This article by Buntungwa Ward Councillor, Soko Mumba, details attempts by Vedanta’s Zambian subsidiary KCM to cover up circumstances surrounding the death of a worker earlier this year. It is not clear if Mr Mwape’s tragic death is counted as one of the nine fatalities recorded in Vedanta’s 2018 Annual Report, which make a mockery of their ‘zero harm’ policy. Adding insult to injury, Vedanta CEO Kuldip Kaura’s statement in the report:
“Our training programmes have focused on getting our employees make better risk decisions so that they can start to identify those behaviours that result in injuries and fatalities.”
Every mining undertaking has its risks but such risks can be avoided if a company operates within the confines of the Mining and Safety Regulations, which are there to promote both human life and mining business. You can not talk of a successful business without safety and you can’t of course talk about successful safety without human life.
It takes serious investment to implement the mining and Safety Regulations if a mining company is to have Zero fatalities as Vedanta claims. If there is no serious investment in both human and business capital, the chances of having fatalities are very high.
This is the case at Vedanta’s Zambian subsidiary KCM, which has been operating without capital injection into the business and human capital. This has resulted in the company cutting down costs to maximise profits by bypassing certain safety procedures in the quest to meet the growing demand for copper.
The first covers the myriad police violations of 22nd May in Thoothukudi, including attempts to split the movement prior to the protest, and torture of youth after the fatal shootings. The second details the plight of Thoothukudi’s fishermen whose seas have been rendered barren due to pollution.
Gunning down a protest
The police open fire, in a “stage-managed” riot situation, on people protesting against the Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The death of 13 people and the grievous injuries suffered by many have only strengthened the residents’ resolve to fight against industries that threaten lives and livelihoods.
On the morning of May 22, Vanitha stood at the doorstep of her one-room house in Lion’s Town, a fishermen’s locality in Thoothukudi town in southern Tamil Nadu, and caught sight of her daughter waving to her from the street corner. The 18-year-old “darling” of her parents and two elder brothers was on her way to the Our Lady of Snows Basilica nearby. Residents had been asked to assemble there to participate in a rally to mark the 100th day of the “anti-Sterlite struggle”.
7th September. This year was Vedanta’s 14th AGM, since registering on the London Stock Exchange in December 2003, and the 14th year that dissident shareholders have attended the meeting to hold the company to account for their environmental and human rights abuses. The minutes published by activist shareholders every year, documenting the company’s response to these, and other questions, represent important disclosures on Vedanta’s operations, finances and legal issues. Please spread them far and wide!
Minutes of Vedanta Resources’ 2017 AGM
In the beginning
1. After lengthy introductory remarks, the Chair, Anil Agarwal, opened the meeting. He called 2017 a year of great potential for Vedanta, noting they were now the sixth largest diversified resources company. He claimed that since 2003 the group has returned over £2 billion to shareholders, and heralded Vedanta’s positioning, because India and Africa give a unique opportunity for growth. While other companies look to China, he said, Vedanta has India, which is the fastest growing country in the world. Vedanta claims to be one of the biggest tax payers in India. By way of demonstrating his political connections in India, Mr. Agarwal noted he was able to join the Indian State visit to South Africa.
2. He assured shareholders that safety across the company continues to be a priority, claiming again that they are making zero harm, zero waste and zero discharge the ultimate goal. There is some way to go, but he claimed they will not stop until they have achieved this. Agarwal highlighted the ‘challenge’ of climate change and claimed that Vedanta takes its responsibility to society seriously, with various claims to be helping up to 2 million people, especially women and children. In July the company had held its third annual sustainable development meeting with various stakeholders in London. They claimed to welcome ongoing dialogue with NGOs, governments and stakeholders.
In 1969 the first of three aluminium smelters was built in Iceland at Straumsvík, near Hafnafjörður, on the South West side of Reykjavík by Alusuisse (subsequently Rio Tinto-Alcan). In 1998 a second smelter was constructed by Century Aluminum (now a subsidiary of controversial mining giant Glencore), at Hvalfjörður near Reykjavík, and in 2007 the third, run by Alcoa, was completed at Reyðarfjörður in the remotely populated East of the country. The Icelandic Government had been advertising the country’s vast ‘untapped’ hydroelectric and geothermal energy at ‘the lowest prices in Europe’ hoping to attract jobs and industry to boost Iceland’s already very wealthy but somewhat fishing dependent economy. The industry, which would permanently change Iceland’s landscape with mega-dams, heavy industry scale geothermal plants and several kilometer long factories, was promoted by the Icelandic Government and the aluminium companies as ‘good employment for a modern age’. However, ten years after the flagship Alcoa Fjarðaál project was completed, unemployment is higher than it was in 2005, and Iceland’s economy has become dependent on an industry which is vulnerable to commodity cycle slumps and mass job losses. Worse, the price charged for Iceland’s energy is tied to the price of aluminium and analyses of the country’s 2008/9 economic crisis suggest it was exacerbated by the poor terms of Iceland’s late industrialisation. Yet demands for further industrialisation remain, and more than 1000 Icelanders are employed in the aluminium sector.
This article exposes the conditions inside Iceland’s aluminium smelters based on interviews with workers conducted in 2012. The stories from two smelters share correlating accounts of being forced to work in dangerous conditions under extreme pressure, and without adequate safety equipment, leading to serious accidents which are falsely reported by the companies. These shocking allegations require serious attention by the trade unions, Icelandic government and health and safety authorities. This especially in the current context of labour disputes with the aluminium companies, alongside revelations about the same companies’ tax avoidance schemes and profiteering in the country.
July 20th 2016.In October 2015 Foil Vedanta visited Vedanta’s Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) for the second time to investigate the legacy of pollution that has destroyed the environment and livelihoods around Chingola since 2004, when Vedanta bought controlling shares in KCM. KCM is Africa’s largest copper mine and the largest mining company in the copper dependent economy of Zambia. Our 2014 report Copper Colonialism: Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia exposed some of KCM’s major corporate malpractices including large scale tax evasion and mis-declaring profits, labour rights violations, and gross pollution which has continually contaminated the river Kafue causing sickness and loss of livelihood for tens of thousands of Zambians. We accused Vedanta and the UK government, which has given KCM active and tacit support, of neo-colonialism and of treating Zambian lives and environment as cheap.
We were particularly shocked when we visited KCM’s Nchanga smelter in the heart of Chingola town, to see communities living less than 50m away from the fume belching and extremely noisy smelter. KCM is less known for emitting toxic fumes than Swiss miner Glencore’s Mopani smelter in nearby Mufilira town which causes misery for the residents of Kankoyo district, but walking along East 1st Street and 2nd Street which run directly along the factor wall our eyes immediately began burning and itching and we developed headaches and sore throats within a few minutes.
Residents of Nchanga South explained how the plant was built in 2006 without any prior consultation with the community, who were only aware of the development when they saw construction taking place. The construction of the smelter encroached into their community as the factory wall was moved out, covering 1st Street, which had previously run alongside the wall, and instead building a new wall directly behind the resident’s plots, bringing the polluting plant right up to their garden walls. When the community (many of whom work for KCM) met with representatives to voice their concerns about fumes and pollution from the smelter they were told it was a modern plant with no detectable fumes and would have no impact on them.