Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

DRC. Access to and exploitation of resources, the case of multinational companies

Rivista Africa 21.05.2023 Ornella Ordituro Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Access to and exploitation of resources is the common background to conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); specifically, not only open clashes and violence, but also more silent forms of medium- and low-intensity conflicts. Two years after the ambush, new elements are considered to understand the difficult context in which Italy mourned the death of its Ambassador Luca Attanasio, the carabiniere Vittorio Iacovacci and the driver Mustapha Milambo

Congo's territories, especially those in the eastern part, are rich in minerals such as copper and uranium. Gold is also present in large quantities in the South Kivu and Ituri regions. But the minerals that particularly attract the attention of international buyers are cobalt and coltan, present in large quantities in the North Kivu region and indispensable, as it is well known, for the production of batteries and technological instruments such as mobile phones, tablets and computers, but also batteries.

In particular, coltan is a material that is in great demand in international trade; it is a mixture of columbite and tantalite from the processing of which a very heat-resistant metal powder is obtained: tantalum, capable of bearing a high electrical charge. With the advancement of technology and the increase in demand for everyday electronic devices, the demand for it has increased exponentially as consequently do the price and the interest of illegal traders who have recognised the prospect of profit from the mineral irregular extraction and sale.

In recent years, likewise, the demand for cobalt has increased due to the growth in the production of electric-powered vehicles, a green but still insufficiently ethical solution. Its value is due to the difficulty of finding it. The extraction and sale of these minerals are extremely important for local economies (often the only source of income); nevertheless, the DRC government has to face major challenges and protect the territories from Multinational Corporations in order to translate this mineral wealth into sustainable development outcomes and a fairer distribution of productivity gains.

Despite its rich natural resources and potential economic development, DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Approximately 80% of Congolese boys and girls are involved in severe exploitation and do the hard labour of cobalt mining in particularly dangerous conditions while washing rocks in polluted puddles.

Twenty per cent of the mined ore comes from the southern part of the country, where the coronavirus has brought the children of Kolwezi, the rare earth capital of the world, back into the mines. In the communities of Domaine Marial, 65% of the children between the ages of 8 and 12 work in the mines as do in the Kanina area, the majority are school-age children, including children in the 6 to 8-year age group, who are particularly well suited to creep into the narrow ore mining shafts.

They all work in extreme conditions, for more than twelve hours, without any protection and with wages of 2$ per day. The risk of falling ill earlier and more than their peers is very high, as it is the work risk of accidents, even fatal ones, especially due to the frequent collapses of the tunnels in the mines. There are also numerous reports of fatal accidents in the former province of Katanga. Even though, there is no official data available on the number of fatalities that occur, the accidents are common. Children are subjected to more bullying and abuse by corporations and security guards.

Multinational enterprises (MENs) and host state links

The comprehensive and unitary notion of MENs is an issue that needs attention, especially because of dichotomy between economic unity and legal plurality of the enterprise.

The enterprise, understood as an economic activity aimed at making a profit through the production of goods or the provision of services, can be defined as 'multinational' for a plurality of national companies, subject to the countries’ laws of which they have the nationality; thus, they are not subject to a single governing law and a single competent court.

In our case, international obligations, stemming from respect for human rights, require that the protection of individuals is guaranteed by the government of the DRC both within the territory and within the Congolese jurisdiction. This includes the government's duty to protect individuals from abuse by third parties, including MENs active in the territory.

Therefore, the state cannot breach its obligations under general and particular international human rights law where such abuses can be attributed to it through negligence, i.e., when it has failed to take appropriate measures to prevent, investigate, punish and redress abuses by private actors against individuals on its territory.

There are strong political reasons for the DRC to meet the expectation that companies on its territory should respect human rights, especially when the state itself is involved in or supports such activities.

The urgency of an international discipline for MENs in the DRC

Undoubtedly, an international discipline to hold MNEs accountable is felt to be particularly necessary and urgent today. A multinational enterprise can be much more influential than a micro-state. This is because they bring jobs and represent a source of income for local workers, but at the same time they can easily circumvent national laws, especially with regard to workers' rights, and possibly violate human rights with impunity by relocating their headquarters or making their establishment in a more attractive state because it has particularly favourable laws, for example, on the environment.

In this regard, the Congolese government has recently implemented an initiative for a more 'sustainable' exploitation by MENs in the territory. The government monitors companies, which in turn have a commitment to identify, prevent, resolve and account for human rights violations along their supply chain, where the provision of human rights risk assessments remains a key issue. If a company has facilitated the employment of both children and adults in terrible working conditions, or has benefited from them, it is obliged to remedy this. This means acting together with other companies and the local government to prevent the worst forms of child exploitation and supporting the reintegration of children into school, taking care of their health and providing for their psychological needs.


Despite some progress, however, it remains difficult to examine the quality and effectiveness of its monitoring. The initiative is based on the demand for greater corporate responsibility to:

  • regulate the extraction and sale of artisanal and mining cobalt;
  • improve safety and working conditions and promote global market access for producers;
  • formalise operations and harmonise existing initiatives working on these issues;
  • fight corruption and human rights violations (especially the prohibition of child exploitation) in cobalt mining communities;
  • promote gender equality;
  • mitigate negative environmental impacts for the achievement of the UN Environmental

Sustainability Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change by 2030.

The initiative is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Millennium Development Goals. This is an action programme for individuals, planet and prosperity signed in September 2015 by the governments of UN member states.

The official launch of the Sustainable Development Goals coincided with the beginning of 2016, guiding the world on the road ahead over the next few years: countries have committed to achieving them by 2030.

The Goals follow up on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals and represent common objectives on a set of important development issues: fighting poverty, eradicating hunger and combating climate change, to name but a few.

By Common Goals we mean that they concern all countries and all individuals: no one is excluded, nor should anyone be left behind on the path needed to put the world on the road to sustainability.

See, Rdc. Accesso e sfruttamento delle risorse, il caso delle imprese multinazionali

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