Implementing the UN Guiding Principles in Zimbabwe's Mining Industry

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Implementing the UN Guiding Principles in Zimbabwe's Mining Industry

'Pillars in Practice' partner ZELA to engage local stakeholders on human rights & business topics
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Implementing the #GuidingPrinciples for #humanrights in Zimbabwe's mining industry


The Pillars in Practice (PiP) Program of Social Accountability International (SAI) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) works to build the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, to engage with and train on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs). The program aims to activate a strategic alliance by establishing the training capacity of CSO partners in each of the three countries to sustainably promote and assist in the implementation of the GPs by local and multi-national companies, government agencies and other local CSOs.

Monday, April 1, 2013 - 10:10am

In Zimbabwe, the PiP Program partners with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), represented by its Executive Director Mutuso Dhliwayo to address human rights issues in the country's mining industry. The PiP Program will convene spaces for multi-stakeholder dialogue in June among government representatives, mining companies, trade unions and civil society organizations to discuss the various human rights issues prevalent in Zimbabwean mining. These include impacts on workers' health and safety and the right to organize as well as environmental impacts on the livelihoods, health and supply of food and water of communities near mines.

 "The PiP Program augurs well within the overall programmatic thrust of ZELA's industry program that seeks to ensure mutually beneficial engagement with industry," said Mr. Dhliwayo. "ZELA is particularly excited about the skills enhancement from the training of the CSOs, as this is critical in building a mass of expertise...beyond the mining sector, other CSOs engaged in other sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture can replicate the concept in their engagement with such enterprises." 

The mining sector plays a major role in Zimbabwe's export economy - accounting for about one-third of Zimbabwe's exports. China is the major export destination. Today over 45 types of minerals are extracted, including gold, diamonds, emeralds, copper, nickel, iron, steel, coal and platinum. Zimbabwe has the second biggest platinum reserves in the world, and the third largest reserve of chrome. Earnings from mineral exports surged from US$1.6 billion in 2010 to US$2.45 billion in 2011. However, despite the growth of this industry, Zimbabwe remains one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 172nd out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index (HDI) in 2012, with a GDP per capita of only US$424. The mining sector provides jobs for 5% of the formal workforce

Zimbabwe's mining sector has many workers' rights issues, including freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, occupational safety and health and child labor. Workers' freedom of association and right to collective bargaining is limited by the government's power to veto agreements that are deemed 'harmful to the economy'. The international watchdog organization Freedom House stated "although strikes are allowed in all but essential industries, they require onerous notification and arbitration procedures and are often declared illegal." Similarly, freedom of association is restricted as organizers of public meetings must give the police a seven-day prior notice. Although permission is not required, Freedom House reports that security forces have used this provision to arrest and detain opposition activists or trade unionists. 

Health and safety conditions are a serious challenge in many mines, although there has been some attention given to this. The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe- a private sector voluntary organization which includes mining companies, their suppliers and various other mining related entities - helps to address occupational health and safety issues of mining workers. The Chamber established a Safety, Health, and Environment Committee (the SHE Committee) to strengthen the occupational health and safety performance of its members which produce 90 percent of Zimbabwe's total mineral output. 

Child labor is also prevalent in mining, despite Zimbabwe's National Child Labor laws barring work by anyone under 17. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that children work in mines. While they are not officially employed, "they can be found working either for independent operators or through subcontractors, mining chromium and gold." Through these subcontractors, these children may be exposed to hazardous chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, as well as explosives. 

ZELA, in partnership with other CSOs, has been instrumental since 2009 in assisting the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). ZELA helped to gather information on the human rights situation in the Marange diamond mining fields, and to assess the country's compliance with the KPCS minimum requirements. Annual potential revenue of the Marange diamond field, as "the biggest find of alluvial diamonds in the history of mankind" is estimated at US$1 billion to US$1.7 billion. When Zimbabwe was banned by the Kimberly Process (KP) in 2009 from selling Marange diamonds due to reports of corruption and human rights abuses, KP members sought to address the problems through a Joint Work Plan aimed to bring the country into compliance with KP standards. Key requirements were the withdrawal of the army from the area, and provisions for a KP monitor, mandated to report on the implementation of the plan and examine the diamonds prior to export. In October 2011, the KP lifted the ban on the sale of the diamonds. 

However, the negative externalities of the Marange field still affect the everyday lives of people in the region who depend upon livestock and the cultivation of small grains to subsist. Livestock reportedly lack sufficient land for grazing and grain farming is no longer possible due to encroaching mining activities. There are also reports of forest destruction, which hurts the livelihoods of some women who depend on income earned by selling wild fruits. And, the regional water supply has been affected: artisanal gold miners use cyanide and mercury to separate panned gold from ore, resulting in runoff of these toxins into the adjacent rivers. In addition, such activity has resulted in the clogging of the Haroni and Save River with silt, damaging irrigation systems and contaminating drinking water. 

The PiP Program will roll out its programs in Zimbabwe in June, with informational and training sessions about the UN Guiding Principles and workplace safety. Other countries and NGOs involved in this project are Professionals for Corporate Social Auditing (PASE) in the Nicaraguan agriculture sector, and the CSR Centre Bangladesh in the garment sector. The program is funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

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This article was written by SAI Development Manager Eliza Wright and SAI Development Intern Tina Baboyan, with contributions from Paloma Munoz Quick, Advisor at DIHR, and Mutuso Dhliwayo, Executive Director at ZELA. For inquiries, contact Ms. Wright -


Joleen Ong
Social Accountability International (SAI)
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