China has once again been accused of human right violations. This time in Africa. The anger over the treatment of African workers in Chinese mining companies has triggered a burgeoning diplomatic crisis and exposed the exploitation as well as unethical practices adopted by Chinese employers in the African nation.
On July 1, a Zimbabwean rights group slammed Chinese-run mining companies of “rampant abuse” after two workers were shot and wounded, allegedly by their Chinese boss, after they complained about outstanding wages.
The incident was captured on video and was widely shared on Twitter which further caused a widespread rage in the country. The Chinese national has been charged with attempted murder and released on bail.
“The problem of ill-treatment of workers is systematic and widespread and what that shooting did was to expose the rampant abuse of workers. Wages are often very low and in many cases are not paid on time. If someone tries to exercise their right as a worker and demand what is due to them get assaulted or shot,” Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) said in a statement.
In Chinese controlled mining firms, forced labour and torture in the diamond mining industry, and other mining activities are rampant.
Zimbabwe is a dependent partner with China providing the largest market for its exports and support to its fragile economy. Chinese companies look for a good return of their investment and hence, they exploit the country’s economic condition and the workforce.
In 2019, the Zimbabwe government signed a huge mining deal with a Chinese firm Tsignchan worth $2 billion to extract iron ore, chrome, coal, nickel and other natural resources.
As per the Brookings Report of 2016, there are at least 10,000 Chinese people in Zimbabwe and most of them are involved in mining, telecom and construction sectors. Chinese presence in such large numbers in the country cause tensions among locals.
In February, a group of local miners at a Matobo-based firm in Matabeleland South province complained of their firing from jobs by Chinese employers in a court. Workers accused their Chinese employer of gross human rights abuses ranging from beating and unfair dismissals.
“These guys are ruthless. Once you complain of poor working conditions at the mine, you get beaten up. We are working for 12 hours a day and only get paid for eight hours which is not fair,” one worker complained.
Another worker said, “Last week, they thrashed us and we reported the matter to our union. But to our surprise, they fired us all from work without severance packages and January salaries. These guys do not respect labour laws at all.”
“It has become a pattern and a system. We have cases where miners are abused, beaten and discriminated against by Chinese miners. Locals in some Chinese-owned mines often operate dangerous, harsh and life-threatening conditions, while being paid poorly,” ZELA said. The group urged the government to rethink the country’s ties with China.
The fallout threatens to undermine China’s diplomatic efforts in Africa built over the decades with China’s trade with the continent amounting $208 billion in 2019.