The hazards of international mining investment have been highlighted by a high court judgement that a Chinese-backed business must pay medical expenses for a Congolese worker.
There is no secret that the world’s need for minerals is increasing and diversifying at exponential rates, threatening to obliterate factors like worker safety. Last year, a Congolese technician was killed while working at the Kisanfu cobalt and copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The tragedy has subsequently become a flashpoint for long-running debates in the mining industry about the need to strike a balance between profitability and personal safety.
While this is undoubtedly a success for both the workers and their legal teams, the case raises broader challenges within Congolese mining, as well as multinational mining projects in general. With a rising divide between affluent overseas owners focused only on production and local workers facing real health hazards, the question remains whether international mining will ever be able to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable goals.
The instance that has sparked interest in this topic is a rather simple one. Zaluke’s hand was crushed by a falling motor, shattering bones and putting him unable to work or pay medical bills, and he was first denied medical care from Panda, as required by Congolese labor law.
Josué Kashal and Etienne Ngoie of the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ), a legal aid organization based in Kolwezi, took up the issue last October and successfully argued before the local high court that Panda should cover Zaluke’s expenditures.
In January of this year, the high court and the lawyers reached an agreement on the ultimate amount owed, and the ruling was praised by workers’ and human rights organizations as a victory for employees of mining corporations who may have felt forced to forego some healthcare rights.
The case is also significant because of the DRC’s rising role in the global mining industry. The entire quantity of cobalt produced by mines in the DRC has doubled in the last decade, from 60,000 tonnes in 2010 to 120,000 tonnes in 2021. The DRC is now a well-established supplier of cobalt, accounting for more than 70% of global production.