Charles, a 13 year old boy, sorts stones containing cobalt with his father, on the shore of Lake Malo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. May 2015.

South Africa: Mining gathering must confront human rights violations

Mining companies and their stakeholders, including investors, governments and politicians, must confront the human rights abuses that are rife in the industry, Amnesty International said today, as the world’s biggest mining investment conference begins in Cape Town.

Known as Mining Indaba, the conference brings together investors from around the world to discuss mining interests in Africa.

“From child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo to squalid living conditions for workers at South Africa’s Marikana mine, the mining industry is tainted with human rights abuses. Mining firms have often caused or contributed to human rights abuses in pursuit of profit while governments have been too weak in regulating them effectively,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“For too long mining giants have been getting away with pollution, forced evictions, lack of transparency over how mining rights are awarded, corruption, tax evasion and abusive transfer pricing. These issues must be at the forefront of discussions in Cape Town.”

Amnesty International and its partner organizations have documented numerous cases of human rights abuses linked to mining operations.

In South Africa, victims of the bloody tragedy at Marikana, in which 34 protesters were killed and at least 70 injured by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) during a mining strike in August 2012, are still awaiting justice almost eight years on.

Miners at Marikana, a mining area where British platinum mining giant Lonmin Plc had been operating, embarked on a strike over pay and poor living conditions, at the mine after the company failed to improve the workers’ living conditions in line with the Social Labour Plans agreed with the government, in clear breach of its legal obligations under South African law.

In Mozambique, Amnesty International exposed how a mining operation, by a Chinese multinational corporation Haiyu, likely contributed significantly to a flash flood in 2015 in the village of Nagonha, which destroyed 48 homes and left 290 people homeless. The organization also found that the mining operation had put an entire coastal village of more than a thousand people at serious risk of being washed into the Indian Ocean. Mozambican authorities failed to regulate the industry in the wake of the disaster.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our ground-breaking research on cobalt mining revealed the human rights risks associated with unregulated or poorly regulated artisanal mining, including dangerous working conditions for miners and child labour. In June 2019, a deadly accident and the deployment of the army to two massive copper and cobalt mines further exposed the country’s weak regulation of its mining sector and poor protection of human rights.

The theme of this year’s event is “Optimising Growth and Investment in the Digitised Mining Economy”. Discussions are also planned on the “industry’s role in addressing climate change and decarbonisation and sustainability measures.”

“There can be no growth and sustainability of the mining industry without human rights. For far too long, mining bosses have prioritized profit at the expense of human rights and the environment. Poor people are suffering the effects of climate change in mining communities, including land degradation and loss of livelihoods, like we have seen in Mozambique.” said Deprose Muchena.

“Mining corporations have been some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse emissions, yet they are only just starting to put climate change on the agenda. This meeting should produce clear time frames and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions.”

Amnesty International is calling on companies to immediately put measures in place to minimize their greenhouse emissions. Governments must introduce legislation requiring companies to identify, prevent, address and account for negative human rights impacts, including those linked to greenhouse gas emissions.


While investors host their main Mining Indaba in Cape Town, civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, will be holding their own Alternative Mining Indaba in the city, bringing to the fore stories of injustice and socio-economic rights violations in mining communities, including in the DRC, Mozambique and South Africa.