Chinese mining operations in the DRC - supplying the electronics industry

The Congolese human rights organisation Action against impunity for human rights (ACIDH) has published a report covering the violation of the rights of workers employed by Chinese mining companies in the province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report provides a critical analysis of the DRC-China Consortium agreement. A number of Chinese companies are subject of the research, including Jiaxing Mining, Congo Dong Fang International Mining and Lida Mining. These companies extract copper, cobalt and other minerals which are used by the electronics industry. This report follows up on a report published in September 2009 by the English NGO RAID.

Chinese mining operations in the DRC - supplying the electronics industry

In May 2010, the Congolese human rights organisation Action against impunity for human rights (ACIDH) has published a report entitled “Chinese private and public investments in the mining sector in Katanga: Good governance and human rights”. It is the result of the research carried out in Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as of September 2008 to October 2009 in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi,Likasi and Luisha.

Click here to find the full ACIDH report.

The research consisted of assessing China’s private and public mining investments in Katanga in terms of good governance in general and human rights in particular. It is the first research of the kind by a Congolese NGO. As for the human rights the following points were analyzed, notably: child’s labor in mines and quarries, the protection of the environment, the social responsibility of the mining companies and the rights of workers employed by Chinese mining companies. The results of the research show clearly how China’s private and public mining investments do not contribute to improve governance in the mining sector in DRC in general and in Katanga in particular. In this report, lack of transparency is underlined as the cause. There is as little information on commercial activities of these Chinese mining companies on the branches in Katanga as on their head-offices in China. This report also underlines the fact that most Chinese private mining companies employ a large local workforce. Nevertheless, the rights of workers are affected by severe restrictions. Jobs are not stable and sustainable. Moreover, some employees usually prevent the government officers from applying Labor Law in force in DRC. So, the workers are left desperate with their violated rights without any short or long term alternative. The responsibility of the companies for the worst forms of child labor in the craft mining zones is both active and passive. They are well aware that the purchased minerals come from the zones where many children are employed; they also purchase directly minerals at a low price from children particularly in the region of Kolwezi and Luisha. Through Saescam, a public utility, the DRC is incapable of managing the sector that is exploited by craftsmen. Under these conditions the Chinese companies do not fulfill their obligations, but they get involved in the corrupt practices of Saescam officials. This research is a critical reading of the DRC-China mining project contract. It notices significant imbalances and lack of transparency, notably a mechanism of access to and divulgation of information on the achievement of JV works. For instance, the Congolese and Chinese signed addenda to change certain clauses of the original agreement, but the text itself remains unknown. There are no objective criteria for the allocation of capital. (The China consortium 68% and DRC 38% as well as too high tax exemptions). Consequently, a joint-venture was created, which bends the rules of creation of commercial companies in DRC.

 

In September 2009, the UK-based organisation Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) published a report under the title "Chinese mining operations in Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo" in which results from RAID survey undertaken in 2008 were presented. The report provides a snapshot of working conditions in Katanga in Chinese-run enterprises. The reports synthesize the views, experiences, concerns and recommendations of Chinese and Congolese workers interviewed. The findings confirmed that working and living conditions in Katanga are unsatisfactory for both Congolese and Chinese workers.

Click here for the full RAID report.

The Congolese workers complain about the lack of respect and neglect of their well being by the Chinese managers. There was unanimous agreement that Chinese companies do not comply with the Congolese mining code and other laws and regulations, which is taken as affront to the Congolese nation. The Chinese Ambassador to the DRC confirmed that all Chinese investors are expected to respect the law, but he explained to journalists that in his view it was not the task of the Chinese Government to police the multitude of Chinese investors in Africa.

The report gives an overview of problems as experienced by both the Congolese workers and Chinese employees. The main problems as mentioned by Congolese workers:

  • Chinese companies have little or no understanding not only of international labour standards but also of Congolese law, in particular the Code du Travail and the Mining Code
  • Environmental standards are not respected by Chinese companies
  • Accidents in Chinese-run smelters are commonplace because of the lack of protective clothing, training and procedures
  • Workers who sustain serious injuries as a result of accidents at work do not receive adequate medical attention; compensation is often inadequate or non-existent
  • Minerals bought for processing or sold to trading houses are illegally mined with the use of child labour; children, some as young as 10 years old, load bags in the trading houses
  • Workers are exposed to harmful dust from the minerals they handle - including radioactive minerals; they are not provided with face masks or other protective clothing; there are no facilities for taking a shower
  • Workers work long hours, are treated arbitrarily and risk being summarily dismissed for trivial offences (like being a few minutes late for work) or on false accusations
  • Chinese and Congolese security guards have assaulted workers and beatings are common. In some cases workers have sustained serious injuries
  • Most workers are hired on a casual basis and the companies do not pay their insurance. Workers with contracts complain that these are written in Chinese and not translated
  • Congolese workers are discriminated against; are given menial jobs and have no opportunities to upgrade their skills. They do not receive the same levels of pay as Chinese workers
  • Workers are not treated with respect and are regarded as dispensable
  • Workers’ grievances are not taken seriously by the company and making complaints often leads to dismissal
  • Corruption and inefficiency undermines the work of the Congolese police, labour inspectors and the courts. Workers have no access to an effective remedy
  • Chinese companies and Chinese employees appear to be above the law.

 

From the perspective of the Chinese employees, things do not look very bright either:

  • Chinese workers are at risk of assault by gangs; some attacks are racially motivated; some Chinese employees have been seriously wounded
  • Threats to their personal security means Chinese employees do not go out much and stay in their compounds
  • Places where Chinese expatriate workers are housed are often targeted by thieves
  • Chinese face constant harassment from Congolese officials who extort money from them on the slightest pretext: for example, that their visas are not valid
  • Corrupt officials try to impose fines on Chinese companies or demand payment of ‘taxes’ without due cause
  • Living conditions for many Chinese workers are poor
  • Many are unhappy and would prefer to work in neighbouring African countries where corruption and security problems are less prevalent
  • Pervasive corruption makes it difficult to do business and bring prosperity to the region
  • Chinese companies are supposed to add value by processing minerals inside Katanga but they see no sign of the mining revenues being used by the Congolese authorities to improve local infrastructure or the living conditions of the population
  • Chinese people are the victims of the frustration that the Congolese population feel as a result of their neglect by the Congolese Government
  • They would like to have better relations with Congolese people but there are language and other barriers that need to be overcome
  • Chinese employees do not feel that their human rights are respected and that the Chinese embassy, in cooperation with the Congolese authorities, should take action to tackle these problems

 

Concluding, RAID states that the report does not seek to embarrass the People’s Republic of China (PRC) nor to tarnish its image in the developing world. The report does however provide first hand allegations of widespread corporate misconduct and human rights abuse by Chinese companies operating in Katanga, which should prompt the Chinese and DRC governments to take urgent measures. The report’s findings highlight the need to promote greater awareness of responsible corporate behaviour among Chinese companies operating abroad. The problems described in the report are not confined to Chinese operators and similar conditions prevail in companies owned by Congolese or nationals of other countries. But the Chinese are the most significant operators in the mineral sector in Katanga. According to the Governor of the Province more than 60 out of Katanga’s 75 processing plants are owned by Chinese companies and over 90 per cent of the region’s minerals go to China.6 Congolese workers and Chinese managers have given candid accounts of the indignities, harassment, threats and abuse that they endure on a daily basis. They have set out what they feel is needed to improve workplace conditions, environmental protection, health and safety standards, community relations and corporate accountability. The recommendations addressed to both the DRC and Chinese Governments are set out at the end of the report. In RAID’s view it is only by supporting such improvements that China can hope to reach the goals that it has set itself in its Africa foreign policy declaration concerning sustainable development and harmonious relations between peoples.

RAID provides an extensive list of detailed recommendations, addressing the Chinese mining companies and the Chinese and DRC governments.