The prevalence of child labour in DRC’s cobalt supply chain has attracted a lot of international attention in recent years. Electric cars are becoming more and more popular among those who want to “do their bit” to mitigate climate change and transition away from fossil fuels. Sadly, a key ingredient in the batteries of electric cars – cobalt – is notorious for its connection to child labour.
DRC has the world’s largest known reserves of this metal. While the Alliance 8.7 Supply Chains Report showed that only 12% of child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa is found in global supply chains, when it comes to cobalt, child labour is present in almost all artisanal small-scale mining in DRC.
More than half of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from DRC where artisanal mines account for 20% of the country’s output. Cobalt tainted by child labour in artisanal mines is shipped to the international market where it’s mainly used for lithium-ion batteries in electric cars, bikes and mobile phones.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that a number of multi-national companies, including car manufacturers, pledged to take action on child labour in DRC for the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.
In order to ensure follow up on the momentum gathered by the International Year, the 8.7 Accelerator Lab joined forces with the COTECCO project to lead a workshop with the area-based Private Sector Working Groups covering the towns of Kolwezi, Likasi and Lubumbashi on 28th- 29th March 2023.
With the Accelerator Lab joining the COTECCO Project to support this initiative, we are seeing the implementation of what we’ve been asking for for years. We, as the private sector, must come together, unit our capacities to help these projects achieve results in terms of the elimination of child labour if we want our activities to continue."Mr Fortunat Kande, Representative of the Chamber of Mines in DRC
The purpose of the workshop was to update the roadmaps adopted in January 2022, review achievements to date, discuss challenges in implementation, and identify opportunities to accelerate progress.
During the workshop, the three Working Groups shared their experiences from the past two years, including on the implementation of promising practices and lessons learned. These presentations included an overview of:
- Update on goals and objectives of the private sector working groups
- SWOT analyses of each group
- Status of roadmaps implementation by members
- Corporate Social Responsibility experiences on the contribution to mining communities
- Update on implementation of due diligence processes following COTECCO’s capacity building trainings 2021-2022
- Update on activities to raise awareness about child labour with cooperatives’ members
- Challenges faced by each site, including accessibility to mining sites
The Private Sector Working Group for Kolwezi, which is considered to be the cobalt capital of the world, explained how many families had migrated to the region to work for larger companies, but when the financial crisis hit, women and children began working in artisanal sites that popped up around the industrial sites, in order to compensate for the decline in wages that threw many families into poverty.
Each Working Group also presented opportunities to accelerate progress, as well as the need for more frequent exchanges of information.
The workshop was also an opportunity for the ILO to present progress made in other areas that will impact the Working Groups, including the adoption of the Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS), the DRC’s action pledge for the Elimination of Child Labour as part of their strategy as Pathfinder Country of the Alliance 8.7. This innovative tool developed by the Ministry of mines with the support of COTECCO was validated by the government at the Interministerial Commission to tackle the issue of Child Labour at artisanal mining sites (CISTEMA) plenary session on 26 October 2022.
The technology-driven surge in the demand for cobalt is projected to grow by 60% by 2025, the deadline of the United Nations SDG Target to end child labour. The ILO stands ready to support all actors to ensure that this doesn’t translate into an increase in child labour, but an opportunity to strengthen systems, both local and national, to make sure that everyone benefits from DRC’s resources.
The private sector has a critical role in the implementation of the Government’s CLMRS. Through application of Corporate Social Responsibility measures, local content, the promotion for respect of fundamental principles and rights at work and other mechanisms, the private sector will tackle the root causes of child labour in DRC’s mineral supply chains", explained Josée-Blandine Ongotto, Chief Technical Adviser to the COTECCO Project.