Mining communities provide accounts of human rights challenges

ARTICLE | 16 February 2018

Challenges faced by mining communities in southern Africa, including corruption connected to employment and risks regarding sexual violence, were at the center of discussions when Swedwatch presented its recent report on human rights challenges in South Africa’s platinum mining sector. The report, titled Carrying the costs, was launched at this year’s Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town. The launch gathered activists from mining communities, representatives from the Swedish embassy and NGO’s.

Swedwatch’s report Carrying the costs reviews the human rights responsibilities within client-provider relationships. It presents findings from a case study in South Africa’s platinum belt, an area where poverty is widespread despite the fact that local communities live on top of one of the world’s most valuable mineral resources.

The report, launched at the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town, compared findings to Swedwatch’s 2013 study Problematic Platinum and assessed what measures Swedish companies Sandvik and Atlas Copco have taken to address human rights challenges in the sector since then. It found that, despite continued problems in mining communities, neither of the companies work to influence customers in the area to address the pressing human rights challenges*.

Issues that were raised during Swedwatch’s investigation included land evictions, health problems caused by water and air pollution and people having to pay fees or provide sexual favours in exchange for work.

At the launch, activists and community members from mining areas in both Zimbabwe and South Africa shared their experiences of the severe situation in mining communities with representatives from the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria and several local and international NGO’s.

One community member invited by Swedwatch gave a presentation regarding recent events that led up to the protests against a mining company in the Rustenburg area, protests that eventually led to the death of one of the protesters. Another participant described a legal case brought by his community that is seeking compensation from the mining company for the use of land belonging to the community.

Other issues raised included corruption connected to employment and  risks of sexual violence. In discussions on the prevalence of sexual violence, NGO Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) shared their experiences from working in the platinum mining areas around the city of Rustenburg. MSF confirmed the Swedwatch research when stating that sexual violence against women is a huge problem in the Rustenburg area. After discussions on the findings in the report, NGO Source International gave a presentation on community monitoring in the mining industry, including capacity building in communities to document air and water pollution.

The report Carrying the costs – the Human rights impacts in communities affected by platinum mining in South Africa, and the responsibilities of companies providing mining equipment was made in collaboration with Afrikagrupperna and the Church of Sweden. Field research was conducted in cooperation with South African NGO Bench Marks Foundation. The 9th Alternative Mining Indaba took place in Cape Town, South Africa on February 5-7. The conference’s main goal is to “present an alternative voice, the community voice, to that of corporates who meet yearly during the Mining Indaba.”

 

*According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Righs, companies may be linked to adverse impacts on human rights even if these are caused or contributed to by their business partners, including customers. Therefore, they have a responsibility to manage human rights risks accordingly and to seek to influence their customers to address possible risks and actual impacts.