Press release

Glencore: Dangerous Business in a Fragile State

21.10.2020

Berne / Lucerne, 21 October 2020. The copper and cobalt mines operated by the Swiss commodity group Glencore in the Democratic Republic of the Congo pose considerable risks to the local environment and human health. A new report by Bread for All and Catholic Lenten Fund shows how difficult it is for the victims to obtain justice in a country with a weak judiciary. The Responsible Business Initiative, which will be voted on in a month’s time, could provide redress in the future.

In February 2014, 23-year-old Mutombo Kasuyi was crossing the grounds of the KCC copper and cobalt mine, which belongs to the Swiss commodity group Glencore. He was seized by a mine security patrol and shortly afterwards taken to a hospital in Kolwezi, where a doctor pronounced him dead. Mutombo’s family immediately filed a criminal complaint; two autopsies revealed that Mutombo probably died as a result of physical violence. Despite this, two security guards charged in connection with the death were acquitted in the initial trial.

The court of second instance referred the case back to the first court for a retrial because the first procedure had not been handled in conformity with the law: the KCC security patrol officers had contradicted each other, and important pieces of evidence had mysteriously vanished or had been ignored. That was three years ago, but nothing has happened since. At the beginning of 2020 it finally emerged that the referral ruling had suddenly disappeared from the case file. Mutombo’s family has thus been waiting for over six years for a final judgment and for clarity regarding the events of February 2014.

No guarantee of a fair trial

The development organizations Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All have painstakingly researched this legal case from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRK) for their latest report. The case exemplifies how difficult it can be for victims of human rights violations to obtain justice in countries with fragile state institutions like the DRC. And it highlights the fact that in these states the right to a fair trial cannot be taken for granted.

The Responsible Business Initiative would provide redress for victims in such cases. The alleged perpetrators were either directly employed by the Glencore subsidiary KCC or were under its operational supervision. Hence, it would have to be examined whether the case falls under the liability clause of the initiative, which will come to a vote on 29 November 2020. The initiative might pave the way for victims like Mutombo’s family to seek justice in Switzerland, where they could file a civil liability suit against Glencore.

Outsourcing of toxic risks

The latest report is the fifth by Bread for All and Catholic Lenten Fund on Glencore’s activities in the DRC since 2011. In addition to the case of Mutombo Kasuyi, it documents a tragic accident involving a truck carrying sulfuric acid near Kolwezi in February 2019, in which 21 people died and at least seven others were injured, some seriously. The acid was intended for Glencore’s Mutanda mine, but the company had subcontracted the transportation to another company. That company then commissioned another subcontractor, which in turn delegated the delivery to a private truck owner.

This outsourcing of risk over three levels meant that no one wanted to take responsibility for the accident: the truck owner had not insured his vehicle and went into hiding after the accident. It wasn’t until a year and a half later, when Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All were researching the case, that the owner of the truck offered compensation to some of the victims through his lawyers. Moreover, it is questionable whether Glencore did everything possible to ensure that all vehicles used in its transportation supply chain were covered by an adequate liability insurance.

Hearing before Milo Rau’s Congo Tribunal

The accident involving the sulfuric acid truck is among the cases heard in the new Congo Tribunal by Swiss director and author Milo Rau. Next Sunday, 25 October 2020, a presentation and discussion of the findings of the “Kolwezi Hearings” on a series of human rights violations as well as cases of environmental pollution and corruption in the mining region of Kolwezi will take place in the Zurich Schauspielhaus.

Downloads: Photos and graphics, summary of the report, full version of the report (German only)

Information: Nina Burri, Bread for All, +41 79 489 38 24; burri@bfa-ppp.ch