Copper and cobalt-mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo may be violating the rights of their workers with stringent confinement policies meant to stop the spread of Covid-19, according to a group of non-governmental organizations.
Most of Congo’s mines have continued to operate amid the pandemic by keeping employees on site and tightly controlling traffic in and out of the mines. In an emailed letter to 13 mining companies on Thursday, the NGOs, which included London-based Rights and Accountability in Development and Amnesty
International, and New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the conditions of the confinement have not always been adequate.
“In some mining sites where companies have pursued a policy of confinement, Congolese workers were not given adequate food and water rations, were not provided with appropriate sleeping arrangements and, in some cases, were not given a choice to accept the confinement without fear of losing their jobs or
other forms of reprisal,” the groups said.
Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt and Africa’s biggest producer of copper. Companies including
Glencore Plc and Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. operate in the central African nation. There have been no known cases of Covid-19 in the country’s industrial copper and cobalt mines or in Lualaba province, where most of the country’s biggest mines are based.
Neighboring Haut-Katanga province, which is also home to several copper and cobalt projects, has had 61 cases thus far.
Ivanhoe, which has more than 3,500 employees and contractors developing its Kamoa-Kakula copper project in Lualaba province, began allowing its Congolese staff to return to commuting to the project as of June 1.
The company’s Covid-19 safety protocols “were agreed to by related unions,” it said in response to questions.
“The nature of our mine development projects is such that certain work cannot be done remotely, so our focus is on reducing the risk of the virus spreading to our projects,” Chief Executive Officer Robert Friedland said in a statement on Ivanhoe’s website. “We will continue to adapt our response as
this situation evolves, with our primary focus being the health and safety of our people.”
Glencore’s policies and practices align with various conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the company said in an emailed response to questions. The “operational workforces” at its Kamoto Copper Company SA and Mutanda Mining Sarl units aren’t confined to site, it said.
“As a responsible operator, our top priority is to protect the safety and health of our people and the communities that host our businesses,” it said. “Our teams in the DRC are working closely with the local government, unions, health agency and other key responders to provide effective local solutions to