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Zimbabwe rights group slams Chinese firms for human rights abuse

China is Zimbabwe’s biggest investor in every sector from agriculture to construction and fourth-largest trading partner. It has significant interests in the mining industry. But the Chinese-run companies have been dogged by controversy with gross human rights violations and safety norms for mining workers. The recent incident of shooting of Zimbabwe workers by the Chinese mine owner has once again exposed the exploitation of locals and unethical practices adopted by Chinese employers in the African nation.

A Zimbabwean rights group slammed Chinese-run mining companies for rampant abuse after two workers were shot and wounded by their Chinese employer after they complained about outstanding wages. The incident, which was captured on video and shared on twitter, caused widespread outrage in the country. The Chinese national has been charged with attempted murder but released on bail.

“The problem of ill-treatment of workers is systematic and widespread, and what that shooting incident did was to expose the rampant abuse of workers. Wages are often very low and in many cases are not paid on time. If someone tries to exercise their right as a worker and demand what is due to them get assaulted or shot,” the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) said in a statement.

Forced labor and torture in the diamond mining industry are rampant in Chinese-controlled mining firms.

Zimbabwe is the dependent partner with China, providing the largest market for its exports and much-needed support to its fragile economy. But Chinese companies have found the investment climate challenging; diamonds mining has been particularly difficult. Chinese companies look for a good return on their investment, hence they exploit the country’s economic condition and the workforce.

In 2019, the Zimbabwean government signed a huge mining deal with a Chinese firm Tsignchan worth $2 billion to extract iron ore, chrome, coal, nickel and other natural resources.

As per a Brookings Report, there are at least 10,000 Chinese people in Zimbabwe and most of them are involved in mining, telecom and construction sectors. Chinese presence in such large numbers in the country causes tensions among locals.

In February, a group of local miners at a Matobo-based firm in Matabeleland South province complained of firing from jobs by Chinese employers in the court. Workers accused of gross human rights abuses by the Chinese employer—ranging from beating to unfair dismissals. “These guys are ruthless. Once you complain of poor working conditions at the mine, you get beaten up. We are working for 12 hours a day and only get paid for eight hours which is not fair,” one worker complained.

Another worker said, “Last week they beat us up, and we reported the matter to our union, but to our surprise, they fired us all from work without severance packages and January salaries. These guys do not respect labor laws at all.”

Last April, workers at another Chinese company in the same province complained of being underpaid and working without protective clothing.


According to the watchdog, there are several cases of Chinese miners refusing to pay salaries or provide their workers with protective clothing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has become a pattern and a system. We have cases where miners are abused, beaten, and discriminated against by Chinese miners. Locals in some Chinese-owned mines often operate dangerous, harsh and life-threatening conditions, while being paid poorly” the watchdog said. The group urged the government to rethink ties with China. “The Sunday’s (21 June) shooting is another reason for the government to rethink its political and economic engagements with China,” the group said.

Heavy-handedness of Chinese employers has also boiled over in neighboring Zambia where three Chinese factory owners were allegedly killed by disgruntled employees last month. These incidents expose the Chinese investors’ ethical standards of safety measures, health, environmental, labor and human rights violations..