Human Rights Implications of Emerging Critical Minerals Supply Chains: Reflections on Case studies of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, and Zimbabwe


Compiled by Obert Bore

The 15th edition of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) 2024, convened under the theme ‘Energy Transition Minerals: Putting Communities First for an Inclusive Feminist Future’, to foster inclusive dialogue, promote feminist principles, strengthen solidarity and empowerment through knowledge. On the sidelines of the AMI, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association in collaboration with its think tank AIEL, Centro para Democracia e Direitos Humanos (CDD), and Afrewatch co-convened a session to critically examine preliminary findings from a research initiative by ZELA exploring the Human Rights Implications of emerging Critical Minerals Value Chains in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The session also served as a vital forum to validate the findings arising from the individual country case studies.

Giving the Keynote address, Gabriela Factor (Chief Adviser Business & Human Rights – Danish Institute for Human Rights stressed that the energy sector is crucial for realising human rights, and economic development. However, the mining of transition minerals and renewable energy projects is linked to the depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation, land rights issues, labour rights abuses, gender discrimination, conflict and security concerns. Therefore, the global energy transition and net-zero goals present both immense risks and enormous opportunities for Africa

Presenting the research findings from the Zimbabwe case study, I highlighted that the country has attracted more than USD 700 million investments from Chinese investors only that include Sinomine Resource Group, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Chengxin Lithium Group into the lithium sector only. Even though investments into Zimbabwe’s transitional minerals sector is largely dominated by Chinese entities, other investors from Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Russia, Mauritius, India, and Cyprus are significant players. For instance, Premier African Minerals Resources Limited, from UK is one the investors in the lithium sector, while Marula Mining PLC from UK has been exploring copper in Zimbabwe. In our attempt to unmask webs of corporate structure, we noted that Zimbabwe’s lithium value chain linkages to the biggest global EV makers like Tesla, Build Your Dream, VW, BMW and electronic makers such as South Korea’s LG Group and Japanese Panasonic Holdings. These linkages can be gleaned from the private led offtaker agreements between lithium mining companies and buyers. For instance, Arcadia Prospect owned by Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd signed offtaker agreements with Tesla, BYD and LG Group. Similarly, Sichuan Yahua Lithium Industry Technology Co Ltd (KMC) which has a joint venture project with the  Zimbabwean Government through Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, has similar agreements for the supply of the lithium with BMW, VW, Panasonic, GAC Motors. BYD, which surpassed Tesla as a leading EV maker is major shareholder in Shenzhen Chengxin Lithium Group Company Limited, which owns Sabi Star lithium project through its subsidiary Max Minds Private Ltd.

While these investments have contributed to revenue generation through taxes, job creation, and down stream economies, the human, social and environmental costs is massive. Huge negative impacts such as displacement, environmental degradation, pollution, and unfair labour practices, safety  and health, loss of livelihoods for Indigenous communities, inadequate consultation with mining host communities have been noted. Max Minds Private Ltd relocated 40 communities from Buhera,  while Premier African Minerals Resources is said also linked to displacement of 33 households in Insiza. Unfair labour practices and water pollution at Kamativi and inadequate environmental impact assessment consultation at Gwanda lithium were noted. These negative impacts are exacerbated by weak enforcement mechanisms, lack of capacity by the state agencies to constant monitor compliance, and weak mechanisms for access to remedies. The current legal and policy does not effectively address governance of critical minerals to promote responsible mining, the beneficiation and value addition, the transparency and accountability, community participation through PFIC provisions, among other gaps. Given the criticality of the sector to fighting climate crisis and potential opportunities presented by the global demand, Zimbabwe ought to develop a Critical Minerals specific strategy drawing inspiration and lessons from Canada’s and Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategies, or the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act. The Africa Green Minerals Strategy is equally central for the countries like Zimbabwe to invest in research and development and participate in regional value chains by establishing partnerships with other government in Africa such as DRC, Zambia, Namibia, and Mozambique.

To ensure ethical and responsible mining of transitional minerals, it is essential for policy makers to adopt and implement international human rights standards and global frameworks such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, Africa Mining Vision, African policy on Business and Human Rights, EITI. Actors like Chinese corporations should be held to the highest standards as prescribed by the CCCMC’s Chinese Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Mineral Supply. The session also shared some recommendations for alignment of national legal and regulatory frameworks with these standards including the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Gabriel Manguele from CDD presented findings from Mozambique case study and highlighted that the country is the second largest producer of graphite globally. Most of the country’s graphite is found in Cabo Delgado. Since 2017, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost and resource-rich province, is the scene of a deadly insurrection. The violence has displaced thousands of people and almost a million were internally displaced in northern Mozambique after fleeing their homes in Cabo Delgado province. Although the conflict in Cabo Delgado resulted in massive displacement of people, investments into Cabo Delgado have increased. Conflict has not stalled exploitation of the critical resource. . In fact, there has been an influx of investors into the region to capitalize on the abundant resource. Mining companies exploring graphite are predominantly from Australia. Investors like Triton Minerals, Mustang Resources, Battery Minerals, and Syrah Resources are the major players, and these corporations are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The Germans also have huge interests in Cabo Delgado’s high grade graphite through Kropfmuhl which owns Ancuabe graphite mine. Graphite production is export-oriented, most notably to Germany, China, and India. The graphite retained within the country is considered disposable material as it does not meet the quality standards expected by buyers. Evidence also show that impacts found in Zimbabwe were notable in Mozambique. However, key lessons can be drawn from Syrah Resources which operates in Balama through its subsidiary Twigg Mining Explorations. The company is said to have a Human Rights policy in place, and a set of internal rules that govern its activities, in particular: the Code of Conduct, the Diversity and Inclusion Policy, the Declaration on Modern Slavery, the Risk Management Policy, Remuneration Policy, Sustainability Policy, Complaints Policy, Work with Integrity Policy and Behavior at Work Policy. Having these policies is one thing. But implementation is critical to address social and environmental impacts along the value chain.


The DRC case study presented by Celine Tshizena shared findings from investments in cobalt and copper sector from Katanga, namely Lualaba, Haut-Katanga, Haut Lomami and Tanganyika. It was estimated that there are about 27 companies mining transitional minerals in the four areas 14 companies in the province of Haut-Katanga and 13 in the province of Upper Katanga. The major actors are Gécamines and SODIMICO, Congolese State-Owned companies, and Chinese corporations. Majority of Chinese companies are involved in processing of copper or cobalt supplied by artisanal miners. From the 27 companies who are the major players, 20 are Chinese companies while a few are from Switzerland and India. Major actors involved in cobalt and copper refining and processing, are Huayou Cobalt, UMCOR SA, ELECTRA and Geam Eco Management (GEM) Huayou Cobalt and Ganzhou Tengyuan Cobalt Industrial Co Ltd.  Final offtakers of the minerals from DRC are mostly Telsa, BMW, BAIC Group, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, Volkswagen Group, Toyota Motors Corporation which are supplied by CDM, TFM, Boss Mining, KCC and MUMI. An analysis of human, social, and environmental impacts of extraction of critical minerals in DRC revealed that the 27 companies exploiting transitional minerals in the two Lualaba provinces have been accused of having committed human rights violations, directly or indirectly. 32 cases of human rights violations between 2018 and July 2023 were noted, and these included inter alia pollution or contamination of soil, water, air,  spillage of waste and toxic substances,  killings of EHRDs, arrests and inhuman and degrading and inhumane treatment; displacement of communities from Kawama, Kalukuluku and Luano, and unfair labour practices. 2 other cases of social unrest and social activities, attacks on human life caused by mining activities of mining companies, 1 case of desecration of cemetery graves and finally, 1 case of unfair dismissal. Out of the 32 cases of human rights violations, 25 cases were attributed to companies with Chinese financing or capital, i.e., nearly 76.8% of cases, 5 cases representing 15% of companies with capital of Kazakh origin, 3 cases of companies with Swiss capital and 1 case with Canadian capital. Of the documented cases, victims have struggled to access to remedies. While the environmental and mining laws in DRC are clear regarding company obligations to respect the environment and human rights, the implementation is weak. Environmental authorities are also incapacitated to monitor compliance, whereas environmental and social management plans are not implemented.  This points to the need to build the capacity of State agencies to monitor compliance, but also advocacy for implementation of responsible mining standards such as OCED Guidelines on Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, at operational level through due diligence processes. Similarly, the absence of legislation that regulates the interactions and exchanges between artisanal and industrial mining operations both on the ground and commercially, along the value chain creates challenges.


The session concluded with strong recommendations to Governments to diversify investment base, improve responsible mining through review of current regulatory frameworks, investment in skills development for beneficiation, improve mechanisms for access to remedies; join and implement initiatives such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines, IRMA among others. Participants also emphasized the need for investors and companies to undertake priorities responsible sourcing, undertake human rights and environmental due diligence assessments, adopt human rights policies and codes for investments with company management being assigned clear responsibilities. To implement the recommendations from the research ZELA plans to undertake targeted stakeholder engagements with government, mining companies and parliament to discuss mechanisms of promoting responsible investments in the critical minerals sector.


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