and various human rights activists, Burmese people may look to a brighter future.

– Christina Papas
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cobalt Mining
In recent years, the world has seen a growing demand for mined materials because of the growing popularity of crystals and semiprecious gems. Included in the demand for mined materials is cobalt, which is increasingly necessary due to its role in electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. In fact, about “24% of the total cobalt demand” stems from EV production and the demand will continue to increase as more people continue to buy EVs. A prominent stakeholder in the crystal and mineral industry is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which produces “more than 70% of the world’s cobalt,” along with other semi-precious gems, crystals and gold. Of the cobalt mined, smaller mining operations, many without licenses, produce 15%-30%. The DRC government has failed to enforce proper accountability and ethics within cobalt mining in the DRC. This, combined with years of strict rule and war, has resulted in many people in the mining sector suffering human rights issues.

Human Rights Violations in DRC Mines

Cobalt mining in the DRC is rife with human rights abuses, such as the use of child labor. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 40,000 children are employed in artisanal mining in the DRC. A lack of proper safety precautions is also common practice and accidents frequently occur. Additionally, miners are usually subject to opportunist, abusive and exploitative mining firms, earning unlivable wages.

While it would be ideal for people within the mining industry to look toward alternative work, conditions in the DRC mean employment opportunities are scarce. Data from 2018 indicates that about 73% of the DRC lives in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 per day — an effect of previous wars and dictatorships. These factors have led to skyrocketing costs of living in the DRC and ravaged land, leaving people desperate to take up any opportunity they can find to survive. Since the nation sits on top of a large cobalt reserve that experts estimate holds more than 50% of the world’s cobalt supply, working in the mining industry in the DRC has more financial promise than other sectors, which imports dominate.

The lack of industry regulation allows exploitative practices to continue, but it also presents a public health crisis. Without the proper safety gear, miners of all ages experience continuing exposure to dust and particles that result in lung and skin diseases, like tuberculosis or dermatitis.

Solutions to Mining Injustices

In recent years, awareness around mining exploitation has been increasing, largely due to the fact that the industry is expanding along with technology. In 2020, several online activists brought attention to the human rights abuses within the artisanal mining industry by creating “the hashtag #NoCongoNoPhone to fight against the cobalt supply chain that fosters child labor and the exploitation of small-scale artisanal miners.”

Additionally, cobalt mining in the DRC is about to experience a regulation shift. Reuters reported in May 2021 that the DRC government is working with the Enterprise Generale du Cobalt (EGC) to establish control over the artisanal cobalt mining sector and obtain a monopoly over Congolese cobalt production. EGC is also partnering with PACT, an NGO in the global artisanal mining industry, to oversee and implement mining condition reforms in the DRC. Furthermore, EGC is working with a commodity and logistics giant, Trafigura, in order to provide “support on traceability down the supply chain.” The EGC will create “a price sharing formula” that splits mining profits between the private company, the miners and the government.

This model underwent testing at the Mutoshi copper mine and proved to be extremely helpful to local economies while also bringing about socio-economic benefits. In the trial, about 5,000 workers were part of a formal system, with PACT and Trafigura regulating the mining activities and pay. Miners reported reduced health expenditure due to better working conditions and “reduced workplace harassment for women,” among other positive impacts.

Looking Ahead

The mining industry in the DRC has suffered because of the lack of mechanisms put in place for accountability. While NGOs do important work on advocacy and mitigating the effects of broken systems, they have not been able to reach the roots of mining exploitation. However, the efforts of NGOs are now combining with those of the government and offer much hope in tackling human rights abuses within the mining industry.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Flickr

President Hichilema
In August 2021, Zambia elected a new president, Hakainde Hichilema, who will replace the incumbent President Edgar Lungu. Based on the results of the August 12 elections, Hichilema will serve as the Republic of Zambia’s seventh president. Previously, President Hilchilema ran five unsuccessful campaigns. However, the election saw a strong turnout among voters between the ages of 18 and 24 and Hichilema’s victory marks a new era for a nation that is in dire need of economic growth.

Zambia’s Dire State

Zambia is struggling economically as it became the first African nation to default on its debt in the coronavirus era in 2019. The country was experiencing a recession prior to the COVID-19 pandemic due to a steep decline in commodity prices. Since then, the country has struggled to pay off its international debts. With the onset of the pandemic, which further slowed the nation’s economy, the country accumulated roughly $12 billion in external debt. Additionally, $3 billion of this debt comes from international bonds and large loans from Chinese state-owned lenders. The country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while currently awaiting word on a $13 billion bailout.

Zambia’s poverty rate currently sits around 58%, significantly higher than the 41% rate for all of Sub-Saharan Africa. As a nation that faces massive challenges in the form of international debt and domestic poverty, the world is curious to know what Hichilema’s election means for poverty in Zambia.

Hichilema’s Story

President Hichilema himself is a witness to the challenges that many rural Zambians experience. He refers to himself as a “cattle boy,” coming from a humble upbringing raising livestock. His personal story is one of success despite poverty. Having earned a scholarship to the University of Zambia, and later studying in England, Hichilema is now one of Zambia’s wealthiest people. He made a fortune as a businessman in various endeavors, from finance and property to tourism and healthcare.

Many young voters flocked to his voting camp with this story in mind. His agricultural roots appealed to many of the nation’s farmers. Likewise, his economic-minded platform addresses the country’s foremost needs that many citizens feel former President Lungu worsened.

What Can President Hichilema Accomplish?

One of Hichilema’s economic strategies under his administration is to take advantage of Zambia’s natural resources. The country is Africa’s second-leading producer of copper. Copper is becoming more advantageous economically as companies and industries move away from fossil fuel energy. Additionally, new technologies like electric vehicles rely on critical minerals like copper. The mining sector accounts for roughly three-quarters of Zambia’s export revenue.

Zambia’s political history in the mining industry has been testy. Under the Lungu regime, the government consolidated mines and created state-owned quarries, mostly as a ploy to maintain Lungu’s political power. Furthermore, foreign investors looking to capitalize on the unstable nation might be able to swoop in and cut safety requirements, leading to further crises.

By reexamining the mining codes and regulations, Hichilema has an opportunity to create long-term capital investments, jobs and economic growth. Other countries like Madagascar called on the World Bank to act as a third-party mediator between industry and government in the mining industry. Such a strategy could help Zambia take advantage of a booming copper market and assist in addressing the nation’s poverty needs.

With the new presidency of Hakainde Hichilema comes a new opportunity to reduce poverty in Zambia. Hichilema has shown a dedication to improving these conditions throughout his campaign and his ability to follow through on these promises and successfully manage Zambia’s mining industry could drive down poverty in the nation.

– Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands is a country in Oceania located to the east of Papua New Guinea. Trends show that human trafficking in the Solomon Islands occurs mostly in logging camps and fishing sectors, but some are implementing significant efforts to eliminate it.


Human trafficking in the Solomon Islands is most common in the logging camps and fishing boats, which are two primary sources of income for the country. Trafficking in these areas mostly revolves around the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Another concern of the U.S Department of State is child sex tourism.

According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries as belonging to one of four tiers in their efforts to combat trafficking, the Solomon Islands are a Tier 2 country. This rating means that while the government is making significant efforts to comply with the standards set in place by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), it is not fully meeting the standards.

In September 2010, the American Bar Association set out to prevent and reduce human trafficking in the Solomon Islands with the help of the Department of State. The program aims for these five goals:

  1. Raise people’s awareness of human trafficking and provide education on how to prevent it.
  2. Improve protection for both witnesses and victims.
  3. Increase access to better support services for human trafficking survivors.
  4. Develop laws or policies to deter human trafficking.
  5. Find lawyers to serve as human trafficking experts within the Solomon Islands.

Prevention Efforts

The pandemic did not hinder the efforts toward ending human trafficking in the Solomon Islands. In fact, the Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Committee (AHTAC), consisting of government agencies and citizens, met frequently despite the challenges that the pandemic presented.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare raised concern about human trafficking in a national address. Sogavare was concerned with trafficking in the fishing sector and announced that his government, along with international organizations, would be working on creating policies that aimed to erase sexual exploitation and modern slavery on fishing vessels operating in the Solomon Islands’ waters. According to an international organization, this address was the first time many Solomon Island citizens heard the term “human trafficking.” In the address, Sogavare also announced the completion of the National Security Strategy and National Border Strategy, which focused on migration, transnational crime, labor, trade, employment and investment, and their relationship to trafficking.

The Department of Immigration (DOI), together with the Solomon Islands Forestry Association, conducts campaigns to raise awareness about human trafficking near logging and mining sites. The campaigns focus on the consequences for those involved in human trafficking and the country’s trafficking laws.

Progress in Protection

Over the course of the pandemic, law enforcement individuals are still receiving training on victim identification and support. In 2018, authorities identified 39 potential trafficking victims and five in 2019 compared with four identified victims in 2020. One of the four victims was a foreigner living in the Solomon Islands and the other three were Solomon Islands citizens that were out of the country. Although internal sex trafficking is reportedly common, authorities did not identify any cases of sex trafficking.

In 2019, the Solomon Islands government gave $50,000 of its yearly budget to human trafficking victim care and shelter services. Despite problems and restraints caused by the pandemic, the government was still able to give $49,130 towards victim care, protection, investigation efforts and public education about human trafficking in the Solomon Islands in 2020.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police chose the capital, Honiara, as the site for a domestic violence shelter that provides aid to women and children that were sex trafficking victims. However, the government failed to provide support for adult male victims or victims of labor trafficking. Due to the location of the shelter, the protection services are difficult to access because most trafficking victims come from the provinces. The deficiencies in protection services for victims of human trafficking in the Solomon Islands likely led to fewer victims coming forward, and therefore, fewer prosecutions.

Looking Forward

In recent years, the Solomon Islands government has worked to bring an end to human trafficking within its borders. Although work still needs to occur, policies and programs are in place to bring the country closer to eliminating human trafficking.

Trystin Baker
Photo: Flickr

Resource rushes impact global povertyIn June 2021, impoverished South Africans in the province of KwaZulu-Natal flocked to the town of KwaHlathi after reports of diamonds in the area, the most modern example of a resource rush. Many people hoped this could be their key out of poverty in a country with a 32.6% unemployment rate and a stagnating GDP per capita. Unfortunately, the gems were actually quartz, a common crystal found across the globe, dashing the hopes of these amateur miners. In the developed world, the resource rushes once common in the 19th century have now largely faded away, replaced by institutionalized mining companies. However, the developing world still struggles with informal mining and its environmental, economic and political consequences. Because of this, resource rushes impact global poverty both directly and indirectly.

What is a Resource Rush?

Resource rushes occur when a natural resource is discovered and many people move to participate in its extraction. In the 19th and 20th centuries, resource rushes for gold and diamonds led to the colonization and settlement of many parts of South Africa, Australia and the Western United States. Modern-day resource rushes do not drive the same levels of migration. However, they still carry large impacts on the economies of developing countries.

Why is it Important?

In the 21st century, resource rushes create both opportunities and conflicts. Currently, more than 15 million small-scale “artisanal” miners operate in resource-rich areas, many times informally. Nearly 100 million people rely on the income that artisanal mining brings. Artisanal miners usually have to sell their goods below market price as there is usually only one large local buyer. While an important source of income, the extraction process is largely inefficient due to the small scale of these artisanal mining operations. This creates an opportunity to develop single or multi-person mining operations by increasing the efficiency of artisanal miners and connecting them to global markets.

On the other hand, resource discoveries commonly drive violent conflicts and human rights abuses. Large resource discoveries, combined with access to arms from previous conflicts, have driven wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. Many times, the armed groups extracting these resources use them to fund their operations, drawing the label of “conflict minerals.”

Resource rushes also lead to migration. Mineral deposits, largely in rural or environmentally preserved areas, attract large numbers of settlers who heighten the human impact on these areas. These impacts create environmental strain, leading to deforestation, lower standards of temporary informal housing and chemical pollution.

Building a Better Mining Industry

Artisanal and small-scale mining ventures offer many opportunities for growth around the world. While problems of health hazards and political conflicts exist, many actions by national, international and NGO stakeholders are working to overcome these challenges.

One project involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) partnered with the Peruvian government to improve the environmental impacts and working conditions of small-scale mining. This project utilized technical assistance, working with national governments to create system-wide change. This resulted in the implementation of mercury-reducing technologies in Peruvian mines. Other initiatives in the continent have sought to organize small-scale mines to sell their products on the international market, avoiding price-setting middlemen.

Another project in Central Africa by PACT, an NGO that focuses on mining issues, works to create a verification system so that consumers can choose responsibly sourced raw materials. This verification system includes 54,836 miners spread across 727 mines with 672 government officials tasked with implementing the system. By verifying raw materials and helping consumers gain access to raw material markets, PACT has made a large impact on raw material extraction in Central Africa.

These projects aim to reduce the impacts of informal mining at the local level, but national governments of importing countries can also implement policies toward the same goal. In 2012, the U.S. launched the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Mineral Trade, a multi-sector task force aimed at implementing measures to stop imports of conflict minerals.

Looking to the Future

Resource rushes impact global poverty by fueling conflicts, migration and creating substandard mining industries that further contribute to deforestation and various forms of pollution. However, through projects such as PACT’s, organizations are working to improve the conditions of small-scale ventures so that workers and their dependents can sell their products on the international market. In this way, impoverished people have the opportunity to improve their lives and rise out of poverty.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Growing Industries Improve Lesotho's EconomyThe small kingdom of Lesotho lies in the middle of South Africa, completely landlocked within its mountainous regions. When Lesotho gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, it was established as a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. A majority of the country lives in poverty, relying on subsistence farming and the economy of its much larger neighbor, South Africa. Struggling to stand alone as a country vastly overshadowed by South Africa, four factors contribute to increases in Lesotho’s economy. Industries, such as diamond and textiles, are working to bring the country out of poverty and increase its GDP.

Private Sector-Led Economic Growth

Part of Lesotho’s economic growth can be attributed to the promotion of businesses and industries that are not under the direct control of the government. This initiative was supported more fully by the World Bank Board of Executive Directors, who approved $13.4 million donated to the government of Lesotho to assist with its promotion.

According to the World Bank, “the Second Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP II) will help improve the business environment through the continued facilitation of reforms to reduce the time and cost associated with doing business in Lesotho, provide easier access to finance, make trading across borders simpler and provide streamlined, accessible and efficient government to business services in order to attract private investment and boost growth.” The PSCEDP II is already seeing growth through economic diversification and an improved business environment, which is crucial for Lesotho’s economy.

The Diamond Industry

The discovery of diamonds made a large impact on the economy of Lesotho, as some of the world’s most valuable diamonds have been discovered there. Mining for diamonds began in the mid-20th century, but a lack of decent finds made the mines close. However, the mines reopened in 2004 when new technology helped increase diamond discovery and the country’s overall GDP. Through the use of diamond exportation, revenue has drastically helped assist the economy of Lesotho. In 2011, diamonds constituted 31% of Lesotho’s total exports.

Additionally, operators of the mines aim to assist local communities. The Letseng mine, world-famous for its priceless diamonds, set aside $300,000 in 2014 to help its local community. This money funded projects to increase living conditions and provide survival training for herd boys. Not only is the diamond industry extremely beneficial for the economy of Lesotho, but it is also beneficial for the local communities and areas surrounding the mines.

The Textile Industry

Starting with a handful of textile factories originating in the 1990s, the textile industry has now become one of the largest employers of Lesotho people, with approximately 50,000 jobs available to communities. The textile industry holds thousands of jobs, primarily for women who account for 80% of employees within the industry. Between 2014 and 2019, the manufacturing sector of Lesotho’s economy grew 34%. Consequently, this increase allowed for a tripling of textile exports sent out to South Africa. By providing thousands of jobs to people, especially women, the poverty levels have eased and the GDP has increased significantly. With the assistance of the textile industry, the increased exportation of products is healing and strengthening the economy of Lesotho.

The Highlands Water Development Project

Lesotho and South Africa created and signed a plan concerning Lesotho’s exceedingly large water resources. This infrastructure project would benefit both countries in the transferring of water and the production of hydroelectricity. The initiative began in 1986 to help Lesotho’s electricity production independence. In addition, Lesotho would gain revenue by providing water to South Africa.

Moving water from the Orange River toward the Atlantic, this project includes the building of five dams and approximately 200 kilometers of tunnels to transport water to South Africa and produce electricity for Lesotho in three distinct phases, the last of which was to be completed in 2020. With this project, approximately 2,000 million cubic meters of water are transported from Lesotho to South Africa every year. This initiative has already helped improve the economy of Lesotho and save money through the production of hydroelectricity.

The assistance of these four factors is working to change the economy to alleviate the impacts of poverty throughout Lesotho. If growth continues with the assistance of private sector-led promotion, the diamond and textile industries and the Highlands Water Development Project, significant hope remains for this small country.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr