As part of his five-day trip to Africa, Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis visited a copper mine. Now he faces criticism.
The trip began in Zambia on Monday with a visit to the Mopani Copper Mines, whose majority shareholder is Swiss-based multinational Glencore.
The head of Swiss diplomacy wanted to see for himself the working and employment conditions in this sector, which is responsible for 15.4% of the country’s GDP, according to foreign ministry figures.
On Twitter, Cassis said he was impressed by the efforts to modernise the plant and to train young people.
Later that day, Allianz Sudexternal link, an interest group that monitors Swiss policy in the field of sustainable development, questioned whether Cassis had met any local critics.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Swiss public radio, SRFexternal link, reported on the controversy, noting that according to human rights interest group Public Eyeexternal link, Glencore has not consistently been paying taxes in Zambia. The story, which cited field reports from an SRF editor, also mentioned that emissions from the copper mine were making locals ill and criticised the foreign ministry’sexternal link reliance on emission information from Glencore.
Human rights guidelines
In November, the Swiss governments published human rights guidelines for firms operating in the commodity sector. Separately, it issued a report looking at the the ongoing challenges and emerging trends in this sector of strategic importance for Switzerland.
Glencore, the world’s biggest mining company with headquarters in the Swiss canton of Zug, comes under regular criticism from Swiss watchdog groups over environmental and human rights issues linked to copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The focus of the trip is strengthening political and economic relations with Zambia as well as Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to the foreign ministry.
During his stay in the African continent, Cassis has also visited projects supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), particularly in the field of HIV/Aids prevention and treatment.