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Child Labor, Household Livelihoods and Artisanal Mining in the Cobalt Supply Chain

Development Challenge

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) accounts for the majority of mining employment in the Katanga region of the DRC. Yet this form of mining is plagued by unsafe working conditions, child labor, health risks, low productivity, and economic insecurity. Current calls to adopt “responsible  sourcing  policies” (RSPs) for DRC cobalt have led multinational enterprises (MNEs) to double down their efforts ensuring that their supply chains are “clean” and not exposed to “risky practices”. However, these stakeholders also realize the important role that artisanal mining plays in local household livelihoods, and the resulting risks for the local population when restricting sourcing demand to a subset of approved locations or producers. The question of which policies achieve the dual objectives to adopt responsible production practices, but also improve (and not risk) the livelihoods of local ASM households is of first-order importance for these efforts.


Drastic reductions in trade and information costs across borders have led to the proliferation of global supply chains that link consumers in rich countries to workers in developing countries. These workers frequently operate in poorly regulated institutional environments that can fail to protect their safety and human rights. In this context, MNEs have increasingly come under pressure from NGOs, regulators, and consumers to “clean up their supply chains” and implement RSPs.  The  rising  economic  significance  of  Congolese cobalt, has garnered the attention of NGO watchdogs  and  journalists  alike.  In  2016  alone,  both  the Washington Post and Amnesty International published investigative reports describing the rapid rise of cobalt exports from the DRC. Each of these reports criticized  the prevalence of child labor and precarious working conditions within artisanal mining sites throughout the region. As a result, cobalt sourcing in the DRC is poised to be at the forefront  of  the  next wave of  RSPs. MNEs  have  reacted  to  such criticisms  and  are currently working  collaboratively across  the  mineral  supply  chain  to determine appropriate responses.

Evaluation Strategy

This phase of the research aims to provide representative empirical insights on the prevalence and nature of child labor across mining communities in the DRC copper belt. This first step (Phase I) informs the design of an impact evaluation (Phase II) for different RSP interventions in the region. In Phase I, researchers sample 18 randomly selected households in 150 randomly chosen communities located within 5 kilometers of an active mining site, from approximately 430 mining communities mapped in the whole region. Data providing a detailed account of household economic livelihoods, consumption, the role of mining activities, and prevalence and forms of child labor, as well as both reported and biometric health markers, are collected. In addition to the household data, a census of local mineral traders and survey data from village chiefs and school principals are also collected. In Phase II of the project, these data will be used as the baseline to evaluate the local impact of different types of RSP interventions across households and their communities.

Results and Policy Implications

The first objective is to provide a factual basis of the current status quo of artisanal mining in the Katanga region of the DRC. Most existing accounts by NGOs and the media are based on anecdotal evidence or very small and selected samples. Data collected though this study will provide a representative picture of artisanal mining communities in the region. The study’s second objective is to form the baseline for rigorous empirical evaluations of the impact of different RSP interventions.


June 2016 – February 2018