ABUJA – The mining of minerals critical to electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies in Congo has led to human rights abuses, including forced evictions and physical assault, according to a new report from Amnesty International and another rights group.
Congo is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a mineral used to make lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and other products, and it is also Africa’s top producer of copper, which is used in EVs, renewable energy systems and more.
Rights groups and U.S. officials have long criticized the trade of Congo’s cobalt, copper and other minerals due to abusive labor and the risk of violence in an impoverished central African country where militants control swaths of territory.
A measure was introduced in the U.S. House in July to ban imported products containing cobalt and copper and mined through child labor and other abusive conditions in Congo.
The report released Tuesday by Amnesty International and the Congo-based Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights, or IBGDH, details how the search for the minerals has forcibly uprooted people from their homes and farmland, often without compensation or adequate resettlement.
The groups said they interviewed 133 people affected by evictions related to cobalt and copper mining in six locations around the city of Kolwezi in Lualaba Province during separate visits in February and September 2022. They also reviewed documents, photos, videos, satellite images and company responses.
The report highlights the numerous human rights violations that have occurred as a result of mining activity.
In one case, Congolese soldiers burned down the Mukunbi settlement in the southern province of Lualaba in November 2016 to make way for cobalt and copper mining by Dubai-based Chemaf Resources.
Residents who tried to stop the military were beaten, according to the report. The fire, which left a 2-year-old girl with life-altering scars, and the assault had followed initial warnings delivered to residents by company executives escorted by police.
“Ernest Miji, the local chief, said that in 2015, after Chemaf acquired the concession, three representatives of the company, accompanied by two police officers, came to tell him it was time for Mukumbi’s residents to move away. He said the representatives visited four more times,” the report said.
Following protests in 2019, Chemaf agreed to pay $1.5 million through local authorities, with some former residents receiving between $50 and $300, which the local advocacy group Coalition for Safeguarding of Human Rights called an undervaluation of victims’ properties.
Chemaf denied any wrongdoing, liability or involvement in the destruction of Mukumbi or directing military forces to destroy it, the company told Amnesty International.
On its website, Chemaf says the copper and cobalt project is at the heart of its ambitious growth and would consolidate its position as a leader in the production of those minerals.
The report also highlighted a neighborhood in Kolwezi, home to 39,000 people, that has been facing continuous demolitions since 2015 to make way for an open-pit copper and cobalt mine. The mine is operated by Compagnie Minière de Musonoie Global SAS, or COMMUS, a joint venture between Chinese company Zijin Mining and the state-owned Gecamines mining company.
Those who were forced out said they were not adequately consulted, while COMMUS said it aimed to improve its communications, according to the report.
The company asserted that it already has made compensation payments calculated by the provincial government’s relocation committee to ensure residents' quality of life was not affected.
“The compensation prices of COMMUS for housing and land were higher than market prices,” according to a letter that the company sent to the rights groups.
But the groups denied it was enough.
“Despite claims by the company that its compensation package was set to ensure living standards were not affected, none of the former residents of Cité Gécamines that researchers interviewed said that they were able to afford substitute housing with the same amenities as the houses that they were forced to leave,” the report said.
Donat Kambola, president of the IBGDH group that co-wrote the report, said in a statement that “people are being forcibly evicted, or threatened or intimidated into leaving their homes, or misled into consenting to derisory settlements. Often there was no grievance mechanism, accountability, or access to justice.”
Amnesty International says companies are not doing enough to address human rights concerns and are disregarding international human rights laws and standards, as well as national legislation and U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
As the world demands more green technologies to reduce climate-changing emissions, the extraction of minerals for these products is causing social and environmental harm, the group said.
“Amnesty International recognizes the vital function of rechargeable batteries in the energy transition from fossil fuels. But climate justice demands a just transition. Decarbonizing the global economy must not lead to further human rights violations,” it said.
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