Copper is at high-risk for forced and child labor

Copper, a versatile material due to its conductivity, resistance to corrosion, along with it flexibility, is often used in our wiring, heating systems, and roofing. In fact, approximately half of the copper supply worldwide is used in buildings.

Copper processing is complicated. It begins with mining of the ore, including copper oxide and copper sulfide. As with other at-risk building materials made with child and forced labor, the extraction and manufacturing of copper carries its own unique risks.

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Mexico, workers are using their hands or rudimentary tools and often work in dangerous mines. Children are often used to navigate the small spaces.

The top four copper producing countries are Chile, Peru, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the industry in these nations is fraught with forced and child labor. In the DRC for example, which produces 1.8 million metric tons of copper annually, children are exposed to mining, including carrying heavy loads, digging, sifting, sorting, transporting, using explosives, washing, and working underground.  Approximately 15% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 in Congo are child laborers, most of whom are doing dangerous work. More than 11,000 tons of raw copper are produced by artisanal mines every month in DRC and artisanal mines are more prevalent in high-risk areas.

Copper Mark Certification

Steps have been taken within the industry to move toward more sustainable and responsible copper production. The Copper Mark is a third party certification that works with companies throughout the copper industry to enable them to meet the demands for responsible production practices, supporting sustainable development, and mitigating environmental degradation to the benefit of local communities, customers, and consumers. Recipients of the Copper Mark have been independently assessed as having implemented policies and practices conforming with the Copper Mark Responsible Production Criteria.

Further resources:

2020 List of Goods Produced with Child Labor or Forced Labor

Minerals Commodities Summary on Copper

The Copper Mark