International Law

Child Labor in Congo Benefits Chinese Companies--and US Consumers

Those who attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing this year could unknowingly be benefiting from child labor in the Congo.

That’s where boys like Adon Kalenga, 13, work as independent contractors for middlemen who sell the ore they mine with their bare hands to Chinese-operated smelters, at a going rate of around $3 a day, reports Bloomberg.

One sweltering day in March, Kalenga has been carrying 40-pound bags of ore to the river to wash them. Bits of rock are embedded under his fingernails, and he says every part of his body hurts. Working nearby in an unventilated 50-foot mine pit without bracing or other support to prevent cave-ins, another boy, 15-year-old Carlito Muamba, is digging for ore, the news agency reports in a lengthy article.

Although there are some laws against such practices, they are little-enforced. Meanwhile, China takes the position that such child labor practices are not its responsibility:

“This is an African problem,” says Liu Zhenmin, China’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations. The Chinese ambassador to the Congo, Wu Zexian, says his country doesn’t interfere in the internal affairs of countries in which its citizens and companies perform work.

But “in countries where human rights aren’t respected and where people can’t hold their governments accountable, it’s vital for foreign governments and investors to impose conditions,” says Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In the end, much of the work being done in Africa by child laborers reportedly benefits individual consumers in the United States, Europe and Japan.

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