Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector
Human Rights Issues by Sector

Case Studies

August 2014, South Africa: An appeal has been lodged against a government decision to allow development of one of the world's largest platinum mines in Limpopo Province. More...

May 2011, Democratic Republic of Congo: As the USA brings in rules aiming to prevent armed groups from profiting from the sale of tin ore, tungsten, gold and coltan, the DRC government plans to validate mines that are free of child labour More...

Mining and Metals

Core products and processes
Products include metals and minerals, coal, precious and semi-precious gemstones, building and road materials and industrial non-metal products. The mining and metals sector (which includes quarrying) covers the key life-cycle phases:

  • exploration (geological surveying, mapping)
  • mine planning (modelling the ore reserve, mine layout, scheduling)
  • mine development and operation (construction of mining infrastructure, extraction of ore, waste management)
  • processing (smelting, refining, casting and finishing, electroplating)
  • mine closure (decommissioning, dismantling)

Key human rights related risks

  • Workplace conditions, including collective bargaining/the right to join a trade union
  • Health and safety
  • Use of forced and child labour
  • Security for workforce and local communities
  • Threats to livelihoods due to monopolisation of resources (including land and other natural resources depended on by local populations) and relocation of communities away from traditional means of living
  • Loss of income from the mine following closure
  • Large migrant populations, mainly male, can disrupt social cohesion and can lead to the spread of disease (eg HIV/Aids) to the existing population
  • Security contractors in areas of conflict may be connected to military/paramilitary groups
  • Misuse of revenues (corruption) by government officials may reduce local populations' access to services
  • Local infrastructure (including health and access to water) may be over-stretched by the mine development.

Examples of voluntary and trade initiatives

  • The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI): supports openness, improved governance and accountable management of revenues from natural resources
  • The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights : developed to guide companies in balancing the need for safety and security while respecting human rights
  • The Kimberley Process: a government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments
  • The International Council on Mining and Metals: an industry body which has agreed a Sustainable Development Framework (commitments, public reporting and independent assurance)
  • Forest Peoples Programme: supports indigenous forest peoples to defend their lands and livelihoods from developments (including dams, mines, oil wells and gas pipelines) that force them out of their homes.

There are links to these initiatives in Resources.


Core Operations

Health and Safety

Companies need to be aware of the risks to health and safety and take steps to avoid accidents and limit their consequences.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Fatal and non-fatal incidents caused by major events, eg mine collapse, faulty equipment or risk of explosion of volatile materials
  • Fatal and non-fatal incidents and injuries which could be prevented with relevant training, information/ education of employees delivered in appropriate languages and protective clothing/equipment
  • Respiratory and skin diseases caused by exposure to dust, chemicals and other particles in the air
  • Spread of communicable disease among workers due to lack of education or poor living conditions
  • Mismanagement of an incident (eg fire, plant shut-down, broken gas pipe)
  • Women may be employed in the more hazardous and polluting (but less physically demanding) aspects of mining activities such as processing plants and milling units
  • Employee exposure to attacks and abuse from local people or pressure groups opposed to the mine.

Collective bargaining/trade unions

In some locations the freedom of association of workers is limited.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • In countries where trade union activity is seen by governments or business as a barrier to economic growth, national laws and norms may be barriers to collective bargaining. In some jurisdictions, trade unions are illegal
  • The location of mines and the lack of employment alternatives can mean that labour supply is larger than demand. This can weaken the position of workers seeking to enforce their rights
  • Many workers in the sector are from migrant communities who are unaware of their rights and how to enforce them
  • Mine workers are often migrants (and also immigrants). They can be excluded from unions and other structures through discrimination or language differences.

Child Labour

There is a high incidence of child labour in this sector.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Children may be required to work long hours digging, breaking and loading stones, and undertaking other ore processing activities, in toxic and hazardous environments without adequate safety measures
  • Children are at high risk of accidents, injuries and chronic health problems and disorders.
  • They may have little or no access to basic amenities like healthcare or education
  • Children are vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse.

Migrant workers

Migrant workers can constitute a large component of the workforce due to lack of local labour skills and resource.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Migrant workers may be subject to degrading or life-threatening treatment or lack of equal opportunity for promotion, due to discrimination against workers from other cultures or races
  • There may also be discrimination with regard to working hours, rates of pay, proper training, housing conditions and access to health care or education
  • Migrant and immigrant workers can have their travel documents held by the employer as a condition of work. This detracts from freedom of movement and is a form of bonded labour.

Security of operations

Security operations cover the activities undertaken by a company and/or its contractors to protect assets and ensure the safety of employees.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • In conflict zones or failing states, there is potential for security contractors to be complicit in fuelling conflict by aiding illegal armed groups, including payment of protection money
  • Security forces may over-react to protests against a project. This can result in an escalation of violence, leading to the injury or death of union members and others exercising their right to protest
  • Security operations should consider the safety of workers beyond the boundaries of the project - when travelling to and from work or in housing facilities
  • Lack of effective security can lead to attacks, theft of dangerous equipment and an unsafe environment for workers

Controls and mitigants

  • Compliance with local/national law is the starting point
  • Even if local/national law, standards or enforcement are lower than internationally accepted good practice, a company should apply the same consistent and effective management practices globally (on workforce, community health and safety, supplier screening, site safety and security)
  • Health and safety plan communicated to all workers in their own language and supported by robust governance procedures
  • Regular health checks available to workers
  • Emergency preparedness/accident response plan to ensure safety of workers in the event of explosion or other serious incident and to limit the effects of the incident as far as possible
  • Policies and procedures on employment and protection of young workers including prevention and mitigation measures in relation to child labour
  • Policies and procedures on collective bargaining and recognition of trade unions
  • Policies and procedures on anti-discrimination and equal opportunities, including the protection and welfare of migrant workers
  • Policies and procedures around security, covering the employment and training of security workers; dealing with violent and non-violent protests; and use of local police force if arrests or detention are necessary
  • Companies should communicate their policies regarding ethical conduct and human rights to security providers, including the need for personnel to receive adequate and effective training
  • Security contractors should be competent and the number of staff deployed should be appropriate and proportional to the need
  • In cases where physical force is used by security, such incidents should be reported to the appropriate authorities and to the company. Where force is used, medical aid should be provided to all injured persons
  • A security contractor should respect the confidentiality of information obtained as a result of its position as security provider

Supply Chain

Companies face human rights issues and risks in their supply chain, as purchasers of goods and services from other companies/sub-contractors which may be associated with poor practice or controversy.

Workplace conditions

Workplace conditions include factors such as working hours, wages, health and safety and disciplinary practices.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Artisanal and Small-scale Mines (ASMs) can form part of the supply chain for major mining companies. ASMs tend to use low-skilled manual labour and have poor health and safety standards. Whole families, including children may be employed in the mine
  • ASMs may sit outside the formal economy and are sometimes connected to organised crime and corruption.

Livelihood and standard of living

This covers the rights to work, a fair wage and an adequate standard of living. These rights also support the realisation of other rights such as the right to health, housing, participation in the culture of the community, education and the right to a family life.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Procurement activities can make a positive, neutral or negative contribution to the local economy and the economic rights of the local community. If local businesses (cleaning, construction or catering) are unable to operate to the scale required, non-local suppliers will be selected, contributing to local unemployment.

Controls and mitigants

  • Ethical and environmental supplier screening policy covering labour relations issues, sustainable/ethical sourcing of materials and transparency/bribery. Suppliers should be aware of potential hazards and have systems in place to protect workers and communities
  • Clearly defined procedures around use of indigenous peoples' knowledge and resources, including payment, benefit-sharing or other consideration
  • Procurement policies and procedures in place which encourage the use of local suppliers and support the use of small and medium enterprises.

Communities

Livelihood and standard of living

This covers the rights to work, a fair wage and an adequate standard of living. These rights also support the realisation of other rights such as the right to health, housing, participation in the culture of the community, education and the right to a family life.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Threat to life and livelihoods due to use of land and other resources previously depended on by local populations
  • Relocation of communities away from traditional means of living
  • Reduced standard of living due to environmental impacts (including dust, emissions, vibration, noise, vehicle movement and impact, pollution, use of hazardous substances and materials, water and soil contamination, destruction of habitats and other resources)
  • Health and safety issues include waste disposal, use of dangerous chemicals, failure of tailings or dams, transport movements
  • Lack of effective security creates health and safety risks for the community (especially children/young people unaware of the dangers of machinery, falling objects, pits and so on)
  • The sector employs a high proportion of male workers. This can lead to mistreatment of women (including sex crimes and sexually transmitted diseases) and lack of equal opportunity
  • Infrastructure and basic services (health, education, water) may be overstretched so some local people are unable to access these services
  • Communities may consume contaminated water, causing health problems
  • Loss of income from the mine can be a problem following closure.

Local and indigenous peoples' rights

This covers issues associated with activities that impact on ancestral land. This includes: cultural heritage; the use of natural local resources; and damage to sites which form the basis of the identity of local and indigenous groups.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous populations and/or lack of process to explore this can lead to arbitrary destruction of identity and livelihood
  • Violent, repressive and life-threatening removal of local and indigenous groups from lands. This may be facilitated by host governments which do not recognise indigenous groups or their rights
  • Lack of, or unfair, compensation arrangements or delayed payments
  • Revenues may be channelled by host governments to support the national economy or development agenda, which may not benefit local and indigenous people
  • Damage to cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of local and indigenous groups

Impact of migrant population

This covers human rights such as the right to health, adequate standard of living, and non-discrimination that may be threatened due to large influxes of workers.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Large, mainly male, migrant populations away from their families are a market for prostitution. This can lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/Aids) within the area and to families when workers return home
  • Basic health and hygiene standards of housing provided to workers can be poor, leading to illness and the risk of disease being passed on to the local population
  • There can be social conflict and a negative impact on social cohesion.

Controls and mitigants

  • A stakeholder engagement plan to ensure full and effective consultation with all stakeholders
  • A community awareness and education plan as part of health and safety measures
  • Rehabilitation of land disturbed or occupied by operations in accordance with appropriate post-mining land uses
  • Recognition of existing communities' rights
  • Emergency response plan to protect affected communities in the event of a major incident such as the release of hazardous materials. This should include the provision of emergency water and food supplies to local community if usual sources are contaminated
  • Clearly defined procedures on the use of indigenous peoples' knowledge and resources, including payment, benefit-sharing or other consideration
  • Policies and procedures on conservation and sustainable use of finite resources eg: water, energy, land, which take account of local community need for these resources now and in the future
  • Policies and procedures to ensure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities; ensuring that vulnerable groups are part of the consultation process and including a complaints mechanism for local communities
  • Policy and procedures on the relocation of communities, including measures around consultation, prompt and adequate compensation and continuation of livelihoods
  • Policies and procedures on the conservation of cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of local and/or indigenous groups.

Society and Governments

Abuse of human rights by host governments

This covers human rights abuses carried out by or on behalf of the government. The mining and metal company may have a relationship with the government which controls the region where the mine is situated.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

Any benefits derived (directly or indirectly) from abuses perpetrated by the government, may result in the company being perceived as complicit in the abuse. Due to the large footprint of mining operations and the importance to national economies of metal and mineral resources, there may be potential for:

  • Government use of forced or bonded labour to extract and realise nationally important resources
  • The violent removal, severe repression or arrest of protestors and resisting indigenous groups by governments or their agents

Revenue transparency and capital flight

There may be corrupt practices or economic disruption within a state.

Main issues for the mining and metals sector:

  • Failure by the state to provide basic services to local people
  • Increased cost of essential items such as food
  • Perception that companies are not paying tax due, if revenue is not seen to be benefitting local community

Controls and mitigants

  • Compliance with local/national law is the starting point
  • Even if local/national law, standards or enforcement are lower than internationally accepted good practice, a company should apply the same consistent and effective management practices globally
  • Ensuring that agreements with host governments reflect the rights of indigenous and local people
  • Transparency in reporting all payments made to host governments, locally and nationally.

See also the broader UNEP FI Environmental and Social Risk Briefing and Resources.

 

December 2014     United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative