Billionaire behaving badly? Glencore's Glasenberg caught in Africa child labour, acid dumping row

In a scathing new BBC documentary airing on Monday in the UK, commodities trader Glencore, is accused of allowing dumping of acid into streams, child labour and deadly underground working conditions at its copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Guardian reports that the Panorama program titled "Billionaires Behaving Badly?" is also the first interview granted by the secretive head of Switzerland-based Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg.

The documentary makers working under cover found children "as young as 10" toiling at the Tilwezembe mine "who climbed down hand-dug mineshafts 150ft deep without safety or breathing equipment."

Glencore, which currently has a proposal for a $90 billion merger with miner Xstrata before shareholders, closed down the copper and cobalt mine in in 2008, but in the interview Glasenberg said the company's land was "raided" in 2010: "We are pleading with the government to remove the artisanal miners from our concession," he said.

The Guardian quotes from the show saying "the number of accidents at Tilwezembe is extraordinarily high: Panorama was told that 60 miners died there last year, making the mine one of the most dangerous in the world."

The Tilwezembe mine is located in the Katanga province in the south of the country close to the Zambian border. Glencore in partnership with Gecamines, the DRC's state-owned mining firm, has plans to restart mining and says that the acid drainage has been contained.

The DRC's mining industry has been in flux since the death in February of Augustin Katumba Mwanke, widely believed to be power behind the throne in the war-torn country. It was said that "every major player in the mining sector has negotiated with him or through him."

The DRC is home to the world’s largest cobalt resource and second globally in terms of copper deposits.

It also not the first time Glencore has come under fire in Central Africa. In March health and environment officials over the border in Zambia ordered the closure of part of Glencore's Mopani copper operations over complaints from residents of a nearby town over pollution. The processing plant should re-open at the end of the month.

Thisismoney, a UK business blog, says the fact that "NGOs are crawling over Glencore’s environmental behaviour" in Zambia and the DRC is another obstacle in the proposed merger already facing opposition from Xstrata shareholders who say Glencore is not paying enough for the coal giant.

Image is of DRC refugees in Uganda in 2008 – Sam DCruz |