HUMAN Rights Watch has insisted that its report documenting various labour abuses by Chinese-run mines operating in Zambia is accurate and it has since reiterated that the Chinese government and management of the four mines highlighted in the report should take appropriate measures based on the findings of the report.
Reacting to a statement from the Chinese Embassy disputing the findings of the 122-page report, author (of the report) titled ‘You’ll be fired if you refuse: Labour abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State-owned copper mines’, Mathew Wells said the findings of abusive health and safety standards, long hours, and anti-union activities came directly from interviews with 95 miners in the Chinese-run companies as well as union and Government officials.
“Rather than dismiss the abuses described by their Zambian employees, the Chinese-run companies and the Chinese embassy should ensure that their investment in Zambia meets its potential by listening to the workers’ complaints and following Zambia’s labour laws.
The massive strikes in October should likewise send a signal that the miners at the Chinese-run companies are tired of having their rights abused,” he said.
Recently, more than 2,000 workers from Non-Ferrous China Africa (NFCA), one of the firms mentioned in the report, downed their tools and were subsequently sacked but later re-instated following the Government’s intervention.
The workers were pushing for improved conditions of service.
According to the report, NFCA(a subsidiary of China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation CNMC), which is among other three Chinese mining companies cited in the report, Southern Weekend quoted the CNMC general manger Luo Tao in November last year saying as at that period, NFCA was China’s only overseas mine that was already producing regularly and at a profit.
It adds that Southern Weekend reported that NFCA had an annual profit of US$40 million and by 2008 had “recouped its 2003 investment.”
The other CNMC subsidiaries cited in the report are Sino Metals Leach Zambia (Sino Metals), Chambishi Copper Smelter (CCS) and China Luanshya Mine (CLM).
Mr Wells, who is Human Rights Watch Africa division researcher, added that the Chinese Embassy’s denial is also inconsistent with a letter received from China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC), the parent company of the four copper mining operations in Zambia.
“CNMC said that it took our findings seriously and promised to conduct an in-depth investigation to ensure that abuses were stopped and that overall conditions were improved.
We hope that CNMC and the Chinese government fulfill that promise, so that the Zambia’s copper miners have their rights protected and receive the benefits of China’s impressive investment.”
A statement from the Chinese Embassy availed to the Times on November 4, 2011 dispelled the report regrettably describing its relevant contents as being not faithful to the truth as Chinese companies in question have always been closely following the local laws and regulations and have actively undertaken their social responsibilities.
The statement added that Chinese investors attached great importance to employees’ legal rights such as safety and salaries and have taken serious measures to ensure the protection of workers’ rights.
It stated further that Chinese companies in Zambia have for a long time been investing in Zambia on the basis of mutual benefits, creating a large amount of job opportunities, and making great contributions to Zambia’s social and economical development.
The report unveiled on November 3, 2011 details persistent abuses in the four mines mentioned, including poor health and safety conditions, regular 12 to 18-hour shifts involving arduous labour and anti-union activities, all in violation of local and international labour laws.
Human Rights Watch established in 1978 is a non-profit, independent, non-governmental human rights organisation renowned for its accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of the media and targeted advocacy often in partnership with local human rights groups.
[Times of Zambia]