Beyond Unethical: Corporations Profit Billions from Abusing Congolese While the World Stands Idly By

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

DRC’s soil is reputed to contain every mineral listed on the periodic table in large, untapped amounts. On top of that, 80% of the minerals that fuel our technology, cell phones, electronics, cars, and computers come from Congo. Yet, DRC is the world’s poorest country and least developed in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators. While multinational corporations and governments exploit and maltreat Congolese to make our phones turn on or cars run, we as consumers also have played a complicit role in the devastating fate of Congo’s plight.

The largest commodities company in the world, Glencore, has used children as young as ten to recover cobalt and copper 150 feet underground hand dug shafts with no breathing or protective equipment in Tilwezembe mine in the Congo.

“All the way down there are ghostly-looking figures digging for copper, coated in choking grey dust. There are no safety standards. No one wears a hard hat. In the midst of all this, there are some boys working with bare hands and bare feet. We saw boys standing waist deep in toxic water, washing soil away from nuggets of copper.” John Sweeney, BBC Panorama investigation

The number of accidents at Tilwezembe is extraordinarily high: Panorama was told that 60 miners died there last year, making the mine one of the most dangerous in the world. One 16-year-old said accidents were commonplace and fatal rockfalls routine.

The notoriously secretive Swiss-based company and reportedly the supplier of 50 percent of the world’s copper, Glencore PLC, is also accused of dumping raw acid and toxic waste from their Luilu refinery straight into the local river 24/7.

The Luilu river is used by local people to wash and fish, but downstream of the Glencore pipe the water is acidic, extremely dangerous, brown sludge, according to a Panorama investigation. They tested the acidity of the wastewater and found a pH value of 1.9, where 1 is pure acid and 7 neutral.

Glencore’s acid waterfall stank of toxic fumes when BBC reporter John Sweeney visited a few weeks ago. One local Congolese complained:

“Fish can’t survive the acid. Glencore lacks any respect for people. No one would do that to another human being. It’s shocking.”

While children’s lives and the environment are severely botched and damaged, Glencore said it wants to raise its total investments in the Congo to 3.3 billion dollars by the end of the year. The company is hoping to merge with Xstrata, another mining company based in Switzerland, to create a behemoth with $90 billion in assets.

Two Swiss NGOs, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All published its findings on Glencore’s unethical practices April 16 as a followup to an earlier report when Glencore was listed on the stock market in 2011. Without the diligent devotion of these NGOs and activists like ourselves, we would be in the dark not only be about the horrible injustices committed by corporations but also our complicit roles in their actions.

It’s hard to even describe the horror and heart-wrenching sentiment I feel toward these corporations that kill for money. How low can we go? Not only did Glencore take in $186 billion in revenue last year, but its founder, Marc Rich who has been on FBI’s Top Ten list but was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Our actions and heavily-technology-dependent tendencies have profound impacts on populations halfway across the globe.

Urgent Time to Act

A child in a North Darfur refugee camp (radiodabanga)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

“Our concerns are heightened by clashes reported yesterday between the national armies of Sudan and South Sudan in Lake Jau and other border areas,” Melissa Fleming, Spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Over the past three days, new bomb attacks paralyze strategic areas of Sudan. Antonov planes dropped more than 40 bombs on the villages of Dika, Bain, Keda, Jok and Senagarai in North Darfur. Meanwhile, ground troops in six tanks and 150 vehicles moved in to the villages beating male residents, looting and burning houses. The soldiers also reportedly raped more than 30 women and girls and arrested ten of the men.

In addition, Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. The bombings come one day after Sudan and South Sudan clashed in the disputed border town of Jau, prompting Sudan to cancel President Omar al-Bashir’s trip to meet with South Sudan President Salva Kiir next week.

Making the humanitarian crisis more pressing and horrific is the refugee situation as thousands of displaced Sudanese face mass starvation and chronic water shortages.

“It took 17 days to walk here. We were facing hunger on the way, and that’s how other people starved to death, and with the rains, a lot of people lost their lives from pneumonia. The water here is not enough… People end up fighting at the water point.” Hamid Yussef Bashir, one of around 37,000 refugees in Jamam camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.

There is an urgent need to relocate fleeing refugees in order to avoid civilian casualties “among a population that has already endured a great deal of trauma,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In total, more than 105,000 Sudanese refugees forced to flee from attacks in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have ended up in South Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia.

When will signed peace treaties equate to zero civilian deaths and human rights abuses?

Children wash copper on at an open-air mine in Kamatanda in the rich mining province of Katanga. Forced by poverty;hundreds of children leave school to work at the mine. (Gwenn Dubourthoumieu , AFP/Getty Images)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Is corporate accountability possible? Human-rights groups, led by the Canadian Association Against Impunity (CAAI) and survivors of a massacre in the Katanga province of Democratic Republic of Congo have turned to the Supreme Court of Canada to sue a Canadian mining company on behalf of the victims of a massacre in Congo. Congolese families are seeking to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss a human rights case against the Canadian corporation Anvil Mining Limited. The company is alleged with providing logistical support including planes, trucks and drivers to Congolese troops who massacred over 100 unarmed civilians in Katanga province in 2004. The port was key to the operation of a copper mine, the exit point for $500,000 worth of copper and silver every day.

“My father has not lived to see justice delivered,” said Dickay Kunda (whose father, a policeman, was badly beaten and tortured while in military custody). His 22-year-old sister Dorcas also died after being raped by soldiers. “But after more than seven years, we now look to the Supreme Court of Canada for justice,” he added.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, advocates say the ruling could set a precedent for whether corporations can be held accountable for their involvement in human rights violations committed abroad. However a 2010 UN report says that “the Kilwa case demonstrates the difficulty in proving the legal responsibility of private companies in the perpetration of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.”

We, as responsible consumers have the voice and power to urge corporate accountability. We can do this by putting pressure and seeking justice on corporations who greedily make profit from exploiting populations and committing human rights abuses and also we can commit to buying conflict-free products.

BURMA

As we await Burma’s elections on April 1, the Burmese government has allowed the United Nations to ship a second round of humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas in northern Kachin state. It is only the second time the government has let international aid to enter areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization.

But unfortunately, the aid doesn’t come close to addressing the needs of tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Kachin. Aye Win, a U.N. spokesman in Rangoon, says the aid is not enough. He says there are at least 50,000 people displaced and in need of sustained help.

The UN has grown slightly more verbose over the matter, requesting that aid deliveries be continued well into the future (OCHA says food insecurity could last until the end of 2013). I urge that there needs to be a sustained commitment to humanitarian assistance to the 60,000 people in Kachin.