The mining industry has a big role to play in the future of human rights in Zimbabwe

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How employees in the mining industry understand human rights and peace can help to reframe regulation on human rights policies and support peacebuilding efforts. However, as Julia Croce writes, it may also encourage the industry to develop new managerial skills including geopolitical expertise for managers operating in areas affected by social inequality.

Insiza, Umzingwani, and Kadoma are mining districts in Zimbabwe where social conflict is particularly present. The largely foreign-owned industry has had negative environmental and socio‐economic effects including low wages, poor working conditions, and racial discrimination. This has generated hostility from local communities. Among employees working for mining companies in these areas, ideas and perceptions about peace and human rights are linked to the implementation of justice and workplace equality.

Zimbabwe is poised to become a significant force in African mining. Its competitive mineral resources, well-maintained infrastructure, and skilled workforce have attracted considerable interest from new foreign investors over the last decades. In turn, the mining industry has also adversely affected community peace, livelihoods, and human rights.

Mining companies are required to assume responsibility for the peace and human rights impact of their work and to ensure that their chain of suppliers and subcontractors is conflict-free. As a result, the actions of mining companies will have a major influence on the future of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Shifting perspective

Employees in Zimbabwe’s mining industry have always been active in protecting their communities and rights. However, peace and human rights remain a mirage for them, and their ideas about them draw on principles of justice and equality. Peace is often described as a psychological status (“peace of the mind”), a geopolitical condition, and a political process. Human rights are by workers as vital needs often linked to labour rights and the right to decent work.

“… I am privileged because my company has a human rights policy…[that] was co-created by the management and the employees. I train colleagues to protect everyone from racial discrimination. I try to bring international standards in my company that probably in a country like Zimbabwe are not taken into consideration.” (Safety Officer)

“…. I think peace is quite multifaceted. I think in terms of politics, peace is when you can choose a party or political party without being discriminated. Then socially, I think peace is where children, families, and societies are able to express themselves in terms of religions without being judged by anyone, and, of course, the economic peace is when you are able to access funds, especially for young people.” (Miner)

Employees associate peace and human rights with values that contribute to reducing conflict and improving equality in the workplace and local communities.

“…. Peace brings growth amongst us as human beings and it brings unity. I think as organizations, we can do more to help growing a culture of peace. I need to learn more in my role as a facilitator. However, I helped to create in our company a platform where employees come together, and we try to create smooth relationships between the employees, the community, and the management.” (Safety Officer)

These views reveal an urgent need to improve regulations on human rights, and for mining companies to mobilise financial resources and involve local stakeholders in making decisions and executing initiatives over peace.

“…. They [executive managers] talk about human rights only on the paper.” (Assistant Manufacture of Oxygen)

“….. My comrades and I believe that business and government do not put the needs of the African countries at the centre of their policy for building peace. Investors in Zimbabwe they should basically change their mind and put at the centre of their operation not only profits.” (Maintenance Officer)

Looking forward

To prevent any harm, the simplest thing for a company to do would be to withdraw. Few companies would consider that a viable business strategy, especially when the potential profits from mining in the showcased regions are so high. The principle of “do no harm” is also popular when putting in place conflict-sensitive business practices, but such guidance is insufficient in settings where business ecosystems must harm at least some people to operate. Zimbabwe’s largest mining operations are located near major agricultural areas, and the contaminated water from industry affects local farmers.

The mining companies operating in Zimbabwe clearly have a societal impact, whether for good or for ill. To assess this impact, there needs to be a coherent understanding of social constructs, such as those relating to human rights and peace. Governmental institutions are identified by workers in Insiza, Umzingwani, and Kadoma districts as suitable to address the risk of mining involvement in human rights abuses and in amplifying the fragility of peace. However, forms of abusive power still represent sources of conflict within local communities identified as scarcity, inequality, distributive injustice, and insecurity.

To minimise the negative impact of mining activity new forms of public-private cooperation and partnerships with new forms of mutual accountability are required. In a similar vein, the mining industry can start to include explicit peace-related policies and build geopolitical expertise. By training managers to interpret and navigate the intersection between geopolitics and business, companies would have a positive impact on the implementation of peace and human rights policies. This would also encourage the promotion of a “social good” mandate for companies and calls to action to promote justice and workplace equality about peace and human rights.

Photo credit:  used with permission CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

About the author


Julia Croce

Julia Croce is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. In her research, Julia investigates the politicisation of business and the conceptual and normative foundation of this state-like role of corporations in terms of legitimacy and democratic processes. This article was first published by here by the LSE.Blog