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Uganda operation LafargeHolcim accused of abandoning child labour victims

A photo taken in 2014 of an artisanal mine in the Harungongo region in southwest Uganda

A photo taken in 2014 of an artisanal mine which allegedly employed children in the Harungongo region in southwest Uganda

(© Twerwaneho Listeners‘ Club TLC)

The world’s largest cement maker has been criticised by two Swiss non-governmental groups for failing to resolve alleged child labour issues in Uganda. The Franco-Swiss multinational rejects the accusations. 

The Protestant Church group Bread For All external linkand the Catholic Lenten Fund on Tuesday accused LafargeHolcim external linkof dragging its feet over the compensation of alleged child labour victims in Uganda, two years after a scandal came to light. 

A report at the time claimed that some 150 Ugandan children had worked for ten years up to September 2016 in quarries that supplied a LafargeHolcim subsidiary with pozzolana, a volcanic rock used in the manufacture of cement. Many of the children reportedly abandoned school and experienced injuries to their legs, hands and feet.

The subsidiary in question, Hima Cement Limited, and LafargeHolcim denied resorting to the use of child labour in their supply chain. But in January 2017, Hima Cement, which was acquired by Lafarge in 1999, announced that it would stop buying raw materials from artisanal miners and only source from mechanised quarries employing adults. The same month LafargeHolcim commissioned an investigation by an international independent auditor, which concluded that there was no material evidence that children had worked for Hima Cement or for any of its other suppliers.

Reparations

In a statement on Tuesday, the NGOs criticised the fact that LafargeHolcim’s report was never made public. On their website they published new videosexternal link with witness statements by children who claim to have worked for Hima Cement. The NGOs urged the cement maker to acknowledge its responsibility for child labour and renewed their demands for support for the former child labourers to help them make up for missing school years.

In reply, LafargeHolcim again denied to the Swiss News Agency that it had resorted to the use of child labour. It also recalled that it had helped people in the region by financing the construction of toilets for 150 homes in Uganda.

In recent years, the Franco-Swiss firm has been embroiled in another major controversy in Syria. French prosecutors last year launched a probe into then Lafarge’s (merged with Holcim in July 2015) suspected "financing of a terrorist enterprise" between 2013-2014 by the cement group in Syria. The company admitted last year it had paid armed groups to keep a factory operating.

Following the Syria revelations, LafargeHolcim said it had approved the creation of new Ethics, Integrity & Risk committee, supervised by a member of the Executive Committee. It will also step up its risk assessment of high-risk third parties and joint venture partners.

On Tuesday, the Swiss company reported a 13.4% fall in first quarter earningsexternal link as it embarks on a new strategy under recently-appointed Chief Executive Jan Jenisch.

SDA-ATS/sb

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