Multinational copper and cobalt mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should take immediate steps to protect the rights of thousands of Congolese workers’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of 11 international and Congolese human rights groups have said.
In a letter addressed to 13 mining companies and published on June 11, the groups urge the companies to respect workers’ rights as they adopt policies aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 while continuing mining operations.
Workers and union representatives allege that, in many cases, workers were given no choice and were informed by managers to either stay and work – confined on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week – or lose their jobs.
On at least six mining sites workers have been confined for over two months, the organisations state.
“We remind you that you have the responsibility to respect workers' rights and the human rights of your entire workforce, whether employed directly by you or through a subcontractor, as mandated by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
"The current situation should not be used as a pretext to infringe these rights and circumvent your responsibilities,” the organisations told employers in the letter.
According to the organisations, workers at some of the mines say they receive inadequate food and water rations, that sleeping quarters are overcrowded and that there are unsanitary toilet and washing facilities, risking the spread of Covid-19.
"Some have said they are required to work beyond the regulatory maximum eight-hour shift without any additional pay. Workers say they have received limited or no communication about the duration of the confinement or future plans in response to Covid-19," the organisations state.
The rights groups urged mining companies to halt any policy involving confinement and stressed that, where companies continue such policies, they have a responsibility to ensure adequate conditions for workers confined on company grounds.
They add that workers should be given a free and fair choice to continue commuting to work while living at home. Employment contracts for workers who chose to stay home should be maintained.
“We recognise that there are difficult decisions to be taken in these troubled times. Nonetheless, the wellbeing of your workers should be paramount in any decisions taken," the groups say.