Illegal miners at a copper and cobalt mine run by Glencore in the Democratic Republic of Congo defied a deadline to vacate the site on Tuesday, a union official said, raising fears of a potentially violent standoff.
A landslide at the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession, majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary, killed 43 people, prompting the government to vow the miners’ removal last Thursday.
According to the army’s inspector-general, General John Numbi, an operation to clear the estimated 2,000 miners will begin shortly.
Union officials and international activists, including Amnesty International, argue expulsion does nothing to address underlying factors, such as poverty and unemployment that lead people to brave dangerous conditions in mines.
“Without an alternative, the artisanals will not leave and the army will move in. When soldiers are sent into the field, we all know what happens,” says Charles Kumbi, regional programme director with the Industrial union.
Last week’s accident, which briefly sent Glencore’s shares tumbling 7%, underscored foreign investors’ exposure to illegal mining activity on their properties.
Tens of thousands of informal miners operate in and around large industrial mines in Congo. Often equipped with little more than shovels, buckets and straw sacks, they burrow deep underground in search of ore. Accidents are common.
Congo produces more than half the world’s cobalt, a key component in electric car and other electronic batteries, but is one of the world’s least developed countries, afflicted by corruption, conflict and misgovernment.
Reports about the dire conditions under which cobalt and copper is mined, including cases of child labour, have piled pressure on producers and end-users to prove supply chains are clean.
Companies fear that copper and cobalt will be dubbed “conflict” minerals like gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten, which have been used to finance wars in eastern Congo, said Gregory Mthembu-Salter, a former U.N. sanctions monitor in Congo.
While last week’s army intervention forced miners from their operational point at Tenke Fungurume, it was unclear if they had abandoned the site or only retreated to surrounding areas to wait out the operation. Local activists say the area offered to the miners has only low-grade ore and is unlikely to satisfy them.
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