- Title: ZAMBIA/FILE: Chinese firms abusing Zambian miners, says human rights group.
- Date: 3rd November 2011
- Summary: LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (NOVEMBER 03, 2011) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RONA PELIGAL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR AFRICA DIVISION HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, MATTHEW WELLS, RESEARCHER AFRICA DIVISION HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH AND CHARLES MUCHIMBA, MINE WORKERS UNION OF ZAMBIA AT PRESS BRIEFING (SOUNDBITE) (English) MATTHEW WELLS, RESEARCHER, AFRICA DIVISION, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SAYING: "So we found that there were consistent threats to fire employees that refuse to work in unsafe places underground, so, miners would recognise an area underground as being unsafe not wanting to go ahead with their work and the Chinese manager would actually threaten the worker that he'd be fired if he didn't go ahead."
- Embargoed: 18th November 2011 12:00
- Location: Zambia
- Country: Zambia
- Topics: Business,International Relations,Industry,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVACCT8EZR9BO2PRQ0UZ8WHX8V3O
- Story Text: 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 (November 03).
In a report likely to pile more pressure on Chinese firms to clean up their labour practices, the New York-based body published a 122-page study detailing persistent abuses in Chinese-run mines, including poor health and safety conditions in violation of Zambian law.
"So we found that there were consistent threats to fire employees that refuse to work in unsafe places underground, so, miners would recognise an area underground as being unsafe not wanting to go ahead with their work and the Chinese manager would actually threaten the worker that he'd be fired if he didn't go ahead," said Matthew Wells, Researcher for the HRW Africa Division.
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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied the report's allegations, saying "the conclusion made by Human Rights Watch is inconsistent with the facts.
"The report by the Human Rights Watch is not consistent with the actual situation. Relevant Chinese companies have cooperated with African countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefits, and have boosted the local job market and contributed to the local economic and social development," he said.
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.
"Working with noxious chemicals as a result they describe a lot of health problems particularly with their lungs. So I had miners who described coughing up blood quite routinely or going to the doctor or going to the hospital and they get an x-ray and come back showing black spots all over their lungs because of early signs of silicosis," said Wells.
In October, production at Zambia's Chinese-owned Chambishi Copper Smelter ground to a halt due to a wage strike and in a separate incident, about 500 workers seeking higher wages walked off the job at Zambia's largest cobalt plant.
The work stoppages are part of labour actions hitting Africa's top copper producer since new President Michael Sata came to power and emboldened workers by saying he will fight for better pay and working conditions.
Workers say many questions over pay increases have gone unanswered for too long.
"The unions are finding it very difficult because we don't know what these governments and investors have signed in terms of maybe emoluments such things, so when we start arguing especially the Chinese they will tell us, ask your government because what we have been told is we have to pay the minimum wage," said Charles Muchimba, Research Director for the Mine Workers Union of Zambia.
The report urged newly elected president Michael Sata to follow through on campaign promises to stamp out abuse of workers in the sector.
Some analysts say that while Zambia's privatization of the mines had led to massive investment into the mining sector since 2000, there was need for tougher checks on how the mines were run.
"We are going to have a lot of problems because I think these things were not happening way before we privatised our mining companies, when the mining companies were in the government hands, i think we weren't seeing these issues but I think they are becoming worse and worse because we are not paying any particular attention to them," said Edmond Kangamungazi, a specialist in economic And environmental justice.
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 $2 billion into the sector.
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.
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