By Dr Claude Kabemba
African civil society organisations that monitor extractive industries have tended to focus their work on the financial bottom line of mining companies, in an approach that has become known as “follow the money”. The work has been on illicit financial flows, on revenue transparency, and on open contracts. This work, while critical and necessary, has diverted resources from civil society’s traditional monitoring work on human rights. Civil society organisations seldom report on mining companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Not enough work is being done on the impact that mining activities have on the environment and on local communities. Mining companies have been allowed to implement their CSR programmes without the scrutiny of civil society. In most cases, all we see are glossy annual reports of mining showing smiling faces of miners and selected members of the community but telling nothing of the human rights violations that usually exist where mining occurs.
Considering the difficulties that most African states face in providing services (such as clean water, clinics, schools and food security) to citizens, and especially to communities in remote areas, it is imperative for mining companies to invest in the communities from which they are extracting wealth. It is equally imperative for civil society, when assessing the performance of a company, to go beyond the financial bottom line and examine the social and environmental policies and practices of that company. This is known as triple bottom line accounting.
The work of monitoring CSR, human rights, and environmental impact is not easy. It involves confronting powerful multi-national companies and those civil society organisations, research institutions and foundations that are on the payroll of those companies or receive some kind of compensation in one way or the other.
Recently, the Southern Africa Resource Watch Published a report entitled “Living in a Parallel Universe: First Quantum versus the mining communities in Zambia” based on interviews with civil society, community members and labour. The report looks at the impact of First Quantum Minerals (FQM) activities on the communities. The report focuses only on one operation, the Kansanshi Mine. Kansanshi Copper and Gold Mine is currently owned by ZCMM/IH and FQM, with 20 per cent and 80 per cent of shares respectively. It produces 400 000 tons of copper and more than 120 000 ounces of gold per year. With this production, it is the country’s largest taxpayer. Between 2005 and 2015, the mine contributed more than US$3 billion in tax to the Zambian state.
The report found that FQM is failing in its commitment to CSR. It is clear from this study that the implementation of CSR is top-down, and rarely involves adequate consultation with communities, civil society or employees. Contrary to FQM claims that it is a responsible company, the report finds that Kansanshi mine’s activities, according to communities, have negatively affected water and land, impacting on agriculture and food security. The report reveals a stark contrast between the wealth that FQM extracts for export and the poverty levels in the surrounding communities. The company prioritises the public relations and advertising value of CSR over the needs of Zambians who work in, and live close to the mine.
CSR is premised upon the notion of social accountability and proper monitoring and evaluation, which must include an openness to independent scrutiny. The company has tried to prevent SARWatch from publishing the report, arguing that it has factual errors and that the company was not consulted. This not true. Before undertaking the Solwezi study, SARWatch contacted the company, and requested to meet and discuss visiting the mine and the social investment projects. The company representatives agreed but then failed to show up. SARWatch again requested that the company meet researchers when they were in the field. The company responded by saying that there was nobody available to meet in Solwezi as all the key people were out of the country. They refused to provide the researchers even with Zambians managers who could speak on behalf of the company. The company tried to prevent the publication of the report, claiming that it was not consulted and that the report contains factual inaccuracies.
Although the company was able to provide broad outlines of its CSR programmes through email correspondence, and details available on websites and in annual sustainability reports, the company was not prepared to give any time to the researchers involved in assessing its CSR programmes.
Apart from the lack of courtesy that has been displayed, such an approach to external enquiry is likely to be counterproductive in the long term. At the very least, it ensures that the views of local communities and civil society, and unions are heard without the views of the company itself. If there is any bias in the report, that is largely the result of the company’s attitude to the research.
FQM has chosen to dispute mainly the assertion that water consumed by the communities might be polluted. It is silent on other important findings of the report, such building schools with no toilets, maintaining a school with no toilets, broken windows or no doors, failing to relocate a community that clearly needs to be relocated, failing to provide the agreed amenities to a community that has been relocated and pushing a community out of its land without consultation and the expansion of the mine’s tailing dam, which is pushing communities off their land and affecting food security.
One of the recommendations of the report is that the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) must urgently establish whether underground water in areas around Kansanshi is polluted or not. FQM has chosen to focus on the water because this issue is easily contested in the absence of agreed scientific testing standards.
The report has recommended that the Zambian government provide the necessary financial, human and logistical support to the Zambian Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) to be able to discharge its duty of monitoring and evaluating the impact of mining companies’ activities without fear or favour. It has also recommended that ZEMA urgently establish whether underground water in mining areas, especially in Kansanshi, is polluted or not, and reassure communities. As for other issues raised in the report, SARWatch would like to invite First Quantum Minerals (FQM) to conduct a joint validation mission with SARW to verify the findings of the report.
The Author is the Executive Director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch.