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China in Africa: The Real Story

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

Deborah Brautigam

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.