Little progress on safety, labour rights at Chinese mines in Zambia – HRW

Little progress on safety, labour rights at Chinese mines in Zambia – HRW

Zambian workers plying their trade at Chinese-owned mining companies still face health and safety risks, and their rights continue to be abused despite some progress made since the election of President Michael Sata, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last week.

Although some improvements has been made in supporting the oversight of the mines, there remains inadequate enforcement of national labour laws designed to protect workers’ rights, the New York-based rights organisation said.

“China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Corporation (CNMC)’s four subsidiaries have addressed some of the labour rights abuses documented by HRW in 2011, but miners still face significant health and safety risks. The lack of meaningful progress in the mining sector is disappointing,” HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele said.

Natural resources-obsessed China has become Africa’s top investment partner in the past 10 years, largely overtaking the EU and the US who have seen their influence and power in Africa wane in the past decade. More than 40 African heads of state met with China during the Africa-China summit in 2006.

The American think-tank Heritage Foundation estimates that between 2005 and 2010 about 14 percent of China’s investment abroad found its way to sub-Saharan African, while China’s People’s Daily Online put the number of China’s total ‘real’ investment in Africa at more than 10 billion USD as of December 2010.

However, China’s engagements continue to draw criticism both at home and abroad due to the reckless behaviour of Chinese companies for their alleged unfair treatment of its African workers.

A HRW report published in November 2011 painted a bleak picture on the state of labour rights abuses at four Zambian subsidiaries of CNMC, a state-owned enterprise under the authority of China’s highest executive body, the State Council.

HRW said its follow-up research in October 2012 found that CNMC’s subsidiaries made some notable improvements on reducing work hours and respecting freedom of association, but that miners continued to face poor health and safety conditions and threats by managers if they tried to assert their rights.

“The Zambian government has not adequately intervened to address these problems,” HRW’s Bekele said.

Human Rights blames the Zambian Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development for this lack of significant progress, adding that its Mines Safety Department only infrequently performed safety inspections that should be routine under Zambian law.

“Rather than undertaking proactive, preventative inspections, department officials most often came to worksites only in response to accidents, workers were quoted as telling HRW.

Human Rights Watch also said that some of the CNMC’s subsidiaries, such as Sino Metals have eliminated the 12-hour shift documented it documented in 2011, when most miners there worked 72 hours a week in a hazardous environment.

“Sino Metals workers now work six eight-hour shifts a week, in line with Zambian and international labor law,” Bekele said.

However, one company, CCS, continues to require 12-hour shifts, although miners there work four out of every six days.

*Photo: A Zambian miner shot by a Chinese manager in 2010.

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