China rebukes slavery charge in overseas mining

08:35, January 22, 2010      

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China said it will maintain strict management of its mining businesses overseas, after a Zambian politician criticized Chinese firms in the country.

"We have strict business principles for firms operating overseas," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Thursday. "We require them to foster a harmonious relationship with local people by respecting local laws and culture. They must fulfill their corporate social responsibility and safeguard their local employees' legitimate rights."

Ma's comments came a day after Michael Sata, leader of Zambia's main opposition Patriotic Front, slammed Chinese and other Asian mining firms operating in Zambia.

In a typically blunt assessment of the foreign mining sector, Sata, who has a fair chance of unseating President Rupiah Banda in the 2011 elections, said the special tax status and "economic zones" granted to outside investors were a political and racial powderkeg.

"We don't hate the Chinese. We don't hate the Malaysians, but when they come here, they should treat us like human beings," Sata, a gruff 72-year-old nicknamed "King Cobra" for his venomous tongue, told Reuters in an interview.

However, Zambian Mines Minister Maxwell Mwale dismissed Sata's claims that Chinese mine bosses were replicating China's poor mine safety and "slave labor" conditions in Africa, but he did admit to a difference in approaches.

"The Chinese are operating just as well as any other investor in this country," he told Reuters. "They have their own home-country culture, and we, as a host country, have our host-country culture."

Sydney Chileya, spokesman for Luanshya Copper Mines, a unit of China Nonferrous Metals Mining Corporation, said the firm was offering reasonable wages.

"As far as we are concerned, we are operating well within the Zambian labor laws," Chileya told Reuters. "Our lowest paid of the 2,300 employees get 1.2 million kwacha ($272.4) per month, and that is way above the stipulated minimum wage of 260,000 kwacha ($59) per month."

The spokesman for the Chinese-owned Chambishi Copper Smelter, Lewis Mulenga, said the company was not operating under slavery conditions.

"We are regularly inspected by officials from the government, and the government is happy that we are not flouting the Zambian laws," Mulenga told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Ma said that most Chinese firms operating overseas stick to the aforementioned principles and Chinese authorities will keep a close eye on them.

Reuters - Global Times
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