1. The problem
The wealth of natural resources, of timber, diamonds, gold, tantalum, and casserite, and ongoing conflicts for their control, makes men, women and children vulnerable to modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).5 People in the DRC are at risk of forced labour in the mining and agriculture industry, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.6 The reasons for this are complex. Decades of political instability and a violent civil war, which erupted in 1997, have left the DRC as one of the countries with the highest number of displaced people in the world.7 Peace was officially reinstated in 2002, but the violence has continued unabated in certain areas of the country. It is estimated that 3.8 million people died in the DRC between 1998 and 2004 during the worst period of fighting, and millions more were displaced, many seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.8
Despite being a mineral rich nation, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country’s political instability, poor infrastructure, lack of basic services and massive number of displaced people, have contributed to making much of the Congolese population extremely vulnerable to modern slavery. Many areas in the DRC are ruled by violent armed rebel groups, like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well as the Congolese military (FARDC), which reportedly force men and children to mine for minerals, turn over their mineral production, pay illegal ‘taxes’, or carry looted goods from mining villages.9
These natural resources are mostly located within eastern DRC, where armed rebel groups and corrupt army officials have full control. Small-scale mines provide the setting for the mass enslavement of men, women and children.10 According to the Electronics Industry Transparency Initiative, up to 10 million people, or 16 percent of the population of the DRC, are dependent on small-scale mining, either directly or indirectly.11
This lucrative informal sector directly benefits and funds the numerous rebel factions, and members of the Congolese army, who operate a system in which the minerals are smuggled out of the DRC into Rwanda and Burundi, and exported as ‘clean’ material.12 The mined minerals from the DRC are sold to trading houses, then exporters and on to refiners, as part of a complex supply chain which feeds into the electrical industry13 and eventually stretches throughout the entire world in the form of finished electrical goods.14
Often called ‘Conflict Minerals’, tin, tungsten, gold and tantalum, or coltan, originating from the DRC are used by manufacturers in portable consumer electronics, medical devices and advanced aeronautics.15 As the world’s fifth largest producer of coltan and tin, the DRC is a major contributor to the global minerals market.16
Notable aspects of the problem
The vast majority, as many as 90%, of the men working in the mines of eastern DRC are trapped in a system of debt bondage.17 New workers borrow money from their employers to buy the necessary tools to carry out the work, as well as food, basic supplies and accommodation. The minimal payment they receive for their work is designed not to cover their expenses, and the interest rates for loans are unfairly high, with employers capitalising on workers’ illiteracy and lack of knowledge surrounding debt repayment schemes.18 Though most workers realise that the debt is impossible to pay off, they are locked into the system, where any objection could lead to severe penalties, violence or arrest by the implicated authorities.19 The debt bondage system does not only affect the miners, but can be found further up in the chain of command, as supervisors are often also trapped in these perpetual cycles.20
In some cases, men travel to eastern DRC looking for work, unaware of the reality of the conditions they would face there. Once there, they sometimes choose to stay rather than face the ridicule of going home empty-handed.21 This level of desperation for work, and ignorance to the conditions prior to arrival mean that men looking for work from all regions of the DRC are vulnerable to fall into modern slavery in the mines of eastern DRC.
Women and children are often abducted by armed rebel groups, often in village raids, and forced to work in the mines, as well as performing other tasks around the mining camps. With a high level of sexual violence in the DRC, women and girls are often forced to labour in the mines during the day, and are sexually exploited at night.22 Forced and child marriage is also prevalent, varying from a legal union, to commercial sexual exploitation and rape, with some members of rebel groups claiming women and girls as their wives by raping them.23
The DRC’s poverty and lack of social services, most notably lack of schools in the eastern part of the country, has left many children vulnerable to modern slavery in the mining sector. Targeted by the armed groups for their compliance and small bodies, which can reach into the most dangerous parts of the mines where an adult body will not fit, children are easy prey.24
Children are also forced to become soldiers in the armed groups. Despite moves to release these children, renewal of the conflict in 2011/ 2012 led to an increase in the number of children recruited by these armed groups.25
Child slavery exists outside of the armed conflict. It is reported that parents sometimes sell their child to a farmer for a fixed period of time, in a practice named ‘ingamba’. This informal contract can last for six months and be extended without the child’s consent.26
2. What is the government doing about it?
The DRC is signatory to all the key relevant Conventions and Treaties, but little to no implementation means that these international legal obligations are largely irrelevant. There are very few functioning basic social services in the country and child protective services are poor. The situation is particularly bad in the mining areas of eastern DRC.27
There are a number of laws within the Congolese Penal Code and the 2006 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo that are related to modern slavery. Article 16 of the Constitution prohibits holding a person in slavery or slavery-like conditions, Article 15 prohibits sexual violence, and Article 41 protects children from abandonment and abuse.28 The Sexual Violence Statute of 2006 (Law 06/018) prohibits sexual slavery, sex trafficking, child and forced prostitution, and pimping. The Labour Code sets the minimum age for employment at fifteen and prevents children for being engaged in hazardous work, but applies only to children working for an employer and does not cover ‘self-employed’ children.29
The UN have held a presence in the DRC for 13 years,30 the most recent incarnation through the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Being the only mechanism in the DRC with the means and capabilities to operate throughout most of the country, many of the responsibilities of the government have fallen onto them.31
The Government of the DRC does not have its own National Action Plan to combat modern slavery. However, in 2010 it did adopt the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 concerning the rights of women and girls, particularly in conflict and post-conflict zones.
In 2012, the Government signed a UN-backed Plan of Action to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual violence and other child rights violations. The Government is committed to establishing an inter-ministerial committee, to end recruitment and sexual violence towards children and to ensure victim reintegration. They are also obligated to combat impunity of perpetrators of crimes committed against children, to report regularly on the progress of the plan, and to allow the UN access for verification.32
Notable aspects of the response
Because the main focus on modern slavery in the DRC is related to the mining of minerals, which is intricately linked to consumers throughout the world, there is increasing international concern regarding the source of minerals used to produce portable and other electrical devices. Though not yet implemented, the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform law of 2010 contains a ‘DRC minerals provision’, which requires publicly traded companies to annually disclose their ‘due diligence on the source’ of minerals from the DRC.33 It is only a disclosure requirement, however, and the continued use of conflict minerals is not subject to a ban or penalty. Companies may continue to source conflict minerals, but must report this to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).34
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the ‘Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas’ in 2011 which, while not legally binding, represents the efforts required for its 34 member countries as well as non-members to adhere to in the sourcing of conflict minerals.35
The World Bank, together with the Government of the DRC, has launched the PROMINES project, which provides technical assistance in an effort to restructure the mining sector.36 The main objective of this project is to “to increase transparency and accountability in the mining sector so that natural resources will be used for inclusive and sustainable growth”37. In order to achieve this, the World Bank has invested in improving the management of resource allocation, improving authorities’ management capacity, increasing transparency and the number of sustainable development projects.38 It is working alongside the Government to tighten tax regulations, improve policy, and the regulatory framework of the mining sector.39
3. What needs to happen?
The Democratic Republic of Congo should:
- Launch a nationwide awareness campaign to educate people about the dangers of forced labour in the mining industry.
- Work alongside MONUSCO, using their manpower and resources, to strengthen law enforcement throughout the country, particularly in eastern DRC, by providing training to officials and prioritising raising awareness of the illegality of the activities going on in eastern DRC.
- Investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking, even if that means investigating behaviour within the Government’s own armed forces.
- Tackle the involvement of children within the DRC’s FARDC army.
- Provide shelters for children to have a safe place to go once they have left situations of modern slavery, with inbuilt programmes to rehabilitate them after their experiences.
- Ensure the educational system reaches mining communities to provide access to free schooling to all children in the DRC.
- End impunity for officials who break the law, particularly members of the Congolese army.
- Provide training to law enforcement officials in the DRC and to judicial staff to understand the existing laws relating to human trafficking and to recognise the signs of it.
Companies sourcing minerals from the DRC, including, Nintendo, Canon, Nikon, HTC and Sharp, should:
- Follow the example of Intel, HP, Philips, and Scan disk (among others),40 to take proactive steps to trace their supply chain and ensure they are not using conflict minerals.
- Cooperate with each other to become a unified force against the use of conflict minerals.
- Invest in the vulnerable communities, promoting awareness and alleviating poverty, supporting any local programmes to ameliorate the situation such as improving access to schooling for children and improving the agriculture sector.
- Communicate with the DRC Government and apply pressure to prioritise human rights in the mining sector. As it stands, the profits made from mining benefit the rebel groups and the corrupt army officials, not the DRC’s economy. A partnership between the global leaders in electronic supplies and the DRC Government could benefit the country’s economy in a very significant way. With the help of private investment on the part of the overseas companies, the government could make important changes to its infrastructure and social services, alleviating some of its people’s vulnerability to slavery.
NB: All country studies were sent to expert review prior to placing on the website. This was not, however, possible for DRC.