- July 24, 2019

In June and July soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo marched on two of the country’s main copper and cobalt mines – China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume and Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Concession. Their objective was to remove large numbers of artisanal miners who had entered the mining concessions to protest against the government’s failure to provide regulated artisanal mining zones where the miners could work.

 The army’s deployment caused considerable alarm, in part because the soldiers were led by General John Numbi, a notorious officer sanctioned by the US and EU in 2016 for his previous role in human rights abuses. As the army deployed, at least 43 artisanal miners at the KCC mine were killed in a landslide as they attempted to dig for copper and cobalt.

Under pressure from civil society, and perhaps worried at what might unfold, Glencore wrote to the Congolese government urging the army to use “restraint.” The company invoked the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a set of principles designed to guide extractive industry companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations in a manner that encourages respect for human rights. 

On the face of it, it appeared a good step. But did it help to ease the situation or was this simply a form of risk insurance for Glencore?

RAID has conducted considerable analysis on how extractive industry companies apply the Voluntary Principles. We have found that companies, by failing to act or by saying they cannot act when abuses are perpetuated, can send the message that the excessive use of force, including lethal force, is acceptable.

In some instances public security forces operate in the interest of private companies, allowing business operations to continue in what might otherwise be unstable or insecure environments. In other words, the “dirty work” of imposing security through force may be out-sourced, with less legal accountability for the company.  

RAID’s analysis was set out in a detailed submission to the UN Working Group in March 2019, which examined the human rights impact of private military and security companies operating in the extractive industry.

One of the examples RAID drew from was Acacia Mining, a UK listed gold mining company operating in Tanzania. The company has an agreement with the Tanzanian police to provide security at its North Mara mine, which it says is in line with Voluntary Principles. RAID’s view is that this agreement, by which the mine pays and equips the police to provide security and supervise, select and issue assignments to police personnel in coordination with the company, has increased the incidence of human rights violations. Aspects of the agreement are not compliant with the model clauses under the Voluntary Principles, but it appears to serve its purpose by allowing Acacia to use armed police to secure its operations while denying that the company is responsible for the violations.

 RAID also drew on previous examples from Glencore’s KCC mine. The lessons learned from the analysis are relevant to all companies working in similar situations.

Firstly, the Voluntary Principles should not be viewed as a form of “risk insurance”, setting out the supposed limit to a company’s influence over public security so that, should human rights violations occur, the company can distance itself. Companies such as Glencore or Acacia can, after all, cease to do business when there is a likelihood that action by state forces in securing a company’s operations will give rise to abuse.

Secondly, security arrangements should be open and transparent. In the most recent example, Glencore claimed that KCC has not called in the Congolese army. Yet, in a July 4th  open letter to the Congolese president, KCC referred to “the meetings held with the provincial and national authorities over the last week”  and how “the Government of the DRC has decided to deploy the Armed Forces of the DRC (“FARDC”) to the Kolwezi region to address the situation relating to illegal mining.” But Glencore provided no details on what arrangements were agreed at these meeting. Indeed, the Voluntary Principals direct companies to encourage host governments to make security arrangements “transparent and accessible to the public.”

Thirdly, under the Voluntary Principles it says clearly that companies should consider “the available human rights records of public security forces” adding that “awareness of past abuses and allegations can help companies to avoid recurrences as well as to promote accountability.” Given the notorious reputation of General Numbi, why did Glencore not set this concern out in its letter to the government?

The Voluntary Principles should not be seen as an avenue for companies to distance themselves from legal risk. They were devised to maintain the safety and security of business operations in a framework that ensures respect for human rights. Business corporations would do well to keep the “respect for human rights” aim at the heart of their security operations.

To read the full RAID submission to the UN Working group, please click here.