You are here

copper

The Road to Ruin? - Electric vehicles and workers’ rights abuses at DR Congo’s industrial cobalt mines

By staff - Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ), November 2021

Cobalt is everywhere. It is a silvery-blue mineral used in the rechargeable batteries that power our mobile phones, laptops and tablets, and in larger quantities, the electric vehicles that will soon dominate our roads. It is a strategic mineral in the plan to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Accelerating this switch is one of the priorities to tackle the climate crisis and industry experts forecast that electric vehicle sales will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will require a dramatic increase in cobalt production.

The booming demand for cobalt has a dark side, however. The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s poorest nations, holds the lion’s share of the world’s cobalt reserves. In 2020, 70% of the world’s cobalt was extracted from within its borders with tens of thousands of workers labouring in large-scale industrial mines to dig up the ore. Multinational mining companies that own many of Congo’s mines, eager to demonstrate their “green” and “responsible” credentials, say they produce “clean” and “sustainable” cobalt, free from human rights abuses, and that their operations contribute to good jobs and economic opportunities.

This report, based on extensive research over two years, paints a very different picture. It shows dire conditions for many Congolese workers in the industrial mines, often characterised by widespread exploitation and labour rights abuses. Many workers do not earn a “living wage” – the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living – have little or no health provision, and far too often are subjected to excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, degrading treatment, discrimination and racism.

In recent years attention has mainly focused on Congo’s artisanal mining sector, partly because of the risks of child labour it creates, whereas the conditions for workers in the large-scale industrial mines have gone largely unnoticed. This report examines workers’ rights at Congo’s industrial mines where the large majority of cobalt is coming from, producing some 80% of the cobalt exported from the country (in contrast to the 20% produced in artisanal mines).

The findings presented in this report are based on detailed research over 28 months by UK-based corporate watchdog Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico- Judiciaire (CAJJ), a Congolese legal aid centre specialised in labour rights. The research team carried out extensive field research in and around Kolwezi, a mining town where many of Congo’s cobalt and copper mines are located. It is informed by 130 interviews of workers and former workers at five mining companies, as well as interviews with subcontractors, union representatives, lawyers, Congolese local authorities, medical staff and industry experts.

Read the text (PDF).

Global union launches campaign against world copper mining giants

By staff - MorningStar, September 2021

GLOBAL union confederation IndustriALL is taking on a copper mining company, calling for an end to its exploitation of workers.

It has its sights set on the Chilean franchise of the Anglo-Australian BHP multinational company, accusing it of using its corporate muscle to shape laws to work in its favour.

IndustriALL brought together Chilean BHP unions in an online workshop to explore issues of human rights abuses in global supply chains as well as health and safety.

Workers there have been forced to seek redress through the courts, however there are limited mechanisms offering protection to those working in the BHP-operated mines.

“Environmental, social and governance issues are today seen as the biggest risk to the mining industry.

“BHP can no longer evade these issues. It must show respect for workers, communities and the country as a whole,” IndustriALL spokesman Glenn Mpufane said.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, yet at least 61 per cent of BHP workers are contractors with precarious employment conditions.

IndustriALL argues that they should be treated more fairly by the multinational company, with copper becoming a crucial resource in the global economy, in high demand for the energy transition.

“As a result, BHP shareholders enjoy attractive returns, but what are the returns for workers, communities and the country as a whole?” Mr Mpufane said.

In August matters spilled over as government-mediated pay talks stalled and workers threatened to ballot for strike action.

The dispute worried world copper markets, despite the price of the metal rocketing to record highs earlier this year.

They wished to avoid a repeat of the 44-day walkout in Escondia, the world’s largest copper mine, in 2017.

IndustriALL’s global campaign urges BHP to enter negotiations “to address its poor record of ill treatment of workers, communities and environmental degradation across its global operations.”

Our Existence is Our Resistance: Mining and Resistance on the Island of Ireland

By Lydia Sullivan - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

This analysis of geological and permitting data shows that a staggering 27% of the Republic of Ireland and 25% of Northern Ireland are now under concession for mining.

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green Shift? Mining and Resistance in Fennoscandia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Sápmi

Mirko Nikolic, Editor, et. al. - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish authorities have granted concessions for tens of thousands of hectares of land, with mining pressure increasing particularly dramatically in Sápmi – the home territory of the Indigenous Sámi Peoples. 

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

Arizona's strongest union announces opposition to Resolution Copper's Oak Flat project

By Karla Schumann, Secretary Treasurer, Teamsters Local 104 - Press Release, July 23, 2021

Teamsters Local Union 104 supports the efforts of Representative Raul Grijalva and Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle to pass the Save Oak Flat Act Bill S. 915/H.R. 1884, which will repeal the requirement for the United States Department of Agriculture to convey the 2.422 acres of Forest System land located in the Tonto National Forest in Pinal County, Arizona. known as Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper Mining, in exchange for various parcels of land owned by Resolution Copper:

Chi'Chil'Ba'Goteel, known as Oak Flat. is a Traditional Cultural Property located in southeastern Arizona that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since time Immemorial, Native Americans have gone to Oak Flat to participate In ceremonies, to pray, to gather medicines and ceremonial items. and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing."

Tribal leaders and allies have been working for over eighteen years to protect Oak Flat from the foreign mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton — who. through their joint venture with Resolution Copper Mining, LLC, seek to develop the largest and deepest copper mine in North America." 

Rio Tinto, BHP and Resolution Copper seek to extract the copper ore beneath Oak Flat using the block-cave or panel-cave mining method. This will cause the surface ol Oak Flat to collapse and result In a 1.8-mlle wide crater, which is the approximate distance from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, that will be over a thousand feet deep. The process will permanently destroy more than one dozen sacred springs, burial sites. and related cultural properties."

Proponents of the mine claim job creation as the primary reason to move forward with the project. The reality Is that Rio Tinto has a long history of abusive labor practices. From Canada to California to South Africa, the company has a history of attacking unions and slashing wages. Rio Tinto has often responded to worker complaints with lockouts and layoffs. While Rio Tinto and BHP may make empty promises to support labor at the Resolution Copper mine, this mine will be fully automated and will not create good jobs for Arizonians. Resolution Copper will utilize robotized drilling and automated haul trucks that can all be controlled from an operations center outside ol Arizona."

Our union Is dedicated to advancing the social, economic, and educational welfare of our membership in Arizona and advocating for mining projects that support working families in the Slate. However, it Is clear that this project will only benefit a small group of foreign corporations that have repeatedly proven that they have no respect for unions, working families or mining communities. Therefore, on behalf of the 8,400 members of Teamsters Local Union 104, many of whom are members of Arizona's tribal nations, we stand In solidarity with our tribal brothers and sisters and urge key members of Congress. including the Honorable Senator Joe Manchin, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to work with Congressional leadership to move the Save Oak Flat Act towards enactment and permanently protect this sacred area.

Deep-Sea Mining for Metals: Treading Carefully on the Path Toward Renewables

By Katherine Wilkin - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 8, 2021

As the push for renewable energy sources continues as a means to combat climate change, the demand for metals and minerals that make up critical components of clean energy technology will be on the rise. While some of these minerals can be obtained via deep-sea mining, the environmental impacts of such efforts are not well understood. In moving to a clean energy economy, governments and international non-governmental organizations need to research, understand, and mitigate the negative impacts to the environment and communities that can and will result from activities like deep-sea mining before allowing projects to go forward.

The United States Geological Survey has identified 11 metals and minerals as critical commodities in renewable energy technologies: arsenic, gallium, germanium, indium, tellurium, aluminum, cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and rare earth elements. Silver, copper, selenium, silica, nickel, and cadmium are also used in solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. Several of these critical metals and elements can be obtained via deep-sea mining from three different types of deposits: (i) cobalt-rich crust that contains manganese, iron, cobalt, copper, nickel and platinum; (ii) polymetallic nodules which are rich in manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, molybdenum and rare earth elements; and (iii) sea-floor massive sulphides which contain copper, gold, zinc, lead, barium and silver.

Whether deep-sea mining is necessary to acquire enough minerals to fuel the renewable energy shift remains an unanswered question. In a May 2021 report on the need for minerals to power energy transition technologies, the International Energy Agency predicted that by 2040, total mineral demand for clean energy will be four times current demand. Electric vehicles and battery storage technology account for about half of this predicted growth in mineral demand. The Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney indicated in 2016 that this increased demand for materials can be satisfied without utilizing deep-sea mining even under a target of 100% renewable energy use by 2050. Further, Carbon Brief reported in 2018 that reserves of lithium and cobalt are likely to be sufficient to meet demand, but there are outstanding concerns of supply chain bottleneck causing delays. This is supported by the IEA report, which indicated that problems in supply of minerals is more likely to be a matter of quality rather than quantity. However, a 2018 study supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure found that the current supply of critical metals is not enough to transition to a fully-renewable energy system in the Netherlands. Additionally, a 2019 projection of demand for cobalt, lithium, and silver looking as far as 2050 found that “reserves” of these materials—a portion of total available resources that can be extracted economically—will not be sufficient to meet demand for cobalt, and demand for lithium can only be met in a “potential recycling scenario” with improved recycling rates over what is being conducted at present.

With the growing demand for metals and materials for use in renewable energy technologies, concerns arise about the environmental impacts and environmental justice implications of mining on land. For example, cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been the site of human rights violations, child labor, and severe environmental pollution. For that reason, deep-sea mining of these materials may present an option with fewer direct human impacts and environmental justice concerns.

Reducing new mining for electric vehicle battery metals: responsible sourcing through demand reduction strategies and recycling

By Elsa Dominish, Nick Florin, and Rachael Wakefield-Rann - Earthworks, April 27, 2021

This research investigates the current status and future potential of strategies to reduce demand for new mining, particularly for lithium-ion battery metals for electric vehicles. This study is focused on four metals which are important to lithium-ion batteries: cobalt, lithium, nickel and copper.

In order to meet the goals of the Paris Climate agreement and prevent the worst effects of catastrophic climate change, it will be essential for economies to swiftly transition to renewable energy and transport systems. At present, the technologies required to produce, store and utilize renewable energy require a significant amount of materials that are found predominantly in environmentally sensitive and often economically marginalized regions of the world. As demand for these materials increase, the pressures on these regions are likely to be amplified. For renewable energy to be socially and ecologically sustainable, industry and government should develop and support responsible management strategies that reduce the adverse impacts along the material and technology supply chains.

There are a range of strategies to minimize the need for new mining for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, including extending product life through improved design and refurbishment for reuse, and recovering metals through recycling at end of life. For example, we found that recycling has the potential to reduce primary demand compared to total demand in 2040, by approximately 25% for lithium, 35% for cobalt and nickel and 55% for copper, based on projected demand. This creates an opportunity to significantly reduce the demand for new mining. However, in the context of growing demand for electric vehicles, it will also be important that other demand reduction strategies with lower overall material and energy costs are pursued in tandem with recycling, including policy to dis-incentivize private car ownership and make forms of active and public transport more accessible. While the potential for these strategies to reduce demand is currently not well understood; this report provides insights into the relative merits, viability, and implications of these demand reduction strategies, and offers recommendations for key areas of policy action.

Read the text (Link).

A Material Transition: Exploring supply and demand solutions for renewable energy minerals

By Andy Whitmore - War on Want, March 2021

There is an urgent need to deal with the potential widespread destruction and human rights abuses that could be unleashed by the extraction of transition minerals: the materials needed at high volumes for the production of renewable energy technologies. Although it is crucial to tackle the climate crisis, and rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, this transition cannot be achieved by expanding our reliance on other materials. The voices arguing for ‘digging our way out of the climate crisis’, particularly those that make up the global mining industry, are powerful but self-serving and must be rejected. We need carefully planned, lowcarbon and non-resource-intensive solutions for people and planet.

Academics, communities and organisations have labelled this new mining frontier, ‘green extractivism’: the idea that human rights and ecosystems can be sacrificed to mining in the name of “solving” climate change, while at the same time mining companies profit from an unjust, arbitrary and volatile transition. There are multiple environmental, social, governance and human rights concerns associated with this expansion, and threats to communities on the frontlines of conflicts arising from mining for transition minerals are set to increase in the future. However, these threats are happening now. From the deserts of Argentina to the forests of West Papua, impacted communities are resisting the rise of ‘green extractivism’ everywhere it is occurring. They embody the many ways we need to transform our energy-intense societies to ones based on democratic and fair access to the essential elements for a dignified life. We must act in solidarity with impacted communities across the globe.

This report includes in-depth studies written by frontline organisations in Indonesia and Philippines directly resisting nickel mining in both countries respectively. These exclusive case studies highlight the threats, potential impacts and worrying trends associated with nickel mining and illustrate, in detail, the landscape for mining expansion in the region.

Read the text (PDF).

Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen

By James Gignac - Union of Concerned Scientists, October 30, 2020

This is one of four blogs in a series examining current challenges and opportunities for recycling of clean energy technologies. Please see the introductory post, as well as other entries on wind turbines and energy storage batteries. Special thanks to Jessica Garcia, UCS’s Summer 2020 Midwest Clean Energy Policy Fellow, for research support and co-authoring these posts.

Growth of solar panels and their lifespans

Solar energy is converted into electricity primarily with photovoltaic (PV) panels (there is another technology, called concentrating solar power, or CSP, but it is less commonly used and not addressed here). PV panels are comprised of individuals cells linked together, forming various shapes and sizes based on the needs of the system. The panels themselves are made with semiconductor materials—generally silicon, but sometimes various rare metals—and generally covered in glass.

The cost of PV panels has declined dramatically in recent years while their efficiency has gone up. These trends are continuing, leading to rapid growth of the solar industry globally. Solar panels on average last 25-30 years (and maybe even longer); thus, solar installations occurring today can be expected to remain productive until the middle of this century.

The reliability and longevity of new panels means that the volume requiring recycling or disposal is currently low, except for very early generations of PV panels and small numbers that may get broken during the installation process or damaged in storms.

However, options for recycling and disposal need to be addressed as PV production continues to ramp up. And while the larger recycling need may not come for another decade, infrastructure and policy should be put in place now to accommodate future needs.

Frank Little: The man that was hung

From the International Socialist Review - Reposted to Libcom.org by Jaun Conatz, March 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Libcom.org Editor's Note: [Here follows a] 1917 article from the International Socialist Review about the murder of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, Frank Little. We do not approve of the offensive reference to Native Americans but reproduce this text in its entirety for historical accuracy.

Well, they got Frank Little. No wireless message ever sped faster than these five words thru the .world of labor. For on the first morning of this month an agitator was hung in Butte, Montana.

A social war has been going on in that hell hole of labor since the 12th of June. On the one side are the few mine owning capitalists represented by their henchmen and an army of 600 Standard Oil gunmen. On the other side are 17,000 unarmed striking copper miners with their Metal Mine Workers' Union.

Came Frank Little, a fellow unionist, with a message of good cheer and solidarity from the miners of the southwest. He told them that their real enemy was the industrial kings and copper barons of America.

He repeated his words to Ex-Governor Hunt of Arizona: "Governor, I don't care what you are fighting for, but we, the Industrial Workers of the World, are fighting for Industrial Democracy." And the miners of Butte cheered his words.

The copper barons replied by sending six of their gunmen to "get" the damn agitator, who championed the cause of hated labor; who made war upon capitalism and the wage system, who advocated industrial democracy. The story of the assassination and what followed is told in the Montana Socialist.

"Driven to desperation by the peaceful, non-resisting strike of the Metal Mine Workers, the company has played its last trump—murder.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.