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Glencore’s DRC mining disaster signals continued security risks ahead

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Friday, 5 July 2019 17:17

Machinery is seen at the Congolese state mining company Gecamines' copper plant in Kambove, in the southern region of Katanga. Reuters/Jonny Hogg

Forty-three illegal miners died after a landslide at Glencore’s Kamoto concession outside Kolwezi in Lualaba Province on 27 June. The disaster highlights the security and reputational risks of mining copper and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the incursions or their underlying causes rooted in poverty and underdevelopment, Indigo Ellis, Africa Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, argues in research in July.

  • Increased presence of state security forces on mine sites will expose companies to greater third-party risk, she argues.

Glencore says that its Kamoto Copper Company subsidiary has seen a growing presence of illegal artisanal miners throughout mining concessions in the Kolwezi area. Daily intrusions average 2,000 illegal artisanal miners on the hunt for copper and cobalt every day, the company says. The June disaster was enough to knock 7% briefly off Glencore’s share price.

The DRC’s interior minister responded by sending in a Congolese army battalion to remove illegal miners, but that won’t address the underlying problems. The DRC scores just 1.40 out of 10.00 on Verisk Maplecroft’s gauge of the risk of business complicity in human rights violations committed by public and private security forces.

Mining companies have no choice but to take to responsibility themselves because security forces, both private and state, accept bribes from artisanal miners in return for access to mining sites, Ellis says.

  • Companies sourcing copper from the DRC will be disproportionately exposed to these types of allegations in comparison to neighbouring Zambia, Verisk Maplecroft argues.

Rethink needed

Miners in the DRC face a huge and unpredictable range of security threats. Intervention in the mining industry by non-state militias is a danger.

  • The International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in a report in April pointed to North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri as areas where mining-related clashes are commonplace.
  • Armed interference in mining is continuing undisturbed in more remote areas, the IPIS says.
  • Overall, the IPIS finds, units of the Congolese army are the main culprits of armed interference, at 66% of the affected mining sites in the 2016-2018 sample of 265 mines.

Only a government rethink would improve the outlook, according to Ellis. A provision of the mining code, revised in 2018, has the potential to regularise the activities of illegal miners. The new article mandates membership in mining cooperatives for all legal artisanal miners and requires accreditation to process, transport, buy and sell ore.

The chances of the code making a real difference are slim.

  • Over the next ten years, Verisk Maplecroft sees little prospect of improvement in the mining code under President Félix Tshisekedi.
  • Extremely weak public institutions and the preoccupation of the ruling elite with their business interests are likely to mean that the code will be unenforced.

Reputational risk of being associated with child labour is a further danger. In 2017, around 67 % of the world’s cobalt was mined in the DRC, according to Darton Commodities. Amnesty International and CBS News have reported on the use of child labour in unmechanised DRC mines.

Bottom Line: Higher costs or the risk of more disasters is the stark choice facing many miners in the DRC.

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