Thursday, April 26, 2012

Are the Chinese the Worst? A Comparative ILO Study in Zambia

In all the heat over the Human Rights Watch study of a Chinese mining company in Zambia, I may have missed discussions of a 2010 study by the ILO (authored by Chrispin Radoka Matenga) that actually compared companies in Zambia's copper belt: "The Impact of the Global Financial and Economic Crisis on Job Losses and Conditions of Work in the Mining Sector in Zambia." 

This paper has data on employment, accidents, and so on across the mines. According to the study: "Comparing these [accident] figures with the total number of employees for each mine in Table 3 and 4 above, NFCA [the Chinese copper company] has the highest accident rate for all the mines in the country" (p. 12).

A Zambian official said: “Safety records for most companies have drastically gone down, with most companies recording slightly higher levels of accidents. For example, the Chinese have the worst safety record. In some of these mines, you find the boss himself is going underground with flipflops”.

Conditions of work are bad in a number of non-Chinese mines, especially for contract workers:
"For example, Bresmar Investment Limited, a contractor company with Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi, has reduced wages for its workers from K3,600 per hour to K2,900.40 per hour. These workers toil for 12 hours a day for seven (7) continuous days and rest for four (4) days."
I found out about this study via an April 8, 2012 posting by Research for Development at the Rural Modernity blog.


  1. Thanks for the referral!

    Rural Modernity

  2. Deborah, a new myth for you to kill (or confirm although I doubt that will be the outcome).

    I just returned from a China in Africa seminar where a journalist from one of Norway's biggest newspapers told us a story that he had heard of.

    The World Bank was just about to cancel the debt on a loan they had given DRC, however, just as they were discussing the conditions for the debt cancelation China offered the DRC a 6 billion loan. The DRC would only be able to afford taking up the new Chinese loan if they got the debt cancellation from the World Bank.

    The people at the world bank got to view the contract but it was written in Chinese, no one at the DRC governmetn could read it either, so the world bank decided it was best not to give the debt cancellation in order to prevent the DRC from that uncertain Chinese loan.

    erhm...strange that no one at the World Bank could read it...China is after all the third biggest member.

    1. Well, this is one of the silliest stories I've heard about the DRC/China package! The basic framework is of course well known (that the IMF/World bank refused to give the DRC a debt cancellation if it took the new loan from the Chinese). It was not that the DRC wouldn't be able to afford the Chinese loan (as it was to be repaid out of new production from a renovated copper mine). But the contract is written in two versions, French and Chinese. It has circulated widely and many people have copies of it. True, it took the IMF/WB quite a while to obtain a copy through official channels. And yes, you spot the silliness in this story. The IMF/WB have plenty of people who could read a Chinese contract. But that wasn't necessary, as it was negotiated by the DRC (Gecamines) team, in Beijing, over a period of months and it was not a surprise to the DRC government. For more on this, see my blog post:

  3. And I stupidly thought that after so many years of mis-reporting maybe there was some improvement in the quality of newspaper reporting about China-Africa links. An insult to intelligence. Ah well...

  4. should point out that the "Zambian official" quoted was actually the Vice President of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia...

  5. @oscar, thanks for pointing that out.