China mining companies in Zambia violating labor laws: HRW

China mining companies in Zambia violating labor laws: HRW

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[JURIST] Chinese copper mining companies in Zambia routinely violate national and international labor standards [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Thursday. The report describes poor health and safety standards, regular 12-hour and 18-hour work shifts, and anti-union activity. Workers also reportedly face the threat of being fired if they refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Although not reported to the government, injuries and health standards are in violation of Zambian and international labor law. The report is based on three field investigations and interviews conducted between November 2010 and July 2011. The report states:

Human Rights Watch urges the new Sata government to adopt the necessary measures to enforce Zambia’s labor laws, and to ensure its laws conform with international standards. To begin, Human Rights Watch recommends that the government work to improve mine safety by ensuring there is sufficient staffing and equipment at the Mines Safety Department (MSD). Many inspectors have left their posts to pursue employment in the private sector, where remunerations are higher, and a government imposed hiring freeze has crippled the body’s effectiveness.

HRW recommends that the Mines Safety Department increase the fines imposed against violation of safety regulations or labor laws by mining operations to deter future violations. Zambia’s president, Michael Sata, elected in September, has been an outspoken critic of Chinese labor practices and campaigned to protect worker’s rights and ensure that companies follow Zambia’s labor laws.

China has faced criticism from various rights groups for human rights violations. On Tuesday, UN experts expressed concerns [JURIST report] over human rights restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China’s Sichuan province. In October, three human rights groups on called for the release [JURIST report] of Nobel peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], imprisoned on an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] in China for “inciting subversion of state power” and dissidence. Amnesty International, HRW and Chinese Human Rights Defenders released simultaneous press briefings urging freedom for Liu, and his wife Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest. In July, Senior Researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, Phelim Kine, argue that in order for the Chinese government to legitimately address human rights concerns, it must acknowledge the shortcomings of previous efforts and ensure that government officials and security forces follow and enforce human rights protections [JURIST comment].