China Defends its Practices in Zambia’s Copper Mines

Posted November 3rd, 2011 at 4:30 pm (UTC-5)
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China has defended its labor practices at copper mines in Zambia and disputes a report by Human Rights Watch that criticizes safety in mines owned and operated by China.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman contended Thursday that the HRW report is “inconsistent with the facts.” He said China has formulated laws and regulations to ensure that local employees' lawful rights and interests are protected.

The spokesman said Chinese-African cooperation is based on mutual benefit and equality, and that Chinese companies have contributed to economic and social development in mining areas.

However, the Human Rights Watch Report details over more than 100 pages of accounts that labor abuses including long working hours, poor ventilation and anti-union activities are persistent in Chinese-owned Zambian mines.

The document urges Zambia's president, Michael Sata, to live up to pledges that he will ensure local workers in Chinese-owned mines are adequately protected. Mr. Sata, elected in September, promised during his campaign to support workers' rights, especially against abuses by Chinese companies.

Zambian law limits miners' work to 48 hours per week, in no more than six shifts.

Human Rights Watch says it has recorded complaints by miners who were not allowed time off, and others who said they felt any complaint about working conditions would result in dismissal.

HRW's director for Africa, Daniel Bekele, says China has made some improvements and provided miners with some protective equipment. Hopwever, he adds that conditions still fall short of generally accepted labor standards.

China's investment in copper mining accounts for 75 percent of Zambia's exports and supplies two-thirds of the government's revenue.