Life At The Bottom Of The Chain: Women In Artisanal Mines in DRC

Democratic Republic of Congo
Central Africa
Congo (Kinshasa)

Below is a report published by WILPF in August 2016 which reports on the human rights violations facing women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) working in artisanal mines.

Read the introduction of the report below, and download the full report by WILPF available online here.



"Business enterprises today carry a lot of weight, not only economically but also socially and politically. Certain corporations have budgets greater than the GDPs of the countries in which they operate, causing an imbalance of powers.

Corporations can therefore have a direct or indirect influence on human rights. WILPF takes a particular interest in the impact of certain business enterprises on women’s safety, in particular when the former contribute to the militarisation of society by using either private or state security forces.

One sector in which this militarisation phenomenon is widespread is mining. This has led to the emergence of a new term: “conflict minerals”, referring to materials such as wolframite and coltan, mined in the midst of armed conflicts, with their mining sometimes even being facilitated by these conflicts, in particular in the case of illegal mining.

These “conflict” minerals are used worldwide for the production of electronic appliances and other goods; almost systematically, this takes place a long way from the mines. As a result, human rights violations are often found in the supply chain, and are often part of supply strategies to increase productivity at all costs.

Consequently, the countries of origin of mining companies and other companies seeking a supply of minerals need to perform due diligence with respect to the behaviour of their business enterprises outside their borders. International human rights law establishes an obligation for all States to prevent, investigate and punish human rights violations committed by State officials or private-sector actors. A number of human rights supervision mechanisms have recognised this obligation in their interpretations of human rights conventions and their evaluations of the extent to which States observe their obligations.

This is the case of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its General recommendation no. 28, which establishes the following: “The obligations incumbent upon States parties [...] also extend to acts of national corporations operating extraterritorially.”1 This requirement was included in the Committee’s recommendations to Sweden, when the Committee investigated the supply activities of Swedish corporations abroad and their impact on women’s human rights, particularly in the textile industry.

All countries must be aware of their share of responsibility in human rights violations that take place in the supply chain of the products they consume. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, corporations at the top of the supply chain have a duty of care to ensure that human rights violations are not committed at the bottom of the chain. This obligation is justified by the power relations that exist between large corporations and their subcontractors, due to their size and political influence.

This is the reason for the existence of initiatives such as the forthcoming EU Regulation governing the importation of “conflict minerals”. These initiatives are often met with a great deal of resistance on the part of the corporate lobby. For instance, in this particular case, the obligations to be included in the Regulation were already relaxed at the first reading.

It has therefore become necessary to establish an international legal framework in which corporations and States can operate and be required to legislate in order to ensure that human rights are observed, both within and outside their borders.

The case of mining in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is well-known because of the link that exists between mining and the armed conflict afflicting the country.

We decided to analyse the cases of artisanal mines in the province of Haut Katanga: mining sites that are at the bottom of the supply chain and furthest from the corporations that produce the final goods, but where the conditions are, as we shall see, clearly determined by the latter.

This paper is based on the following research: “Inquiry into the human rights violations suffered by Congolese women in artisanal mining in the Province of Haut Katanga” conducted by Annie Matundu Mbambi, president of the WILPF branch in DRC, and Léonnie Kandolo, a member of WILPF RDC.

To conduct this research, Annie Matundu Mbambi and Léonnie Kandolo travelled to the Haut-Katanga region and visited three artisanal mining sites. In addition to direct observation carried out during the course of their visits, the researchers carried out unstructured interviews and organised focus groups with the women working in the artisanal mines.

In the rest of this report, we shall present the main conclusions of the inquiry and analysis of a possible international legal response. The entire paper and its methodology may be consulted in full on publications."

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Life At The Bottom Of The Chain: Women In Artisanal Mines In DRC