Addressing the invisible labour behind the cobalt mining industry

NEW YORK (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations (WCPUN) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) organized a screening of the film “Cobalt Rush” and a panel discussion on how to improve the conditions of workers who are the “invisible face” of the cobalt industry.

The event, which was held on the margins of the first-ever UN Sustainability Week, was the first of its kind to depict the human costs associated with the extraction of cobalt at the United Nations in New York, an essential material for the transition to sustainable energy and for the manufacturing of consumer electronics.

The film, “Cobalt Rush,” directed by Roy Maconachie, Researcher at the University of Bath, illustrated the perilous working conditions of artisanal miners in the cobalt-rich region of Kolwezi, DRC. The film explored the challenges faced by these workers and how to ethically meet the growing global demand for green technologies.

The panel, moderated by the ILO Special Representative to the United Nations, Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon and closed by WCPUN Vice President, Ms. Shamina de Gonzaga, brought together representatives and key experts from the UN, ILO and Member States along with representatives of employers and workers from IndustriAll Global Union and the Fédération des Entreprises du Congo, DRC.

Participants highlighted the pivotal role of cobalt in the transition to sustainable energy and emphasized the need for social justice to balance technological and environmental progress with workers’ rights and dignity. Discussions culminated in a call for collective action to transform the cobalt industry into a catalyst for decent work, environmental stewardship, and socio-economic development.

The DRC government’s recent initiatives in working with the ILO were recognized, including the revision of its mining codes and its engagement with international labour standards, as well as its efforts to curb armed conflict in mining areas.

Focusing on the broader challenges of the African mining sector, speakers highlighted various critical issues, including the need for peace and security, better infrastructure and government support to reconcile Africa’s developmental and energy needs with global sustainability goals. Participants unanimously urged for formalization, accountability, and multi-stakeholder engagement to address issues in the artisanal mining sector, including the dire working conditions, child labour and the lack of decent employment.