The Biden administration is taking heat for looking to finance mining projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia despite documented child labor violations in the African nations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken entered into the agreement Tuesday, signing a memorandum of understanding with the two nations in an attempt to bolster the global green energy supply chain, according to Fox News.
“I really want to commend the DRC and Zambia, their governments for their leadership and vision in developing an electric vehicle battery council,” Blinken said. “This is the future, and it is happening in the DRC and in Zambia.”
Blinken’s remarks about the importance of cobalt mining come in the face of independent investigations conducted in recent years by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Amnesty International documenting how many cobalt mines located in the DRC employ child laborers, Fox News reported. DRC has the largest cobalt reserves in the world and mined more than 70% of the global supply of cobalt in 2021, compared to just 0.4% in the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Subcommittee, called the action “egregious” while noting the irony in regard to U.S. policy under Biden.
“It’s egregious that the Biden administration would enter into an MOU to mine critical minerals in the Congo where we know they use child slave labor to mine these minerals and they have almost zero labor standards and almost zero environmental standards,” Stauber told Fox News Digital.
“And yet this administration will not allow mining in the United States,” the lawmaker added.
The Department of the Interior canceled two existing hard rock mineral leases in northern Minnesota earlier this year and cited environmental concerns to move forward with a 20-year ban on new mining projects in the region, citing environmental reasons, Fox News noted.
Stauber said he plans to investigate the Biden administration’s mining policies once Republicans take control of the House and he assumes the chairmanship of the panel next year.
“We are not only going to legislate, but we’re going to have oversight,” he told Fox News Digital. “We want to know why this administration continues to not allow mining in the United States. We want to know why they’ve pulled federal permits without allowing an environmental impact statement to move forward.”
Amnesty International documented the use of child laborers at cobalt mines, of which the Biden administration released a report of its own in October showing that child labor continues to take place in the mines.
“Many children we spoke to told us that they were frequently ill. Inhaling cobalt dust can cause hard metal lung disease – a potentially fatal condition,” a 2016 Amnesty International report said. “Skin contact with cobalt can cause dermatitis – a chronic rash. Yet the children and other miners have neither masks nor gloves to protect them.”
“The children told us that they endured long hours – up to 12 hours a day – working at the mines hauling back-breaking loads of between 20 and 40kg for US$1-2 per day,” the report continued. “Many had nothing to eat all day. Fourteen-year-old Paul, who began mining aged 12 and worked underground, told us he would often: ‘spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.’”
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