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Pictured above, Ivan Glasenberg, the chief Glencore exec, at the FC ArcelorMittal Boldness Business Awards 2013.
Your cellphone is priceless. It was made from the blood, sweat, and tears of children.
“Familles” in the Democratic Republic of Congo_a nation at the south-central point of Sub-Saharan Africa, are suing the mining companies that supply tech giants with cobalt for the “extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale” in the cobalt mines_citing the Guardian. The other entity being sued is Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt. These mining companies are the major suppliers of cobalt raw material for major tech companies such as Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla.
It would be remiss not to inform the public of the true depth of cobalt mining depravity. The chain of abuse in cobalt child labor and general cobalt industry stretches further back than the eye can see. For the lawsuit, allegedly made by the parents of Congolese child labor against namely UK-owned Glencore and entities, is not the first complaint against the mining giant Glencore. Even the complaint itself may come from a faulty place. A place that does not have the pure intent of human rights included.
Citing the Daily Maverick in July 2019, deaths of 43 illegal miners were reported in July at one of Glencore’s facilities. The article called this a “highlighted challenge for mining companies struggling to secure sites from small-scale prospectors digging for cobalt, copper, and other minerals.”
The incidents where the illegal miners were killed shed some light on Congo’s mining labor and security issues. It also sheds reasonable doubt on the transparency of the lawsuit said to be launched by Congolese families. Mining facilities span “hundreds of square kilometers”, also citing Daily Maverick, across rural regions. The mining networks taunt locals who lack jobs and prospects to find them.
The people here live in extreme poverty. So, they do what they can do to survive. A child working for as little as $2 a day is not unheard of_nor is it outside the normal. As a matter of fact, $2-per-day in Congolese currency_Congolese francs_is the equivalent of 3,360.00 Congolese francs. It isn’t a great wage, but it can supplement for some grocery items_ a liter of whole fat milk sells for about 3,100 Congolese francs, and bread enough for 2 sells for 500 francs, for example. A starving family would be easily pressured into this form of labor.
In the same way that a starving family would be pressured to sue the companies their children are being made to work for. The prospect of more money for the parties involved in said lawsuit_money which the Congolese participants will never see_is enough to jeopardize the lifeline.
It is a vile state of affairs when we can say this. Nevertheless, the cobalt mines are keeping many of these people alive, even while killing them. So this lawsuit, which Guardian states was filed due to mine collapses which buried children alive, and for life-altering injuries, cannot be so well-meaning as it appears.
Citing the City A.M, as of the past two weeks, Glencore is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for large-scale bribery. US Law firm Boies Schiller had secure “litigation funding” and “after the event insurance” for a claim against Glencore on “behalf of investors and traders”. Compliance Week calls the bribery investigation the “third investigation” that the entity now faces. This comes after the UK severs some funding programs to the African continent_citing a source from Africa Alert.
So, is this lawsuit coming from a clean representation of the Congolese families? Or is it coming from a politicized, funding-driven inquiry of the Serious Fraud Office and Boies Schiller? Is it in the interest of better tech and mining industry manufacture? It’s unclear. The shadow around it alone_the fact that the Guardian could only call the parties in the lawsuit “Jane and John Doe” suggest otherwise. The Congolese_those who bear the brunt of the cobalt industry’s failure, are being left out of the discussion. It’s going over their heads_as if the whole nation was an exploited child.
Aha! _and a mere two weeks later the families of the child labor force have come forward with a lawsuit that reveals the reprehensible crimes against children which have gone on for decades here?
Still, Glencore is quoted by the Guardian as saying, “Glencore does not tolerate any form of child labor, forced, or compulsory labor.”
Oh, you may not “tolerate” it, but it’s still happening. It’s happening on your watch. Likewise, it’s happening because these major foreign enterprises are monopolistic magnetic force fields. They fail to provide any labor freedoms_reaping the advantage of government corruption and conflict_ that would generate private jobs. The entrepreneurial outfit_god forbid the local independent contracting company_where is it? When do we see it provide the alternative to Glencore’s crimes?
This would stimulate the marketplace. Congolese-owned mining would drive up the earning capacity internal to the country. Thus, the private companies would make enough money to invest in private security and safety for their mines_which would be staffed only by an adult labor force. Citing UNESCO, DRC currently has an annual GDP of about 3.70%. Increasing that by empowering the locals gives the Congolese people the resources to generate internal affairs which can oust oppressive Glencore. As it stands now, Glencore acts much like the Colonizers. Children bleed for it!
So, as the probe into big tech continues to develop, we have a compounded problem. We have this lawsuit which was filed by the families of Congolese children. We have a lawsuit that could have been filed under manipulative means for political and economic gains of other industries in the region. The facts to support this possibility are the desperation, lack of options, and major entity profit potential that triangulates around the lawsuit.
Then, there are starving families themselves who are being thrashed around in the cycle of human abuses, making bargains to survive. There are children being broken up like eggs in the collapse of the mines. The harsh, savage reality of exclusivity in the corporate table.
The solution is not cut and dry. The DRC did not fall into this disreputable state overnight. Yet, when foreign bodies recognize that monopolies are failing everyone with African interests, the solution can be formed. Africa is for Africans. The DRC is for Congolese. The keys must be put back into their hands.
The groundwork for this solution has been in play for a while now. See Africa-to-Africa Investment from Africa Alert’s 2018 publication base.