Child labour in diamond mines in the DR Congo

REPORT | 21 December 2016
Children are the most vulnerable in the DRC’s diamond regions. Photo: Swedwatch

A new report from Swedwatch and Afrikagrupperna shows that the sustainability certification that many jewellery companies rely on does not protect those who are most vulnerable. In the DR Congo, child labour is common.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is one of the leading diamond producing countries in the world.  As widely documented, however, many diamonds that are extracted are done so under difficult conditions. The diamonds are part of a global million-dollar industry that includes markets in Euro.  As traceability is difficult, it is difficult to say that diamonds from the DRC do not end up in the supply chains of jewellery companies in Sweden.

Swedwatch has visited the DRC’s isolated diamond regions in order to investigate the occurrence of child labour in the artisanal mines. The results of the study, published in the report ”Childhood Lost – Diamond mining in the Republic of the Congo and weaknesses of the Kimberley Process”, are discouraging. Of 49 interviewees, mostly children and adult mine workers, only one person, a government representative, denied that child labour occurs in the mines. In the region, children, primarily boys, often start working in the mines from about ten years old in order to afford schooling and food. Once they turn 14 the work becomes heavier and this leads children to often being unable to cope with school as well. Instead, they start working full-time and forego education. Girls in the mining areas are especially exposed to risks. According to interviewees, forced marriages from the age of twelve is common for many girls in the region.

The report also highlights the extensive flaws regarding traceability of the origin of the diamonds. In order determine how Swedish jewellery companies address the human rights risks of the diamond industry, Swedwatch asked seven Swedish jewellery companies about their sustainability work. The results indicate that their implementation of applicable frameworks, particularly as regards human rights due diligence, is low, despite the extractives industry  being an extremely high-risk sector from a human rights perspective. This has been well documented in the past as regards the DRC but also, for example, as regards Angola and Sierra Leone.

Most jewellery companies refer to the so-called Kimberley Process, the certification available with the most significant reach. However, the certification is internationally criticised since it only regulates that diamonds are not financing armed conflict and it does not include criteria to prevent, for example, child labour or promote the respect of human rights. Therefore, the Kimberley Process’s definition of an unethical diamond does not reflect the current conditions in many mining areas today.

The report provides recommendations to private and public actors. For example, Swedwatch urges companies to implement procedures for identifying and preventing possible adverse impacts on human rights in their supply chains. The companies are also encouraged to use existing practical tools, developed by the UN and OECD, in order to address risks. Additionally, they should demand that the Kimberley Process is reformed to include OECD’s guidelines for responsible supply chains of minerals. By working together in a broad and cross-border coalition, the surrounding world can take the rightful responsibility and form strategies to make living conditions better for those who are the most vulnerable.

Made in collaboration with: Afrikagrupperna

Reactions:
I media: Svenska Dagbladet Ekonomi
Barnarbete bakom diamanter i Sverige
– Det handlar om isolerade områden där myndigheterna har låg närvaro. Många där har inte ens ett födelsebevis. Det tog oss 13 timmar att ta oss fram 30 mil på oändligt dåliga vägar, säger Therese Sjöström, Swedwatch.
I media: Reuters
Flawed diamond regulations fuelling child labour in Congo mines - campaigners
- The KPCS is outdated and does not cover most human rights abuses linked to diamond extraction today, Therese Sjöström, a researcher at Swedwatch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Stockholm.