Copper booms but workers still suffer.


While Malawi is struggling to find a formula by which it can start benefiting from its mining sector, Zambia is savouring the news that its copper output is expected to hit 1.5m tonnes by 2017 as foreign companies pour $3bn into the sector.

The new projects due to come on stream include the expansion of the Lumwana mine, Canadian firm First Quantum's $2bn Greenfield Trident project, China Nonferrous Mining Corporation's $832m project and the Lubambe mine--a joint venture by Brazil's Vale. South Africa's African Rainbow Minerals and state-owned ZCCM Investments.

A phenomenal rise in global copper prices has seen more than $6bn pumped into the country's mines over the last decade. Zambia's copper output has risen by over 145% in the same period. The sector had a chaotic start in 2012, with strikes at many major mines. The situation normalised soon after wages were hiked.

Copper output declined by 6.4% in 2012--with softer global prices and a slowdown in demand from China as the chief factors. However, the Zambian government did collect 33% more revenues from the sector as a result of doubling royalty rates the previous year.

But workers in the copper mining sector in Zambia remain vulnerable to abuse. New Human Rights Watch (HRW) research found that although the government of President Michael Sata, which took office in September 2011, has made efforts to fulfil its campaign promises of improving the welfare of the copper mine workers, there remains inadequate enforcement of...

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