Amnesty International warns mining for rechargeable batteries is leading to grievous human rights abuses

Amnesty International warns mining for rechargeable batteries is leading to grievous human rights abuses
  • PublishedSeptember 15, 2023

Amnesty International has raised alarm over the industrial mining of cobalt and copper for rechargeable batteries, detailing a string of ugly human rights offences related to the ongoing demand for electric vehicles and smartphones.

In a newly released report titled Powering Change or Business as Usual?, Amnesty International and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)-based organisation Initiative pour la Bonne Gouvernance et les Droits Humains (IBGDH) detailed exactly how the demand for hi-tech batteries has impacted some of the poorest communities in the world.

The growing demand for clean energy technologies, such as electric cars and mobile phones, has increased the demand for metals like cobalt and copper. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has the world’s largest cobalt reserves and the seventh-largest copper reserves, has now found itself at the centre of a global push towards renewable energy.

The maths is simple — and daunting: The average electric vehicle battery requires over 13kg of cobalt, and demand has already tripled since 2010.

By 2025, demand for cobalt is expected to reach 222,000 tonnes.

But, as Amnesty International reports, the expansion of industrial-scale cobalt and copper mines has already led to forced evictions, sexual assault, arson, and beatings. In some cases, entire communities have been displaced from their homes and farmland to make way for large-scale operations.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, stressed that the time is now for mining companies to allocate some of their massive profits to stopping human rights violations.

“The forced evictions taking place as companies seek to expand industrial-scale copper and cobalt mining projects are wrecking lives and must stop now,” she said.

“Amnesty International recognises the vital function of rechargeable batteries in the energy transition from fossil fuels. But climate justice demands a just transition. Decarbonising the global economy must not lead to further human rights violations.

“The people of the DRC experienced significant exploitation and abuse during the colonial and post-colonial era, and their rights are still being sacrificed as the wealth around them is stripped away.”

Amnesty International and IBGDH conducted interviews and reviewed documents, photographs, and satellite images at six mining projects in and around Kolwezi, DRC.

Abuses were found at four sites, including forced evictions and inadequate resettlement.

One instance showed that the expansion of a copper and cobalt mine had led to the destruction of long-established communities in Cité Gécamines, Kolwezi.

The report explains how residents were inadequately compensated, which led to a decline in their standard of living.

“I had a large house, with electricity, water … Now, I have a small house that was all I could afford with the compensation … we have to drink water from wells … almost no electricity,” one resident said.

Another instance detailed in the report revealed soldiers had burned down the Mukumbi settlement near the Mutoshi project operated by Chemicals of Africa SA (Chemaf). Residents were forced to leave the settlement, with only some receiving minimal compensation.

The expansion of industrial-scale cobalt and copper mines has already led to forced evictions, sexual assault, arson, and beatings.

The expansion of industrial-scale cobalt and copper mines has already led to forced evictions, sexual assault, arson, and beatings.

By 2025, demand for cobalt is expected to reach 222,000 tonnes.

By 2025, demand for cobalt is expected to reach 222,000 tonnes.

Interviewees said soldiers of the Republican Guard, an elite military force, arrived one morning and began burning houses, and beat villagers who tried to stop them.

“We weren’t able to retrieve anything,” said Kanini Maska, 57. “We had nothing to survive on, and spent nights in the forest.”

Farmers near the Metalkol Roan Tailings Reclamation (RTR) project also had their crops bulldozed without notice, while one woman reported being gang-raped by soldiers, leading to physical and emotional trauma.

Candy Ofime and Jean-Mobert Senga, Amnesty International researchers and co-authors of the report, said: “We found repeated breaches of legal safeguards prescribed in international human rights law and standards, and national legislation, as well as blatant disregard for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

Donat Kambola of IBGDH said the onus should be on multinational mining companies operating in the region to take on the costs of ensuring their business does not damage the region.

“The international mining companies involved have deep pockets and can readily afford to make the changes necessary to safeguard human rights, establish processes that improve the lives of people in the region, and provide remedy for the abuses suffered,” Kambola said.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, stressed that the time is now for mining companies to allocate some of their massive profits to stopping human rights violations.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, stressed that the time is now for mining companies to allocate some of their massive profits to stopping human rights violations.

Harvard professor Siddharth Kara likened the scenario to modern slavery, criticising the apparent inaction from companies benefiting from cheap, dangerous labour in Africa.

Harvard professor Siddharth Kara likened the scenario to modern slavery, criticising the apparent inaction from companies benefiting from cheap, dangerous labour in Africa.

Harvard professor slams working conditions

Siddharth Kara, a professor at Harvard, recently shed light on the horrific working conditions on the ground in several mines throughout the DRC.

Drawing on multiple trips to endless caverns filled with workers clinking tools, Kara likened the scenario to modern slavery, criticising the apparent inaction from companies benefiting from cheap, dangerous labour in Africa.

Kara, who authored the book Cobalt Red: How The Blood of The Congo Powers Our Lives, stated that there is no such thing as ”clean cobalt” and that the level of suffering endured by Congolese miners is staggering.

Kara explained that the demand for cobalt is exceptionally high as it is used in every single lithium rechargeable battery manufactured worldwide, including those in smartphones, tablets, laptops and electric vehicles.

Despite documented issues with child labour, the Biden administration recently entered into an agreement with the DRC and Zambia to support the green energy supply chain.

He said he had never seen a mine that “did not rely on child labour”.

“Every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop and crucially, every electric vehicle (needs cobalt),” Kara said on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience.

“We can’t function on a day-to-day basis without cobalt, and three-fourths of the supply is coming out of the Congo,” he added.

“And it’s being mined in appalling, heart-wrenching, dangerous conditions.”

He said “by and large the world doesn’t know what’s happening” in the region.

“I don’t think people are aware of how horrible it is,” he said.

SOURCE: NEWS.COM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *