Video produced by Emily Judem for GlobalPost.

Congo’s subsistence miners dig for their livelihoods
‘Artisanal’ mining is now the country’s leading profession — attracting adults and children alike. Chinese investment is driving its growth.

KOLWEZI, Congo — Patrick Bwana strains his body as he thrusts a full-sized shovel into a patch of rocky ground. He is 12 years old. He looks 9. He speaks with his eyes fixed on the ground. “I used to go to school, but my father died, and no one paid for my studies anymore,” he says.

Bwana works from around 6 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon, lugging around bags of rock that seem to weigh as much as he does. He says he can earn $5,000 francs a day doing this. That’s about $5. He hopes he can save enough to pay his own school fees, and return to school.

Bwana is one of tens of thousands of child laborers estimated to work in Congo’s mineral sector. Most take to the work out of necessity, to help their parents earn enough to feed their family. Child labor is illegal in the Congo, as is much of the artisanal mining that takes place in and around Kolwezi on mineral reserves owned or leased by foreign or Congolese companies.

The forces that shape Congo’s artisanal mining sector are many: A worldwide demand for copper and other base minerals for manufacturing; the inability of many Congolese to find any other sort of lucrative work; the absence of government regulation. But ask any Kolwezi miner who’s responsible, and you’re likely to hear just one answer: “The Chinese.”

Read the full story at GlobalPost or NPR, or at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which provided funding for the project.

Fabienne Jean sits at home with her prosthetic leg propped up on a coffee table. -Nick Kozak

The earthquake that struck Haiti three years ago this month sent a concrete wall crashing down onto the 30-year-old dancer Fabienne Jean. Her right leg was crushed and had to be amputated. When Fabienne danced again, she was hailed as a symbol of Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery.

But as reporter Jacob Kushner discovered, the quest to rebuild one woman’s life would take much more than that. Kushner followed Fabienne’s story for nearly a year, reporting from Port-au-Prince, Boston and New York. Listen to the five-part series and see photos by Nick Kozak at wlrn.org.

The wages that Chale and her co-workers earn for sewing T-shirts and other clothing items are three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic.
At a factory in the Dominican Republic, workers are sewing UW apparel, providing for their families, and spreading hope that the global textile industry can change.

During an age in which nearly all clothing sold in the United States is made in developing countries by workers who are paid just pennies an hour, Alta Gracia Apparel is not your typical textile factory: its employees earn three times the nation’s minimum wage of $150 per month. They get health insurance, a pension, vacation days, and maternity leave. They sit in ergonomic chairs and drink water that they themselves have quality-tested for pathogens.

It’s hard to fathom that a decade ago, many of these same people produced hats for a company that paid them just eighty-four cents an hour, forced them to work overtime without extra pay, and sometimes verbally and physically abused them.

See the full article and photos that were published in the Winter 2012 edition of On Wisconsin Magazine.