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Responsible Supply Chain Projects

Fighting child labor in the mines of Manono

Child playing with a toy airplane

For Google, partnering with the humanitarian nonprofit Pact in 2016 was a natural next step in our mission to help eradicate child labor in the tin and cobalt industries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Pact’s deep expertise and strong relationships in the DRC, gained over more than a decade of work with mining communities, have enabled the organization to find solutions where none seemed to exist. Its Mines to Markets (M2M) program, funded in part by Google, addresses the deepest roots of child labor in the mines of the DRC with a comprehensive plan featuring wide-ranging interventions and outreach programs designed to eliminate it.

Pact laid the groundwork for M2M by working with stakeholders in the region to understand the systemic challenges facing child miners and their families. Then it began building a network to help provide alternatives for child miners and their families.

In the mines of the DRC, the results of this collaboration between Google and Pact are tangible and personal—and captured in a recently released short film on the lives of child miners in the village of Manono called Watoto Inje ya Mungoti (Children Out of Mining).

The faces of change

Produced by Pact, the film gives voice—through vignettes of village life and interviews with participants—to the people M2M strives to help and shows the program’s transformative effect over the entire village of Manono.

Joas, a former child miner, is one of the many residents of Manono who learned new skills through her participation in Pact’s M2M program.

After years of working in the mines of Manono with her family, one teenager, Joas, is now a radio journalist. She interviews fellow villagers, asking probing questions about the mining industry’s inherent dangers.

The life of Joas’s friend and neighbor, Faustin, has also changed. He spent years carrying buckets of sand from mines to be washed. Today, he is immersed in an extended computer skills class.

Faustin’s uncle, Felicien, graduated from M2M’s parental awareness program and now is helping alert others in the community to the physical dangers and limited financial benefits of mining by speaking with fellow villagers at churches, schools, and other gatherings.

“Today, my friends—the children of Manono—are happy to say we have other options,” Joas declares in the film.

To date, about 1,000 children have left mines through Pact’s comprehensive integrated approach, a 90% reduction in child labor in the region. The stories of success in Manono are inspiring, but the work is far from over.

A cycle that runs deep

Children have unfortunately become viewed as instrumental to the mines of the DRC. They work and dig in small tunnels, crush rocks, and wash mineral sources. The hours are grueling: Roughly half of child miners over the age of seven work more than eight hours a day.

In the mining industry, children sometimes occupy significant roles that can’t be easily replaced, making the eradication of child labor challenging on many levels.

These conditions are casually accepted, even though child mining is illegal. Also accepted is the risk of disease and injury due to exposure to toxins, lack of sanitation, and simply working in muddy, rocky terrain. The emotional and educational costs are steep as well: Children, especially young ones, don’t receive the fundamental nurturing they need, and for older children, working in mines means time away from the protective structure of school. What’s more, the financial benefits are meager.

“In the mines, the money we made could only be used for food and clothing,” says Rose Banza Yumba, a literacy volunteer in Manono. “We couldn’t advance financially.”

Ben Katz, program manager for Pact’s stable livelihoods work, says child mining perpetuates a cycle with an infrastructure so entrenched, and economic alternatives so limited, that simple answers such as finding another job just aren’t available.

Katz has extensive experience working and living in the DRC and nearby regions. What he’s learned is that just as each member of a family affects the others, each segment of a village affects the rest. That’s why Pact’s program targets the entire village, not just the children.

An integrated approach

M2M features positive parenting curriculums, community mobilization efforts, capacity assessments of a village’s governance and organizational infrastructure, economic apprenticeships that promote literacy, and training classes that teach business skills to children and adults alike.

So, how do these elements come to life?

Outreach teams meet children like Faustin and invite them to recreational activities and then to apprenticeship programs to learn new skills.

Capacity assessments weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a village’s educational and health services and how they can operate better.

Parental awareness programs impart the life-and-death consequences of mining, a critical component because children are often ushered into mining through their families. Through these programs, people like Felicien offer guidance to families, gently advocating the benefits of learning new business and trade skills that can provide economic stability to a family as it leaves the mining industry.

A group in Manono learn to produce artisanal soap, with the hope of one day creating an industrial soap business.

“[The program] trained us to read, write, save our money, and invest in small business,” says program participant Yumba.

Katz stresses that while eliminating child labor is Pact’s goal in every village, elements of the approach vary from one village to the next.

“The context of every place is very different,” he says. “Even if two places are relatively close together, the context can be different.”

Extending the effect

Katz and Karen Hayes, senior global director of the M2M program, believe the next step is to make Pact’s multi-pronged, integrated approach sustainable for the long run and scaled to grow. But they can’t do it alone.

“I often say that the single biggest impediment to changing the dynamics around child labor in mining is saying that it’s too difficult,” says Hayes. “That it’s too far away. That it’s somebody else’s problem.”

Raising awareness, putting human faces and voices to the problem, and broadcasting successes are crucial to combating that mindset—and to attracting new funding partners and collaborators.

To that end, Pact is finalizing screenings of Children Out of Mining in different parts of the DRC. The film reminds us that while eradicating child labor in the DRC may be a slow and uncertain process, with continued work by nonprofits like Pact and corporate support and commitment from companies like Google that drive mineral demand, transformation is possible.

Manono is proof.