Chinese firms 'abusing' Zambian miners

2011-11-03 10:17

Lusaka - Chinese mining companies in Zambia, Africa's biggest copper producer, are routinely flouting laws designed to protect workers' safety and the right to organise, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

In a report likely to pile more pressure on Chinese firms to clean up their labour practices, the New York-based body urged newly elected president Michael Sata to follow through on campaign promises to stamp out abuse of workers in the sector.

The 122-page study detailed persistent abuses in Chinese-run mines, including poor health and safety conditions, and regular 12-hour and even 18-hour shifts involving arduous labour - all in violation of Zambian law.

Furthermore, HRW said mine bosses routinely threatened to fire workers who refused to work in dangerous locations underground or tried to report their grievances to mining regulators.

The four Chinese-run copper mining companies in Zambia are subsidiaries of China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC), a state-owned enterprise.

CNMC in Zambia did not respond to requests for comment.

Copper mining is the lifeblood of the landlocked southern African nation's economy, contributing nearly three-quarters of its foreign exchange earnings, while China is the biggest investor, having sunk more than $2bn into the sector.

"China's significant investment in Zambia's copper mining industry can benefit both Chinese and Zambians," said Daniel Bekele, HRW's Africa director.

Foreign investment

"But the miners in Chinese-run companies have been subject to abusive health, safety, and labour conditions and long-time government indifference."

Opposition leader Sata came to power in September on the back of a populist election platform that included virulent criticism of Chinese mining investment.

Since taking office, he has toned down his rhetoric and stressed the need for foreign investment, but has made clear that all companies must observe labour laws.

After his victory, analysts said Sata was unlikely to make drastic changes for fear of derailing an industry goal of doubling annual copper output to 1.5 million tonnes by 2016 - an increase that will also yield fruits to Zambia's treasury.

Other mining firms in Zambia include Canada's First Quantum Minerals and Barrick Gold , London-listed commodity giant Glencore and Vedanta Resources , South Africa's Metorex .

HRW said its research was based on three field visits between November 2010 and July 2011 and drew on more than 170 interviews with workers from both Chinese and other companies.

Eleven workers were shot and injured during a pay dispute at a Chinese-run mine last year. Five others were hurt during a similar confrontation at a different mine in 2005.

  • Simon - 2011-11-03 10:56

    Do you remember those who burnt to death in a factory in China where the doors were locked.

      BigBoer - 2011-11-03 13:03

      Johnson you are crazy man. You must be a Chinese yourself. Why don't you go to China ?

  • BigBoer - 2011-11-03 11:12

    Another reason to kick them out of Africa. I bet you they are abusing the staff at all these China Malls already

      Heibrin - 2011-11-03 13:50

      @Johnson: Foreign nationals are employed because they actually work, unlike the most of local informal labor.

  • Kuno - 2011-11-03 11:28

    south africans get ready... that's whats going to happen to us as well when china takes over our country

      Vagav - 2011-11-03 12:23

      No no no Johnson. Religion is banned in China!

      Heibrin - 2011-11-03 13:46

      @Johnson: And what about the Falun Gong? And what about Tibet, Mongolia? Me thinks you may be in danger of your education....

      DSBennie - 2011-11-03 15:49

      @Vagav - Religion is not illegal in China but it is discouraged and heavily oppressed, where it is allowed it is influenced by state control, eg the government chooses catholic bishops and want to choose the next Dali lama

      Heibrin - 2011-11-04 06:47

      @Johnson: You are right, they're not banned. Just persecuted, imprisoned and tortured.

      Alf - 2012-05-28 20:29

      And the time is fast approaching. Our ANC-led government was very keen to accept money from China. Wait until they present the bill - the paw paw will hit the fan!

  • gerbrandvanschalkwyk - 2011-11-03 15:06

    Canadian companies are doing most to uplift Zambia outside of mining, eg, game ranges, glof clubs, housing, hospitals ect. Lately Glencor has done huge work to improve roads, improve sport ect. I am not aware what Metorex is doing, Chinese workers are lowest paid and worst treated. When Sata can in their salaries doubled and they are still lowest paid. Glencor and FQM are best paid. When China workers strike, they are shot

  • Madluphuthu - 2011-11-04 09:37

    This is the thing, we Africans are lazy and we are losing our mineral resources to the Chinese. China has no regard for life because they are 1.3 billion chinese currently so if 100 die due to a mine accident that is nothing to them. They also do not care about patents and property rights and so on because they believe they have to trample on anybody as they go to the top so that their massive population can benefit. That is why Russia never sells armaments to China because the Chinese would just copy and they do not care. So brace yourself you have not seen anything much. As they grow more and more powerful, more Africans would die in the mines and they will demand total allegiance. Already you have seen it with the Dalai lama case.

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