Todays topic, business and human rights. This is a topic I became very familiar with after interning at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. When you spend all day researching human rights abuses committed by corporations, it makes you question all of humanity. At first I found it astounding that in the 21st century people still experience abuse at work. Not just sexual or racial discrimination, but brutality, beatings and death. Alas, it rapidly became apparent that this remains a pertinent issue in our modern society and the purpose of my internship was to raise awareness of the violations and challenges that victims are facing. With more awareness comes more accountability. By talking about these issues and cases there is more pressure on corporations to provide reparation for their victims, and to put in place regulations to prevent abuses from happening again.
Seems like a simple concept. Expose the corporations, pressure them to make reparations, get justice for the victims and prevent future abuses. If only it were that easy. The following post will demonstrate the real struggle that victims can face when they find themselves experiencing abuse at the hands of a multinational corporation (MNC). To highlight the challenge, we will briefly discuss one particular case, the story of Zakaria who was left paralysed after an encounter with security at Acacia’s North Mara Gold Mine in Tanzania.
““Zakaria’s Story” shows the extraordinary lengths to which a multinational company will go to deny victims justice and compensation.” – RAID
Acacia is a gold mining company registered in London and operating the North Mara Gold Mine site in Tanzania. Formerly known as African Barrick Gold, they have been plagued with accusations of deaths, beatings and sexual assault. In 2013, 12 plaintiffs brought a claim in UK courts complaining that Acacia were complicit in beatings and the deaths of 6 people at the hands of police who were paid by Acacia. A parliamentary enquiry carried out in 2016 reported that 65 killings and 270 assaults had occurred at the North Mara Gold Mine as a result of the police presence arranged by Acacia’s subsidiary. RAID have confirmed after interviewing victims last year that the assaults have continued into 2018.
In 2013 Zakaria visited the mine late at night with other local villagers to scavenge for rocks that they could use to buy food and clothes for their children. Unfortunately, Zakaria was spotted by the police and security staff patrolling the mine. They chased him away firing tear gas as they ran. Zakaria fell as he fled, allowing the security to catch up to him. As he lay helpless on the ground police stamped on him and beat him unconscious with batons “as if they were trying to kill a snake”. The next thing Zakaria knew he was waking up in hospital with shattered vertebrae and told he would never walk again. To this day Zakaria remains paralysed, stuck in a wheelchair and unable to provide for his family. On this account his wife left him shortly after the injury. Unable to take care of his children properly by himself in his condition, it wasn’t long before his youngest of three children died. In one night, the security at the North Mara mine stripped Zakaria of his life as he knew it and ensured with their disproportionate brutality that it would never be the same again.
Fighting for Justice
Out of fear, Zakaria did not make a claim with the mines grievance department until 2015, over a year since the accident. In a country where corruption is rife, they do not experience the same luxury and feeling of security when seeking help from the justice system or law enforcement as we may in the western world. In fact, it was law enforcement who did this to him. Thus, to avoid reprisals Zakaria lied about his injury and claimed he fell at the mine. He was sure that telling the truth would have adverse consequences and felt that this was the most likely manner in which he would attain assistance. Alas, months went on and Zakaria received no response to his claim.
RAID – Rights and Accountability in Development
Alerted to the case by a local chairman who knew the truth of Zakaria’s case, in 2016 RAID stepped in. It is RAID who have laboured over this case, working to raise awareness and achieve justice for Zakaria. RAID visited the area to investigate the mounting accounts of abuse and interviewed Zakaria alongside other witnesses to understand the real version of events. When RAID questioned Acacia, they claimed he was injured in a fall and denied any counts of assault.
In response to a video created by RAID concerning Zakaria, the chief of police in the area became involved. You would think this to be a good thing, yet police corruption meant this was of great detriment to the case. The consequence of this was the submission of a series of changing statements and stories from police and the mine about what happened to Zakaria and where he was on the night of his injury, all with the intention to absolve the mine and Acacia of any liability. Copious fraudulent evidence was provided by Tanzanian authorities and was fraught with discrepancies. It incorrectly stated Zakaria fell into a local mine pit (not North Mara Gold Mine) after a fight with another deceased local who could thus not be questioned. Based on the Tanzanian police reports, Acacia submitted that Zakaria falsely conjured up his accusations of assault from police.
Upon RAIDs investigation, which you can see in more detail on their website, they found it to be impossible for the police records provided to be true on account of the date and time recorded. There was also no record of the original copy of the police record, making it increasingly more likely that the records had been falsely produced. Additionally, the description of Zakaria’s injuries according to the police were wholly inaccurate. When questioned about these anomalies, Acacia and all subsidiaries failed to provide an explanation. Instead, the account of Zakaria’s injuries changed yet again, this time with the company submitting that he fell into a different pit in an entirely different location. Nothing matched up, including the companies witness who refused to sign any statements.
In 2018 RAID visited Tanzania again to try to put the record straight. What they found was coercion and lies. The police had made a witness sign a statement which stated that Zakaria’s injuries were a result of a different fight, which in truth he was not involved in, which meant the mine would not be held responsible.
“The commander warned Zakaria that if he pursued his allegations against the Mine, it would be “a problem”, and that in the end, Zakaria would be “begging” for assistance.” – RAID
RAID have submitted all of this to Acacia, and yet they insist that it is not true. Acacia urge Zakaria to go through the mine grievance process, yet this is the process that first sparked the creation of this twisted tail of events. Zakaria is not the only person facing a lack of justice from the mine. Whilst they say they are compliant with laws, in reality it seems they are doing everything in their power to avoid and abuse the system.
Victim Versus Multinational Corporation
Zakaria’s story is just one in a thousand. It proves the lengths that corporations will go to in order to cover up their violations and quash victims. Even when the fictional version of events isn’t believable, their persistence and power gives them the advantage. Zakaria has no money, how is he expected to compete against a wealthy MNC with links to police and the power to instil fear and manipulate onlookers. If RAID were not involved in this case, Zakaria would stand no chance of reparation. However, it is not possible to advocate for every single victim. Instead, what needs to change is the behaviour of corporations to eliminate the need to advocate for victims in the first place. It is all too common that money trumps justice.
The increasing concern is that wealthy and large corporations have more power and influence than governments and states. Thus, it is not the states that we need to regulate, it is the corporations. Yet, where human rights are concerned there is only soft law regulating them via the United National Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Thus meaning that corporations only have a responsibility to adhere to regulations, not an obligation. If there were binding regulations, it would be far easier to hold the corporations accountable. In 2015 the Human Rights Council did in fact call for a draft treaty to be drawn up and negotiations are ongoing. However, it is not that simple. There are many pitfalls which would come with a binding treaty on human rights for businesses which may have adverse effects, but the discussion of that remains for another post.
For now the important factor is to understand that these abuses are still occurring. Zakaria’s story as told by RAID helps to bring it to our attention and make it real. Whilst this abuse occurred in a developing country, it falls under the remit of a corporation registered in London. In January 2019 the company merged with Canada’s Randgold Resources now making them the largest gold mining corporation in the world. With this title behind them, it is more important than ever that human rights abuses are eliminated.
Finally, it remains to emphasise that this terrible violation of rights is not exclusive to Acacia or Zakaria. This is happening across all sectors, in every corner of the world, to every type of individual. To find out more about the wrongdoings of corporations you can visit the Corporate Legal Accountability portal on the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre website.