Youth should be our wealth: A case for making due diligence an international legal obligation in the extractive industries
"According to the United Nations (UN) International Labour Organisation (ILO), ‘one million children aged between 5 and 17 are engaged in small-scale mining and quarrying worldwide.’(2) While child labour is condemned by the ILO, not every occupation is banned by the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC). Indeed, certain types of activities are permitted when ‘they do not interfere with the child’s schooling and do not harm the child.’(3) Yet, a child working in the extractive industry suffers both. Child labour in gold mining, locally called ‘orpaillage’, is common in both Burkina Faso and Niger. Indeed, a quarter of all mine-working children in the world can be found in Africa’s Sahel region.(4) In the Great Lakes Region, children work underground to extract tantalum, tin and tungsten. In Sierra Leone, diamonds make misery for child labourers.
This CAI paper explores the dangers of child labour in the context of extractive industries and provides an overview of the international legal framework. Child labour remains too much a part of multinational business supply chains, and this paper argues for entrenching legally binding prohibitions regarding businesses and their duty of due diligence regarding child labour. Finally, this paper suggests that efforts should be made by local governments and regional organisations to implement and strengthen income transfer programmes, in order to enhance school enrolment for children.
A waste of youth
The ILO defines child labour as an occupation that is ‘mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children’ and ‘interferes with their schooling.’(5) For any worker, the process of working in mineral extraction is an extremely strenuous one. However, it is particularly arduous for child labourers. To find ore, children as young as six dig with pickaxes, in shafts or pits that are at least 30 metres deep.(6) Those who remain outside the shaft pull up the ore with buckets. This step, called ‘pulling the rope’, is followed by transportation to places where the ore is bagged for storage or crushed, before getting panned for gold.(7) Mercury is used to extract gold from ore, a process that is particularly dangerous as it puts labourers at grave risk of mercury poisoning.(8) Human Rights Watch (HRW) has noted that other health consequences of child labour in artisanal gold mining are respiratory diseases and musculoskeletal problems. Further, physical injuries occur because of the sharp tools used and as a consequence of shaft collapses.(9)"