Success in sustainable community development initiative

Publication: Mining Weekly

Author: Anna Moross
Date: 30 July 2021


Global diversified resources company Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) has pledged more than $1-million over the past four years to support its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in partnership with nonprofit organisation the Good Shepherd International Foundation (GSIF).

As a result, a growing number of children and women have been able “to carve a new path in life – one that is safer and more sustainable”, says ERG CEO Benedikt Sobotka.

The roll-out of the Bon Pasteur Alternative Livelihood programme, carried out by the GSIF with help from ERG, has been focused on four core areas: alternative livelihoods, women empowerment, the protection of children and social cohesion, he adds.

ERG has focused on addressing child labour, as it is highly relevant to the DRC, where as many as 40 000 children work in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) cobalt operations, says Sobotka.

“The Bon Pasteur programme aims to promote fair and sustainable development in the mining communities in the Kolwezi region to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that traps vulnerable children in exploitative conditions, including the worst forms of child labour.”

GSIF was the recipient of the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Stop Slavery Hero Award 2021 for its Bon Pasteur programme. ERG is proud to be supporting an organisation and a model that is being recognised as best practice internationally, he notes.

Sobotka illustrates that, in the GSIF, ERG found a reliable partner that has unique knowledge and insight into local communities.

“Having already supported as many as 1 000 children with free education, healthcare, nutrition, counselling and human rights training [through] the Bon Pasteur Child Protection Centre launched in September 2019 in Kolwezi, ERG spearheaded studies to look into how the programme can build on its successes.”

He adds that, in 2020, more than 3 425 children were taken away from the worst forms of child labour in Kanina and other ASM communities to receive an education and protection from unsafe environments.

An example of the growth of the programme is seen in the commissioned studies for a child protection centre in the community of Tshala, in Kolwezi, which will be managed by the GSIF and will offer the town’s only source of free, local education.

ERG has also scoped out the development of a new social business model in Tshala, with a focus on agriculture and fish farming.

Sobotka says preliminary research conducted by the GSIF indicates that more than 2 000 children in Tshala are involved in mining activities, while 70% of community children are not going to school, and that ERG will continue working closely with the GSIF to address this issue.

Meanwhile, the DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt – a metal that is crucial to the electrification of transport and the global low-carbon transition.

Sobotka stresses that, unfortunately, this abundant resource base has, to date, failed to translate into sustainable growth opportunities for the country, particularly its youth population.

ERG’s efforts in helping to eradicate child labour in the cobalt mining sector in the country are not limited to supporting the GSIF and Bon Pasteur.

The company recently submitted an action pledge in support of the United Nations’ designating 2021 as the international year for the elimination of child labour.

ERG’s targeted community investment strategy is focused on keeping 2 000 children out of ASM this year, and it continues to implement controls to ensure that its operations are in no way connected to child labour.


Women and Community Empowerment

The local communities are home to many ERG employees who have been able to grow and develop alongside the Metalkol RTR operation, says Sobotka.

ERG’s support for the GSIF has further helped to improve the lives of local communities near Metalkol RTR, including the empowerment of women.

“In 2020, over 600 women and girls gained skills to access the labour market, marking a positive step towards gender equality and better outcomes for women in the DRC.”

Further, the activities undertaken last year to empower young women in Tshala resulted in women and girls receiving training related to pastry baking, knitting and literacy, while other women were trained in microfinance, financial management and literacy, translating to 72 women launching income-generating businesses such as kiosks.

Sobotka says the programme has focused on raising awareness of children’s and women’s rights, the risks associated with child labour in mining and the importance of reporting cases of abuse against vulnerable members of the community.

It has also focused on promoting community-based development initiatives that are linked to alternative livelihoods, with 8 476 community members receiving education on their rights in terms of the DRC’s Mining Code, as well as on citizens’ and government’s responsibilities towards them.

ERG is committed to environmental protection, good business conduct and community development in the regions in which the group operates, including close engagement with the Kolwezi community to provide sustainable jobs, opportunities and safer outcomes for its most vulnerable communities, Sobotka concludes.

View the original interview here: Mining Weekly