The South African Federation of Trade Unions has been resolute in its condemnation of corruption, fraud and other economic crimes. It is still campaigning for the prosecution of all those involved in the looting of public assets in South Africa.
At the same however the federation has always insisted that corruption is not confined to the Guptas, former president Zuma and their cronies. Nor is it confined to South Africa, or only a problem in the public sector, but one that is rooted in an inherently corrupt capitalist system.
This was confirmed when evidence emerged that several big international companies colluded with the Guptas in their criminal activities – KPMG, McKinsey, SAP and Bell Pottinger.
Other companies, unrelated to the Gupta/Zuma deals, have since also been implicated in alleged illegal activity. Steinhoff has been accused of earnings manipulations, uncontrolled acquisitions, tax frauds, and misleading shareholders by giving them a prospectus based on a false financial report which was later withdrawn, as shareholders were told that it could not be relied on to be accurate.
In a further scandal with no apparent link to the Guptas, the VBS Bank has been liquidated following alleged looting of its funds, including deposits by municipalities which cannot be repaid which will lead to drastic cuts in public services on poor communities.
Now yet another big global corporation, Glencore, is being investigated by the United States Justice Department on allegations of corruption and money-laundering, in contravention of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Although the US has not yet specified what it is investigating or made any accusations of wrongdoing, they have subpoenaed documents related to Glencore’s activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria and Venezuela dating back to 2007, sending the shares tumbling as much as 13%.
This is not the first such action against Glencore, whose CEO, Ivan Glasenberg – a South African, who has run Glencore since 2002 and is also the company’s second-largest shareholder – has had to leave the board of one of the company’s biggest aluminium suppliers, United Rusal, in April 2018 after its main owner, Oleg Deripaska, was hit with punitive US sanctions.
The trade union movement is not at all surprised that this company’s illegal activities are at last being probed. IndustriALL Global Union, together with the Europe-Third World Centre, has submitted an official statement to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) on violations of workers’ human rights by Glencore in numerous countries.
IndustriALL’s campaigns director Adam Lee says: “Glencore’s systematic practice of violating workers’ human rights around the world with almost total impunity highlights the urgent need for an international legally binding instrument allowing the regulation of transnational corporations′ activities and their impacts on human rights. This instrument would also be an essential tool to guarantee access to justice for the victims and the affected communities.”
The statement lists instances of rights violations, including health and safety concerns, in Bolivia, Colombia, the DRC and Zambia, where Glencore has displayed a pattern of behaviour that shifts the blame for safety violations onto the workforce and has threatened to close operations if there are accidents.
Its workforce is increasingly precarious, as the percentage of contractors used by the company grew to 43% last year. In some cases, the company contracts out workers in violation of local laws. Casualised workers have no security, lower pay and worse conditions. They are deterred from joining unions because they risk being replaced if they do.
Glencore actively undermines its workers’ rights to freedom of association by attempting to break unions, for example:
- In Australia, workers were locked out of the Oaky North mine and placed under surveillance for resisting plans to replace them with contractors.
- In Canada, Glencore hired strike breakers during a recent nine-month dispute at the CEZinc refinery
- In Peru, the company fired union members, offering to reinstate them if they left the union.
- In the DRC Glencore is accused of mistreating its mine workers. 80 workers at the Kolwezi cobalt mines complained of conditions that amounted to “no less than slavery”. They mentioned regular threats of dismissal, poor health and safety practices, occupational diseases, racism and other forms of discrimination, low pay and lower wages compared to foreign workers. In addition to employees, relatives suffer from illnesses because workers do not have the infrastructure to clean themselves at the mine. They only have access to drinking water in insufficient quantities. The hospital set up by the company was deemed to be too far away from the community. Workers also accuse the company of attempting to divide unions.
- In South Africa the company lodged an urgent interdict at the Labour Court in a desperate attempt to interdict and silence workers who have been on strike since 4 June to demand the right to take paid leave during the Christmas break, at its operations in the Tweefontein and Goedgevonden complex in Mpumalanga. Glencore refused, arguing that December is a normal month and that workers should work their normal shifts during that period. As NUMSA says, “Glencore is a brutal employer. They have a laundry list of infringements against workers. They are notorious for abusing labour in the DRC and elsewhere, so we are not surprised that they would stoop so low as to force workers to work during the December break… This case was nothing more than an abuse of legal process in an attempt to undermine the strike.”
The IndustriALL statement urges the government of Switzerland, where the company is based, to intervene and ensure that it does not violate human rights in other countries. “We will continue to raise these issues in every forum available to us until Glencore commits to respecting the rights of its workers and working with us resolve the situation.”
In May trade union members from as far as Australia and Africa protested against Glencore’s treatment of workers at its annual general assembly in Switzerland. They were protesting the company’s “non-respect of human rights and rights of workers”, as well as “miserable working conditions”.
Glencore is also the subject of a criminal complaint filed by NGO Public Eye with the Swiss Attorney General’s Office. It deals with suspected misappropriations in the acquisition of mines in the DRC.
Glencore’s conduct exemplifies the brutality and inhumanity of capitalist monopoly companies. Yet the business media’s coverage of the US subpoena focusses more on the fall in its share prices than the illegal abuse of its workers. They see the shareholders rather than the workers as the main victims of Glencore’s law-breaking activities.
SAFTU is more than ever convinced that the workers of the world will never be free or able to live a decent life while the economy is in the hands of people like Glasenberg, whose wealth is created by the sweat and blood of workers around the world.
Worker are treated little better than slaves so that company shareholders can pocket big profits.
The role of such multinational companies and the attacks on their workers is sure to be discussed at the Working Class Summit (WCS) to be held on 21- 22 July 2018 at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus.
It aims to unite civil society formations, employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the scourge of violence against women and children, into a struggle for a truly free, corruption-free, democratic and equal society.
We call on all those interested in participating in the WCS to contact us.
Tel: +27 (11) 331 0124
Fax: +27 (11) 331 0176
Physical Address, 34 Eloff Street, Johannesburg 2001