The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by a history of widespread violence, often fueled by a deadly scramble for the state’s natural resources. In eastern Congo today, the mines have become a source of not only conflict minerals, but also a source of human slavery.
The mines of eastern Congo are run by multiple armed groups, many of whom have strategically attacked and raped civilians in order to gain control. The armed groups are then financed by profits from the mineral resources, which are often extracted and transported using slave labor.
Last week Free the Slaves, a partner organization of Enough, released The Congo Report: Slavery in Conflict Minerals, which documents slavery in and around Congo’s mines. Research teams from Free the Slaves and two local Congolese groups conducted surveys and community consultations in the Kivu Provinces of eastern Congo to determine the extent of slavery in the area.
The report found several forms of slavery taking place, including the use of child soldiers, peonage, forced labor, sexual slavery, child slavery, and debt bondage. Some types of slavery are directly linked to the conflict such as the abduction of civilians for forced labor and sexual slavery, and others such as debt bondage and forced marriage are related to other factors including poverty and cultural norms.
Child slavery is prominent among many of the armed groups and mining operations. As one NGO worker explained:
“If you can’t afford to pay for workers, you’ll target children, who are most vulnerable and can be tempted into highly exploitative situations with the simple promise of a meal at the end of the day.”
Child slaves are often employed in some of the worst types of labor such as diggers at the mine sites, or porters assisting in the transport of conflict minerals. Children, especially girls, are also susceptible to sexual exploitation and slavery by mine operators and soldiers.
The slaves in and around the mines in eastern DR Congo serve as free and/or cheap labor for armed groups, enabling them to continue their trade in conflict minerals. To further understand this connection and to view first person accounts of slaves in the area check out Free the Slaves’ new video, Slavery in your Pocket: the Congo Connection.
Conflict in the eastern Congo is a multi-faceted issue that requires stakeholders at all levels to combine efforts to bring justice and liberation to those enslaved in the Congo. Community-level justice building could be done through rights awareness training, self-help groups, or community vigilance committees.
Additionally, a robust, independently monitored and audited tracing and certification scheme must be implemented for minerals sourced in eastern Congo. Consumers and investors can play a role in this process by holding governments and companies accountable to ensure that conflict and slavery are removed from product supply chains.