In the shadow of industries in Congo

Republic of Congo’s coastline is the centre of the country’s industrial activity. Oil – the country’s main source of revenue – is extracted and exported from here, as are other raw materials like potash, phosphate and gold. Businesses recycling waste from other countries also have been increasing their operations here (as elsewhere in Africa, after the tightening of regulations in countries such as India and China).

Unfortunately, the Congolese laws meant to oversee the operations of these companies are often not well enforced. This leaves communities living around the country’s economic hub vulnerable to the effects of these industries on their environment, health and livelihoods. They also continue to face deprivation, including serious water shortages and poor healthcare.

Watch the video and find out how residents of Vindoulou, a neighbourhood in Pointe-Noire, are fighting against a waste management company operating just next to a primary school in their community.

WATCH OUR EXPLAINER (Please use auto-translated captions for English)

What the law says

Congo often presents itself as a champion of environmental protection. The country has various conservation programmes for the Congo Basin Forest and a strong framework of environmental laws, including a 2009 decree requiring companies to carry out environmental impact assessments before they can operate, and the 2023 Sustainable Environmental Management Act. Once companies are authorised to operate, the State is supposed to undertake quarterly assessments to monitor the companies’ compliance with environmental laws, and to take action if they are not compliant.  Congolese law also requires companies responsible for environmental damage to restore ecosystems and to compensate affected people.

Under international law and standards, companies have the responsibility to respect human rights, and States must also ensure that companies act responsibly, in line with their environmental and human rights obligations.   

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The reality

While such laws and international obligations and standards exist in principle, putting them into practice is another matter. Amnesty International’s research into industries in the regions of Pointe-Noire and Kouilou found that environmental impact assessments are not always carried out. Even when they do take place, they are often not made public, so remain largely inaccessible despite people’s ‘right to information’ guaranteed by international human rights treaties. Communities are all too often kept in the dark about the full impact of the industries on their environment, livelihoods and health.

OUR RESEARCH

Our research focused on cases of two oil companies and one recycling company operating around the communities of Djeno, Vindoulou and Banga Kayo, affecting their land, water and air. Our research also highlights how the State and the companies have failed to uphold their international and national obligations in these settings, and how people’s human rights have been violated as a result.  

Recommandations

Amnesty International research demonstrates that in the shadow of the industries that generate the wealth of the country, people are suffering both from environmental pollution and violations to their rights to water and health.  

Among many recommendations to address this situation, Amnesty International calls on the Congo government to:

  • Ensure businesses act responsibly and comply with their environmental and other human rights obligations; 
  • Undertake regular reviews of environmental impact assessments, in accordance with the 1991 Law on the Environment;
  • Make public all environmental analysis carried out by the authorities;
  • Ensure all companies fully repair environmental damage linked to their activities, and compensate victims, in accordance with the law; 
  • Use all available resources to uphold the economic and social rights of the population, including access to water and healthcare.

More specifically regarding the cases highlighted in our report, Amnesty International calls on the Congo government to:

  • Undertake more regular assessments of pollution levels in the Loubi lagoon and publicize the results;  
  • Ensure an immediate audit on the 2022 leak of the pipeline between the Banga Kayo oil field and the Djeno oil terminal, publicize the findings, and ensure proper repair of the environmental damage and other potential adverse impacts on human rights of communities; Immediately investigate the impact of the company’s activities on the full spectrum of rights of the surrounding population, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Make the report public, and if the results confirm the negative impact on human rights, take immediate remedial action for the residents of Vindoulou, including relocating the recycling company Metssa Congo to an industrial area;
  • Repair and upgrade ‘Water for All’ facilities to ensure permanent and safe access to water, and equip the Mbokou health centre with the medical staff and medicines necessary to ensure the right to health of the local population.

Amnesty International urges the companies operating in Congo to respect human rights in line with international standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This means ensuring that their operations do not cause or contribute to the harming of human rights. They must be transparent about the potential impacts of their operations and the measures they take to mitigate those impacts; and provide effective remedy to anyone harmed by their operations. More generally, Amnesty International urges the Congo government to adopt and implement a just transition plan to phase out the production of oil and gas in a manner compatible with the human rights of the population of Congo, including workers and communities relying on fossil fuels extraction. As Amnesty International highlights in its Fatal Fuels report, fossil fuel extraction all too often harms nearby communities and contributes to the suppression of rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country concerned, as well as contributing to the climate crisis. Targets should be set for reducing production by 2030 and the full phase-out should be completed no later than 2050, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change evidence.

Act now

Stand with Vindoulou for a safe environment

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@ASoudanNonault, we urge you to launch an investigation into the human rights impact of the Metssa Congo factory in Vindoulou and to take all necessary corrective measures without delay.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2024/06/in-the-shadow-of-industries-in-congo/