UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in mines in the southern DRC where cobalt for electric vehicles is extracted.

Is New Zealand committed to ending modern slavery?

By Ian Bradford

Combatting modern slavery, including forced labour, is a major issue globally. The New Zealand Government in theory takes this issue seriously and is committed to eradicating all forms of modern slavery!

New Zealand is committed to actively contributing to international efforts towards the elimination of modern slavery, including forced labour, child labour, people smuggling and trafficking. 

A “Plan of Action” was launched on the 16 March 2021 by the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, the Hon. Michael Wood.  

The Plan of Action reaffirms New Zealand’s commitment to prevent and eliminate all forms of modern slavery and outlines 28 actions Government agencies are taking though to 2025. Under the Plan of Action, policy work is currently underway to explore legislative and other options to address modern slavery including forced labour in International Supply chains. 

What does this mean for New Zealand business?

Businesses, as well as governments, have a responsibility to recognise and respect human rights in their operations and to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships. 

Businesses should work with their suppliers and consumers to ensure modern slavery including forced labour are not part of their supply chains.  Businesses with international supply chains are encouraged to assess the risk of modern slavery, including forced labour, in their supply chains and implement human rights due diligence as applicable.    

I have known for at least two years that very young children- as young as 7 years, work and die in the mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) mining cobalt — an essential ingredient of batteries for electric vehicles (EV).  

The Labour Government under Ms Ardern (a strong advocate for children!) and the Greens with James Shaw, who is the Minister for Climate Change, have pushed the sale of EV’s to supposedly reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. 

EV’s do not have the slightest impact on climate. Climate is a natural process and humans play virtually no part in it. So to satisfy the government’s obsession with electric vehicles, children still mine cobalt and many die.

Exploitation of children

The DRC produces at least 70% of the world’s cobalt. According to Amnesty, miners extracting cobalt face long-term health problems and the risk of fatal accidents. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in mines in the southern DRC.

14 year old Paul started mining when he was 12. I would spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning… My foster mother planned to send me to school, but my foster father was against it, he exploited me by making me work in the mine.

Government action needed

 On TV1 news on 8 April 2022 a journalist stated regarding the move against modern slavery: “Human dignity should be put ahead of profit.” 

But our government, in promoting electric vehicles, turns a blind eye to child labour in Africa mining cobalt needed for batteries in those cars.

Our politicians should have the courage of their convictions and ban the import and sale of EVs so long as child slavery continues in the DRC to extract a vital raw material needed to manufacture these vehicles.