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Polluted, then fired: Glencore's collateral damage

Tens of thousands of residents of mining communities in some of the poorest parts of Africa were facing abject poverty

Jim Armitage
Monday 07 September 2015 23:48 BST
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Glencore is the world’s largest commodities trading company
Glencore is the world’s largest commodities trading company (AP)

When mining behemoths the size of Glencore make big strategic moves, it is invariably the poorest people on the planet who suffer most. So it was that, while Glencore’s billionaire chief and his entourage were looking at a loss of some of their multi-million dollar fortunes, tens of thousands of residents of mining communities in some of the poorest parts of Africa were facing abject poverty.

They are the employees of Glencore’s mines and smelters in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga region and Mopani in Zambia. As part of its attempts to cut its spending due to weak commodities prices (“portfolio optimisation” in Glencore-speak) the company will suspend operations at both sites for 18 months. About 4,000 workers are employed in Katanga and some 20,000 in Mopani. Glencore says not all the employees will be laid off, as the sites will need to be maintained even while they are not being used. But the likelihood is that most will.

NGOs said the impact on communities which have already suffered mass pollution from these operations, would be grave. According to Glencore, for each of the 20,000 employees in Mopani, there are eight family members dependent on their wages. Similar figures are likely for Katanga – a region currently struggling to deal with a fatal measles epidemic. A bleak future awaits.

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