Chinese-run copper mines in Zambia are routinely mistreating workers and breaking the law by imposing up to 18-hour shifts and flouting international health and safety standards, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
The 122-page report draws on interviews with miners from the country's four Chinese copper operations and the 48 other mines operated my multinational companies.
The Chinese companies are subsidiaries of China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC), a state-run firm.
According to the story in The Guardian, HRW is calling on newly elected President Michael Sata and his government to act on a campaign promise to crack down on illegal Chinese labour practices:
"Many of the poor health and safety practices we found in Zambia's Chinese-run mines look strikingly similar to abuses we see in China. Respecting labour laws and ensuring workers' safety should be standard operating practice both in China and abroad, not treated as an irritating barrier to greater profits," HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele is quoted saying.
CNMC does not deny it has been criticized by Zambian government departments but blamed the problems on a Chinese underground mining subcontractor and "language and cultural differences during communication and interaction with workers" which "could have possibly resulted in misunderstandings about the actual state of affairs," according to the report.
Zambia is Africa's largest copper producer. The country depends on copper mining for 75% of its exports and two thirds of its government revenue.
MINING.com reported in early October on a video of hundreds of Zambian workers at a Chinese-owned copper mine going on strike for higher pay and better working conditions.
Zambia briefly banned metal exports last month on concerns about copper exporters misreporting the amount of ore leaving the country.