Erik Prince, founder of controversial private security firm Blackwater (and brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos), has launched a new mining venture in the Democratic Republic of Congo according to documents obtained by Reuters.
Not only did Prince oversee Blackwater during its infamous time in the Iraq war, but he unsuccessfully attempted to convince President Trump to replace American troops with private, corporate paramilitary entities like Blackwater in the Afghanistan war. He also is advocating for mercenary intervention in the administration’s ongoing goal of regime change in Venezuela.
Prince has run the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group since 2014, and his new project — Frontier Services Group Congo — has a wide mandate. Among its aims are “the exploration, exploitation and commercialisation of minerals.”
It also aims to provide logging, construction, security and project financing services.
Prince has said the minerals he’s set his sights on are cobalt, copper and lithium, key components on batteries for things like electric cars. These minerals tend to be extracted by what are called “artisanal miners,” which sounds much more pleasant than the reality.
According to Amnesty International, “artisanal miners” work by hand, using dated, manual mining technology. They work in extremely dangerous conditions — often without safety equipment — at the direction of extremely powerful mineral magnates, including politicians and armed groups. They are subjected to threats, assaults and ill treatment by private security forces or “mine police.” Fatal accidents are regularly reported by non-governmental organizations and Congolese media.
Worse still, the supply chains for car batteries — the niche Prince is looking to enter — are rife with child labor. Cobalt sourcing, in particular, is known to use underage workers, and per 2017 reports, electronics manufacturers had not looked too critically at the problem of child labor in the DRC’s cobalt industry. Cobalt is one mineral Prince is interested in.
The DRC produces more than half of the world’s cobalt.
The Congolese mining industry is filled with human rights violations, but considering Human Rights Watch described Blackwater’s presence in Iraq as “a horror movie,” it may prove a natural fit for Prince.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.