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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

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

pact
For the last 42 years, Pact has made it their mission to help millions of people who are living in poverty, and they give them the chance to come up with solutions and live a better life. This value-based organization takes three core values that are vital to a community and use them to benefit others. Pact is built on partnerships, local solutions, results and promises that can be kept.

Keeping the promise of a better tomorrow builds trust in Pact, and that trust is the foundation for changing lives. Through systematic solutions, Pact gives the poor the chance to earn a living, be healthy and utilize the resources that nature provides. There are three ways that Pact goes about achieving these solutions for the poor: strengthening local capacity, forging effective governance systems and transforming markets.

Capacity development at Pact is achieved by working with local organizations or networks in developing countries that change and bring forth leaders in their own community. This is critical in not only reaching local solutions but also in defining the meaning of Pact. This is a huge part of what the company does.

“Capacity development is really like life-long learning because … the skills that we’re building and the opportunities we are giving right now are not just the opportunities today and in three, four, five years’ time when we are no longer working with these organizations they will still be able to plan,” said Matt Reeves, Global Director.

Governance is another way that Pact works and gives people who may not have the educational tools the right to use their voices and let their voices be heard. Pact is able to connect people with their public servants and also work directly with host government officials. Governance gives Pact and the community the ability to make sure that government is not just done to the people, but that it is on behalf of the people.

The last thing that Pact changes for communities is their markets. Giving the people a strong market where they can sell and receive local products and strengthen supply channels will help by ensuring a stable income and future for the people.

– Brooke Smith

Sources: Pact, Effective Governance, PSI
Photo: We Art Together,

Pact
Pact is a United States based non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on developing communities in regions of the world plagued by health crises, resource dependence, and extreme poverty. Its unique operating procedure partners donors with local communities in such regions as Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. Pact was founded in 1971 to oversee the distribution of small-scale USAID grants to development assistance organizations.

Pact’s three core values of (a) local solutions, (b) partnerships, and (c) results, put people at the center of their approach. With over 10,000 local partners, Pact customizes its system for every community. For example, Pact leads a development project in Ethiopia funded by USAID. It involves local and federal governments, NGOs, and nonprofits to provide health treatment and formal education for nearly 50,000 kids and adults.

The NGOs focus on local solutions, allowing vulnerable populations to take responsibility for the aid they will receive. Capacity development is highly prioritized in the regions served by Pact; local governments are developed, infrastructure is improved, and effective governance systems are formed.

Partners with Pact, small and large organizations alike, are also assured of progress with tangible success. The organization publishes a yearly report, called “Measuring Pact’s Mission,” where six different impact areas are examined. These impact areas include health, livelihood, natural resource management, and state-society engagement.

While accountability and effectiveness are frequent concerns of NGOs, Pact is the first USAID partner to publish its program data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). IATI aims to provide information about NGO spending and its measurable results. While the Initiative is relatively new – the first annual report of IATI was published at the end of April 2013 – it promises a clear picture of where aid money goes.

Pact works in more than 25 countries worldwide, and its program services are incredibly diverse. These programs include formal schooling for children in several African nations, the improvement of health care for HIV/AIDS patients in the Ukraine, and the responsible micro-financing of productive enterprises in Myanmar. Pact’s holistic view of global development and its commitment to aid transparency make the organization a prime example for other development-focused NGOs.

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: Pact, International Aid Transparency Initiative
Photo: Pact Facebook