Have Human Rights Improved in African Mining?

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Exploring Initiatives in Sustainable Development

In recent years, human rights have become the key driver behind sustainable development in the global mining industry. Companies that “offset” human rights violations by compensating in other areas are simply no longer tolerated. The world is slowly but surely becoming aware that there are massive problems in this area, and as such, 10 basic human rights risks in the mining industry have been identified:

  • Environmental impact
  • Labour risks
  • Economic and social disruption
  • Security incidents
  • Land acquisition
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Supply chains
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Cumulative impacts
  • Access to remedy

Mining Africa - mining and human rights

By identifying these risk areas, companies and governments are better able to begin effecting positive change. The question is whether enough is being done to tackle these problems. Let’s take a look at what mining companies and governments are doing about human rights violations.

Mining Companies Advocating Human Rights

In recent years, mining companies have begun to mainstream respect for human rights straight into corporate management and governance. Glencore Mining Company announced that during 2020, it would implement an improved approach to due diligence as well as develop a dedicated Human Rights Risk Framework. The initiatives developed include:

  • Launching a $25 million support fund to support local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Improving due diligence practices in the supply chain by working with commodity department teams to embed improved practices in tools, processes, and contracts.
  • Running training workshops for South American and African teams to improve understanding of risks related to human rights and security.
  • Reviewing grievance mechanisms with a goal of achieving consistency across the group.
  • Updating internal guidance to align with revised international guidance on concerns and grievances.

Glencore has declared its commitment to upholding and promoting respect for human rights and freedoms. Anglo-American has taken a similar stance and has set a ground-breaking goal of zero worker fatalities in all its facilities across the globe.

What About Governments?

Some African governments are taking a strong stance when it comes to human rights. The government of Zambia cancelled a mining license that belonged to a Chinese company after allegations emerged that Chinese supervisors opened fire on workers. Regulatory authorities in Zimbabwe have been increasingly aware of pollution left by mining companies and are beginning to pay attention to nongovernmental groups like the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, which are launching campaigns to create awareness of human rights in the industry.

Governments, both local and abroad, have started collaborating with human rights groups. An example of this is the collaborative effort between the Australian government and two human rights groups—the African Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment, and Human Rights and the Centre for Human Rights. Funded by the Australian government, the groups have been working on a range of projects that promote human rights improvements in the African mining sector. Activities include research and consultation in affected African countries like Zambia and South Africa in order to find ways to mitigate human rights infringements.

While there has been some success with projects like this and others, there are still many issues, particularly in ungoverned regions. It is crucial that awareness is raised and that governments take the necessary steps to ensure a better future for African mining.

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