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The mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the wealthiest industries in the world, yet its people are one of the poorest1. 62% of the population lives with less than 2 dollars per day, which is below the national poverty line2, while the mining sector is estimated to be worth around 24 trillion dollars3. The latter is one of the main sources of revenues of the country, but due to different political and economic factors, the main gains of the industry do not benefit the whole population. This phenomenon is defined by many scholars as the “resource curse”. To understand this, we must start by quoting Jeffrey Herbst who wrote “The history of every continent is written clearly in its geographical features, but of no continent is this more true than Africa4. Indeed, Africa, in general, and the DRC is blessed with many resources such as gold, cobalt, copper and diamonds. However, since the independence of different African countries, the different mining industries have been subject to internal and external influences, leading to poor performance and a correlation between the value of the industry and the population. The resource curse phenomenon is the idea that resource abundance for a country leads to poor development of the overall economy. Several factors can explain this strange correlation, as the current literature lacks a consensus on finding a unique cause. However, it is commonly argued that the main reasons can be the lack of strong institutions, corruption, and the exportation of resources (mainly minerals) by foreign companies in the industry5.

This current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo held the country in a critical situation. Poverty, hunger, military conflicts, sexual violence, forced labour, underdevelopment, and environmental challenges are the norm6. Therefore, it is important to understand that the mining industry in DRC (and many other African countries) is more than an industry, but is at the centre of different dynamics shaping the country’s trajectory in terms of development and human rights.

Human rights abuses

In 2019, the famous human rights law firm International Rights Advocates launched a lawsuit against major American firms on behalf of 14 families from DRC. The accusation accused Apple, Google, Dell, and Tesla of playing a role in forced labour and human rights violations of children working in cobalt mines7. The law firm affirmed that children are working under “extremely dangerous Stone Age conditions” and “paid a dollar or two a day”8.

Forced child labour in African mines has been largely documented by national and international non-governmental organisations. Additionally, to work conditions, this situation often resulted in health issues affecting workers, often very young, for their whole life.

Therefore, today, the mining industry seems to lead to despicable issues affecting the population negatively.

The current challenges and objectives

The mining industry in the DRC is entangled in a web of profound human rights issues and environmental degradation preventing effective development. Human rights abuses, including the exploitation of labour, notably involving child labour, persist within the industry9. Children, often forced by dire economic circumstances, are employed in hazardous mining activities, enduring perilous conditions without access to education or proper safety measures. Furthermore, the pursuit of coveted minerals has led to the displacement of indigenous communities, severing their ties to ancestral lands and disrupting traditional ways of life10. This forced displacement not only undermines the socio-cultural cohesion of these communities but also triggers social unrest and heightened vulnerabilities, leaving these populations marginalised and disenfranchised.

On the environmental front, the toll exacted by mining activities is staggering. Rampant deforestation, primarily to clear land for mining operations, contributes significantly to the loss of critical habitats and biodiversity11. Moreover, the indiscriminate disposal of mining waste and the use of hazardous chemicals contaminate soil and water sources, posing severe health risks to nearby communities and rendering vast tracts of land infertile. Ecosystems suffer irreparable damage, impacting not only local biodiversity but also the long-term sustainability of the region’s natural resources12. These intertwined human rights violations and environmental devastations underscore the urgency of adopting holistic and sustainable approaches within the mining industry. Efforts toward ensuring ethical labour practices, safeguarding the rights of vulnerable populations, and implementing stringent environmental regulations are imperative. It is crucial to foster a mining landscape that not only generates economic opportunities but also upholds the dignity of workers, respects human rights, and prioritises environmental conservation to secure a more equitable and sustainable future for the DRC and its inhabitants.

The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) mining industry, notably during the 1970s, reflects a pivotal period influenced by global economic shifts that shaped the sector’s development and privatisation. This era witnessed the DRC’s emergence as a significant supplier of critical minerals amid changing global economic ideologies. President Mobutu’s nationalisation policies aimed to assert control over resources, but external pressures aligned with global trends pushed for privatisation and liberalisation13. The 1970s marked a surge in resource nationalism worldwide, prompting the DRC to nationalise key industries, including mining, seeking greater economic benefits. However, international economic pressures from the neoliberal order advocating privatisation and liberalisation led to the reversal of these policies. Conditionalities tied to loans and aid compelled economies, including the DRC, to open sectors like mining to private interests14.

This shift resulted in the entry of multinational corporations and foreign investors into the DRC’s mining landscape15. While privatisation aimed to attract capital and expertise, its impacts on development were multifaceted. It brought technological advancements but raised concerns about wealth distribution, resource exploitation, and limited local community benefits16.

This article aims to explain how global economic orders influenced the DRC’s mining industry, shaping its trajectory and socio-economic implications. The interplay between global forces, national policies, and industry privatisation remains crucial in understanding the mining sector’s evolution and its impacts on the DRC’s development.


Recommendations for Addressing Human Rights Abuses in the Mining Industry in the DRC:

Enhance Transparency in the Supply Chain:

  • Advocate for and implement measures to enhance transparency throughout the cobalt supply chain, from mining sites to final product manufacturing.
  • Encourage companies to disclose information about their supply chain practices, ensuring visibility into the conditions under which cobalt is sourced.

Strengthen Accountability Mechanisms:

  • Collaborate with industry stakeholders, governments, and international bodies to establish mechanisms that hold accountable those involved in exploitative practices in the cobalt supply chain.
  • Support initiatives that enforce ethical standards, ensuring that companies prioritise the well-being of individuals working in mines.

Eliminate Child Labour:

  • Work towards eradicating child labour from mining operations through the implementation and enforcement of stringent regulations.
  • Collaborate with international organisations, governments, corporations, and local communities to create pathways to education and alternative livelihoods for children affected by mining activities.

Address Forced Displacement:

  • Advocate for policies that protect the rights of individuals and communities facing forced displacement due to large-scale mining concessions.
  • Support efforts to provide compensation and alternative housing for those affected by corporate-driven displacements.

Improve Health and Safety Standards:

  • Push for the improvement of health and safety standards in mining operations, particularly in addressing hazardous conditions, lack of proper ventilation, and exposure to harmful substances.
  • Collaborate with relevant organisations to provide healthcare and support for individuals, especially children, affected by health hazards associated with mining activities.

Recommendations for Promoting Women’s Rights in the Mining Industry:

Promote Equal Employment Opportunities:

  • Advocate for policies that ensure equal employment opportunities for women within the mining industry, including access to diverse roles and decision-making positions.
  • Encourage companies to implement fair pay practices and eliminate discrimination against women in mining-related employment.

Address Gender-Based Violence:

  • Support initiatives that aim to prevent and address gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and assault, in and around mining sites.
  • Collaborate with local communities and organisations to create safe spaces and reporting mechanisms for women facing violence within mining areas.

Mitigate Environmental Impacts on Women:

  • Advocate for measures that specifically address the disproportionate impact of environmental consequences, such as water pollution and deforestation, on women.
  • Support initiatives that ensure women have access to clean water, address food security challenges, and mitigate adverse health effects resulting from environmental degradation.

Empower Women in Decision-Making:

  • Promote the inclusion of women in decision-making processes related to mining activities, ensuring their voices are heard in shaping policies and practices.
  • Encourage the formation of women’s networks within mining communities to provide a platform for advocacy and support.

Recommendations for Addressing Environmental Challenges in the Mining Industry:

Implement Stringent Environmental Regulations:

  • Advocate for the implementation and enforcement of stringent environmental regulations to limit deforestation, pollution, and improper disposal of mining waste.
  • Collaborate with government bodies and international organisations to establish and monitor compliance with environmental standards.

Establish Conservation Areas:

  • Support the creation of conservation areas to protect crucial habitats and species affected by mining-related deforestation.
  • Work towards preserving UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, and ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources.

Promote Sustainable Practices:

  • Encourage mining companies to adopt sustainable practices that balance resource extraction with the protection of vital habitats and ecosystems.
  • Support initiatives that promote responsible land-use practices and the rehabilitation of areas affected by mining activities.

Empower Local Communities:

  • Ensure the active involvement of local communities in decision-making processes related to mining operations, including the development and implementation of environmental mitigation measures.
  • Advocate for the equitable distribution of benefits from mining activities to enhance the well-being of local populations.

General Recommendation: Empowering Local Knowledge and Collaboration in Addressing Mining Issues in Katanga, DRC

It is imperative to recognize the significance of local knowledge and perspectives in addressing the complex challenges faced by mining communities in Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While external interventions and solutions are valuable, they must be complemented by a genuine collaboration with the local population, empowering them to actively participate in decision-making processes and contribute their insights and solutions.

  • Challenging Western Paradigms in Knowledge Production: There is a critical need to challenge the dominant Western paradigm in the production of knowledge regarding human rights support in the mining sector. This involves acknowledging and valuing the diverse forms of knowledge held by local communities, which are often marginalised or overlooked in favour of externally-driven approaches. By challenging Western-centric perspectives, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable discourse that respects and integrates local knowledge systems.
  • Empowering Local Solutions: Empowering local communities to bring forth their solutions is essential for sustainable development in the mining regions of Katanga. This entails creating platforms and mechanisms that enable meaningful participation and engagement of community members in identifying challenges, developing solutions, and implementing initiatives. Local solutions are more likely to be contextually relevant, culturally sensitive, and sustainable in the long term.
  • Collaborative Approach: Effective solutions to mining issues require a collaborative approach that brings together various stakeholders, including government entities, international organisations, mining companies, civil society groups, and most importantly, local communities. Collaboration should not merely involve the implementation of externally-driven interventions but should prioritise partnerships based on mutual respect, trust, and shared decision-making.
  • Capacity Building and Knowledge Sharing: Investing in capacity building and knowledge sharing initiatives within mining communities is essential for enhancing their ability to actively engage in addressing mining-related challenges. This includes providing access to education, training, and resources that empower community members to understand their rights, advocate for their interests, and participate effectively in decision-making processes.

In conclusion, the sustainable development of mining regions in Katanga, DRC, hinges on a collaborative approach that values and integrates local knowledge, perspectives, and solutions. By challenging Western paradigms in knowledge production, empowering local communities, and fostering genuine collaboration, we can work towards addressing mining issues in a manner that respects human rights, promotes environmental sustainability, and uplifts the well-being of all stakeholders involved.

1 Dowling, O. (2020). The Political Economy of Super-Exploitation in Congolese Mineral Mining. [online] Available at:[Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
2 World Bank (2023). Democratic Republic of Congo Overview. World Bank. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
3 Bolton, T. (2023). Mining in the DRC: The backbone of economic growth. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
4 Plant, A. (1939). ‘An African Survey’. Economica, [online] 6(22), pp.205–212. doi: Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
5 Dowling, O. (2020). The Political Economy of Super-Exploitation in Congolese Mineral Mining. P. h. D. Magdalene College [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
6 Ibid.
7 Kelly, A. (2019). Apple And Google Named in US Lawsuit Over Congolese Child Cobalt Mining Deaths. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
8 Dowling, O. (2020). The Political Economy of Super-Exploitation in Congolese Mineral Mining. P.h. D Thesis. Magdalene College [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2023].
9 Gross, T. (2023). How ‘modern-day slavery’ in the Congo powers the rechargeable battery economy. NPR. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
10 Amnesty International (2023). Forced Evictions at Industrial Cobalt and Copper Mines in the DRC. Amnesty International. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
11 Balasha, A.M. and Peša, I. (2023). ‘They polluted our cropfields and our rivers, they killed us’: Farmers’ complaints about mining pollution in the Katangese Copperbelt. Heliyon, [online] 9(4), p.e14995. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
12 Muimba-Kankolongo, A., Banza Lubaba Nkulu, C., Mwitwa, J., Kampemba, F.M. and Mulele Nabuyanda, M. (2022). Impacts of Trace Metals Pollution of Water, Food Crops, and Ambient Air on Population Health in Zambia and the DR Congo. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, [online] 2022, pp.1–14. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
13 Gulley, A.L. (2022). One hundred years of cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Resources Policy, 79, p.103007. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
14, 16 Hesselbein, G. (2007). The Rise and decline of the Congolese State an analytical narrative on State-making Crisis States Working Papers Series No.2. The London School of Economics and Political Science. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2023].
15 Notes: Foreign companies are in DRC’s mining industry since decades before decolonization. However, the sift mentioned here refers to the introduction of those companies under liberal global policies.

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