Glencore vs Panorama and John Sweeney | FT Alphaville

Glencore vs Panorama and John Sweeney

It’s hard being listed, huh?

In his first television interview, Glasenberg said that Glencore took corporate responsibility seriously, saying: “We care about the environment. We care about the local communities.”

But an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama has found Glencore dumping acid into a river and it discovered children as young as 10 working in the Tilwezembe mine, which was officially closed by Glencore in 2008. International law prohibits anyone under 18 working in a mine. Undercover researchers at Tilwezembe found under-18s who climbed down hand-dug mineshafts 150ft deep without safety or breathing equipment to dig copper and cobalt.

That’s from John Sweeney’s report in the Guardian on Saturday, ahead of the BBC’s Panorama programme tonight broadcasting a report on alleged links between Glencore’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and mining for copper ore that’s carried out there by children.

It’s not a straightforward allegation by any means; as Sweeney reports, Glencore says it stopped operating at the Tilwezembe mine in 2008 when the copper price fell, but the mine itself has still been operating:

In the meantime, the mine has been taken over by a local firm that pays artisanal or freelance miners, including under-18s, fixed prices for copper-ore nuggets. Glencore still owns the concession and plans to restart mining.

The mine is said to have an extremely high rate of deaths from workers — 60 last year — although Sweeney’s report doesn’t say where that comes from.

The Sweeney/Panorama reporting focuses on a particular lorry:

Panorama tracked a lorry laden with copper from Tilwezembe for 27 hours to a plant run by a major Glencore partner in Congo, Groupe Bazano. Copper from the Bazano plant has then been sent to Glencore’s smelter in Zambia, according to documents obtained by the programme.

Glasenberg told Panorama that Glencore does not profit from child labour. And the report has Glencore riled up enough to also have issued a three-page statement over the weekend about the programme, in which it says the Zambian smelter, Mopani, doesn’t buy any material from Groupe Banzano.

And then goes into quite a bit of detail about how it monitors the copper concentrate as it is trucked in by contractors:

We use a computerised system to record and track each bag of concentrate that is produced and transported. Each bag is given an individual number, which is recorded on the bag, as well as a seal which has its own separate, individual number. We also record details of the quality of the concentrate in each bag, as well as the truck registration number and driver ID number of the vehicle used for transport. The trucks tarpaulins are also sealed with a numbered seal. This data is then reconciled when the bag arrives at its destination. The pictures below show this process.

Copper ore bags - Glencore

There’s also the matter of the river pollution. From the Guardian again:

Glasenberg admitted that Glencore would have been in trouble if it had dumped acid in the river in Switzerland or the UK. So why has Glencore been polluting a river in Congo for the past three years? “It was impossible to remedy faster,” he said. “What else could we do? We have 6,500 employees, the government insists we keep them employed.”

More detail in the Guardian story and the Glencore statement.