Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) is one of the world's largest copper and cobalt producers with a mining and processing facility located in the western end of the Katanga Copperbelt.
The site is located in the west of Kolwezi, in the Lualaba province of the Democratic Republic of Congo which contains one of the richest copper and cobalt deposits globally.
KCC is a joint venture between Katanga Mining Ltd (which on June 4th, 2020 became 100% Glencore group-owned company and ceased to be listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange) which holds 75% and the state-owned Général des Carrières et des Mines SA (Gécamines - 25%). KCC only has one customer and exclusively sells 100% of KCC's production to Glencore International GIAG).
According to the company's public due diligence report 2019-2020, KCC does not purchase any third-party feed from any sources and therefore ensures to have direct visibility and control over the OECD Guidance risks and manages them through its own policies and procedures . Yet, KCC extracts ore containing copper and cobalt from its own open pit and underground mines. Underground mines tend to be unventilated, leading to high dust levels, and are prone to collapse.
This is what occurred in June 2019 at KOV open-pit mine operated by Kamoto Copper Company where the old terraces gave way, causing significant amounts of material to fall . The collapse of two galleries killed approximately 43 artisanal miners. The numbers of fatalities are not clear and vary between 38 and 43 with no source confirming the number. In the public due diligence report published by Glencore, the accident is mentioned but no official number is provided or any more details are given. Given the unregulated nature of the industry of artisanal miners, there are no available statistics on accident rates and incidence of ill health. Amnesty International denounced the army's response to this accident, who deployed troops to the area around KCC mine. According to Glencore, soldiers remain present at the KCC perimeter but were not requested by the company .
However, in a report published by RAID in 2014, the organization denounced Glencore for adopting a military-style response to the problem of artisanal mining. The company stated that there are daily intrusions to their concession by 2000 miners per day, presenting a significant risk to the company's employees, operating equipment and the illegal artisanal miners themselves . This same report, whose aim was to assess Glencore's Corporate Responsibility in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is written in collaboration with Bread for All and Fastenopfer, also denounces other human abuses in this same mining site and the affected area.
Several mine police in pursuit of artisanal miners on KCC's site have been reported resulting in deaths and serious injury such as the death of 23-year old Eric Mutombo Kasuyi who died in February 2014 shortly after being apprehended by a KCC security patrol. Post mortem studies of his death show signs that Eric had been beaten up. Glencore did not take responsability and stated that there was no involvement from their company staff and no violation of human rights was made by them. Glencore clearly wants to distinguish itself from the DRC mine police and do not feel entitled to the violent turmoil happening in the area .
Kamoto Copper Company activities have been clearly subject to environmental injustices and violations of human rights. Glencore has a tendency to blame the illegal miners trespassing prohibiting parts and putting their own lives in danger. However, the environmental impact are both linked to industrial mining and Artisanal Small Mining (ASM).
Several environmental factors have been detected and have huge consequences on the area which is about 80,000 inhabitants living close to the mining site.
First of all, there is water contamination and water shortage. The activities in the mines and the refinery plant have led to contamination of groundwaters and the Luilu River and have caused air pollution . There is limited access to water in the area affected by Kamoto Mine, the daily water consumption is approximate of 60,000 cubic meters with 19,000 being used by metallurgical processes at the mining site. The area should not have water shortage due to the proximity of the Luilu River however due to mining activities water has been withdrawn from public use over long periods. The company has been releasing wastewaters containing sulfuric acid, which caused and cause elevated levels of lead, zinc, copper, and a pH value of 3.37 when it is usually required to have 6.5-9.0 . The destruction and degradation of natural habitats and contamination of mining sites leave the areas no longer suitable for agricultural activities. Moreover, the German Environmental Agency also detected large amounts of waste rock and tailings stored inadequately which contributes to the degradation of the area and adds pollution to the groundwater.
When it comes to air pollution and noise, the mining facilities and linked transport are permanent sources of air pollution. The dust contains ore particles, heavy metals, and chemicals, which might easily enter people's lungs causing serious health issues.
Consequently, a loss in biodiversity is also recorded, the surface waters of the area are also unsuitable for flora and fauna to grow. Local communities cannot rely on fishery anymore which was an important source of food but also economic activity.
The mining activity has a direct impact on people's health leading to mainly lung diseases, coughs from dust containing heavy metals, and cobalt particles from the mines. Indeed urine from people living in the affected area shows contamination of cadmium, lead, uranium, and of course cobalt.
In 2018, KCC sets to temporarily halt the sale of cobalt at the Kamoto Mine due to the detection of radioactivity in supplies . The company states that the amount of uranium detected in the cobalt hydroxide produced at the site was higher than levels acceptable for the export of the product. However, they also added that the levels of radioactivity in the uranium do not pose health and safety risks . Unfortunately, there is no official correlation between this and the health-related issues due to dust-containing heavy metals.
The environmental consequences of KCC exposed by the German Environmental Agency in 2020 were already exposed by the report led by RAID published in 2014. Little changes have been seen and the overall governance performance of the company and the government in the affected area can be considered weak . Compliance with the DRC mining code is very weak and regulations are neither implemented nor are the violation of laws generally penalized. The violation of human rights and negative impacts to the environment and local communities due to the mining sector is clearly remaining.