Dust in the air and polluted soils : Glencore does not exercise enough due diligence in Congo

Lastwagen, die Kupfer und Kobalt transportieren, verursachen auf der Strasse zu Glencore’s KCC-Mine massive Staubbelastung. Foto: Meinrad Schade

Berne/Lucerne, 27 November 2018 - The Swiss commodity trading group Glencore, with its copper and cobalt mines, continues to pollute the air and soil around the town of Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the latest report by Bread for All and Catholic Lenten Fund, however, the water supply and water pollution situation has improved. Nevertheless, the two organisations note that Glencore's due diligence for human rights and the environment is incomplete. This would be remedied by the corporate responsibility initiative, which is being deliberated in Parliament.

For Joseph Ilunga* the case is clear: “There is too much dust in the streets”. The nurse works in a health centre in Musonoi, a township of the Congolese mining town of Kolwezi. Especially in the dry season he treats many people with respiratory diseases. He also quickly identified the source of the air pollution. “It is the many trucks” that drive on the dirt roads to the nearby Kamoto Copper Company (KCC).

The copper and cobalt mine KCC belongs to the Swiss commodity trading and mining group Glencore. Pollutant measurements by Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All confirm the perception of Musonoi’s health personnel. At the end of May 2018, dust levels in the township and in Luilu, not far away, were between 150 and 300 micrograms per cubic metre, and as high as 500 micrograms on the access roads to the mine. The daily average limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 50 micrograms.

Repeated soil pollution

The high dust load is only one of the problems in the vicinity of KCC and Mutanda Mining (MUMI), the second large Glencore mine in the southeast of the DR Congo. In recent years, farmers’ fields near the mines have been repeatedly polluted by various pollutants. Glencore, under pressure from partner organisations of Bread for All and Catholic Lenten Fund, has compensated many victims for the crop failure. But the victims are still waiting for compensation for the lasting damage to their soil. Glencore also failed to disclose the exact composition of the leaked substances in two cases.

The most recent study is the fourth report by the two Swiss development organisations on Glencore’s activities in the DRC since 2011. Progress has also been made since the last report in 2014. For example, Glencore has now stopped the discharge of waste water from the KCC mine into the Luilu River. And for some of the inhabitants of the Luilu neighbourhood, a project to improve the water supply is underway. Moreover, Glencore has also improved communication with the population. 

Remedy through Responsible Business Initiative

Despite this progress, the latest report makes it clear that Glencore is not fully exercising its due diligence in the DRC. The scale and number of air and soil pollution incidents remain high. In addition, in some cases the Group did not initially acknowledge its responsibility for environmental and human rights problems and only initiated improvements in response to continued pressure from local partner organisations of Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All.

Once again, this shows that voluntary measures by corporations are not enough. Little happens without pressure from non-governmental organisations and civil society. Problems are often tackled only reluctantly and prevention measures are insufficient. A binding regulation for internationally active Swiss companies, such as the Responsible Business Initiative, is therefore absolutely necessary. Only in this way can compliance with human rights and environmental standards by Swiss companies abroad be promoted.

* Name changed for security reasons

Download materialImages, summary of the study, full version of the study (French only)

Questions: Yvan Maillard Ardenti, Bread for All, +41 79 489 38 24;