Australian mining companies operating in Africa have been named and shamed for human rights abuses, environmental damage and unreported workplace deaths and injuries, according to a research project by the US-based Centre for Public Integrity.

The 18-month Fatal Extraction study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in collaboration with reporters, communities and human rights lawyers from African nations, found more than 150 ASX-listed mining companies active in Africa with investors include state government-owned entities such as the Queensland Investment Commission and major superannuation funds.

“ICIJ’s investigation uncovered deaths, injuries and legal battles never disclosed in company reports,” said ICIJ reporter Will Fitzgibbon, who heads up the organisation’s African desk.

“Although the companies have considerable legal leeway in what they report, critics believe that Australia should require companies to report more social and environmental impacts to the ASX.” wrote

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One of the key points made in several of the project reports was that Australian companies operating in nations such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi or Mali where there is a lower level of regulatory oversight and compliance checking in terms of environmental and social responsibilities appear to be taking advantage of the situation.

There are also documented cases where some companies have used or endorsed brutal tactics to suppress community concerns or silence workers.

In a follow-up story at the ICIJ blog, Mr Fitzgibbon quoted Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon, who said the Australian government needed to ensure firms operating overseas adhered to international law. Ms Rhiannon told ICIJ the Greens would consider proposing new legislation to bring this about.

A Greens spokeswoman told The Fifth Estate this week that at this point, no further action has been taken on the matter, nor have The Greens released a formal statement.

Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary and former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, told Mr Fitzgibbon that Australian mining investment in Africa soared during the mining boom but “tragically failed” to bring development or sustainable jobs.

“Australian companies are amongst those that have not fulfilled safety standards, respected employment arrangements nor paid decent remuneration for African workers,” Mr Burrow said.

“Where domestic laws are inadequate to control this lawlessness, then Australia, indeed all nations, must ensure that equal treatment and responsibility for due diligence demanded by the UNGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is a legal requirement for companies operating beyond their borders.”

Fatal Extraction’s key findings:

  • Since the beginning of 2004, more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in off-site skirmishes connected to Australian publicly-traded mining companies in 13 countries in Africa
  • Australian mining companies are more numerous than those from other mining giants such as Canada, the United Kingdom and China. At the end of 2014, more than 150 companies held about 1500 licences and owned or managed dozens of mining operations across 33 countries in Africa
  • Multiple Australian mining companies are accused of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa, according to legal filings and community petitions gathered from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana

Read the complete Fatal Extraction project reports and data here

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