Chinese mines still leave African workers at risk

African workers remain exposed to health and safety violations at Chinese mines, despite political exposure of Chinese business ethics, said Human Rights Watch.

Some Chinese mines in Africa work 12 hour shifts and overtime, up to 18 hours, against the general legal limit of eight hours. Some miners are exposed to acids, fumes and dust, while employers delay replacing footwear, head protection, respirators, gloves and overalls.

Doctors report increasing injuries and under-reporting due to Chinese management. Zambian mines suffer 15 to 21 deaths annually.

A 2011 HRW report titled ‘You’ll Be Fired If You Refuse: Labor Abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State owned Copper Mines’, finds work conditions and pay at Chinese owned mines remain worse than at other multinational mines.

Newly elected Zambian president Michael Sata had campaigned four times against Chinese business practices and for labour rights, but mining health and safety legislation remains poorly enforced.

Zambian mining safety authorities ‘lacked staff and funding, and was plagued by corruption allegations and low fines penalties’ said HRW.

Chinese operated mines are credited for having ‘improved health and safety conditions’ in recent years due to political and civil pressure, thanks in part to other Chinese companies planning to do business in Africa.

China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation, which runs four mines in Zambia and is overseen by the Chinese government, denied the 2011 allegations. Workers say they are threatened with dismissal if they refuse risk exposure.

China disputes the HRW report and said “systems were in place to protect safety and rights of workers in Zambia” and “Chinese companies were meeting their social responsibilities”.
China’s ambassador to Zambia promised loans for health, education and agriculture.

Sata told Chinese business leaders face to face that he would introduce project specifications, and blamed the former government for accepting investment without terms. He had also appointed former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda as special envoy to China.

Zambia now proposes doubling minimum wages to about $180 per month, and increasing mining safety regulation.

Zambain mines include Canadians First Quantum Minerals and Barrick Gold, London listed Glencore and Vedanta Resources, and South African based Metorex.

DRC Chinese mines studied

An earlier pioneering study, titled ‘Chinese Mining Operations in Katanga Democratic Republic Of The Congo’ in 2009 by Samentha Goethals of the NGO RAID, Jean-Pierre Okenda of ACIDH and Raphael Mbaya of PADHOLIK, interviewed Chinese and Congolese workers, against responsible corporate governance principles.

RAID also noted “human rights issues that had confronted Chinese-owned mining companies and factories in Zambia and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)”.

Fifteen per cent of the Chinese owned companies in Katanga were included in the survey;
• Congo Dong Bang Mining (CDM): Kolwezi Depot and Lubumbashi smelter
• Congo Loyal Will Mining: Lubumbashi smelter
• COTA Mining: Lubumbashi smelter
• Emmanuel Mining: Kolwezi depot
• Huachin: smelters in Lubumbashi and Likasi
• Jia Xing: Kolwezi depot and Lubumbashi smelter
• JMT: Kolwezi depot
• Song Hua: Lubumbashi smelter
• Feza Mining:Likasi smelter.
“Congolese workers seemed grateful and very enthusiastic about the opportunity to voice their views and concerns. Many talked about abuses of human rights and labour rights they had encountered in their working lives. In Congo”, said RAID.

“Although there is a labour inspection body (l’Inspection du Travail), workers have no effective right to a remedy since they cannot trust the authorities or the courts to uphold the law and to protect their human rights of formal or informal workers.”

PHOTO; Zambian president Sata is initiating a new era of regulating Chinese operated multinational projects. Some Zambian miners on Chinese run copper and coal mines, are exposed to high risk conditions or tasks, in a culture geared to profit and production, at the cost of health and safety.

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