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Thomas Becker

Strengthening the rights of female mine workers in Congolese gold mining

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Thomas Becker, a small German jewelry atelier, sources gold from mines in the province of South Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region is frequently beset by violent conflicts and there are significant labour and other human rights and environmental violations reported in the area, including child and forced labour as well as water and soil pollution. To address these challenges, Thomas Becker has established long-term partnerships with two cooperatives and works together with local stakeholders (the ‘Project’).

During the Project, dialogue with NGOs and mine workers revealed that women are particularly exposed to risks in the mines. Female miners may not obtain mining licenses and could therefore only work in the mines illegally. As a result, their employment is particularly precarious, they earn significantly less than male mine workers and are exposed to other abuses.

To improve the situation of female miners, the Project participants implemented several measures, including:

  1. Issuing official mining licenses to female miners and doubling their wages.
  2. Establishing a safe space for female miners to protect them from sexual assault.
  3. Providing female miners with appropriate work clothes and tools to create safe working conditions.
  4. Creating alternative sources of income through the provision of micro-credits and training opportunities.

Thomas Becker also pays bonuses to the gold mines in return for measurable human rights and environmental improvements, including: improving working conditions and safety standards, reduction in chemical use, and for investments in local infrastructure.

The local human rights organization Namulisa ASBL is regularly on site to check that the bonuses are being used appropriately. The German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) certifies the mine according to criteria that include the exclusion of child or forced labour.

One challenge in implementing the Project was to gain the trust of the gold cooperatives, as they have previously had bad experiences with foreign companies. Trust was established through a dialogue with local stakeholders, facilitated by a Congolese human rights lawyer, to identify and address priority issues. Project leaders also involved local royalty and other dignitaries to lend weight to the process. Finally, trust was established through a demonstrable commitment to a long-term, respectful form of cooperation and exchange on equal terms.

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