These kind of investments have full support of the Mozambican government which has a new policy of attracting direct foreign investment (FDI). It has brought to the country a set of new challenges as the large scale investments are disrupting peoples’ lives as they used to know it.
A large scale investment usually means a large concession of land to a company and removal of people from that same land. In some cases this situation put people in direct confrontation with the companies and the government.
Civil society is concerned about this new trend of social problems and monitors the situation denouncing clear cases of abuse of the rights of the communities. Justiça Ambiental (JA!) is a local partner of Kepa and one of the leading groups supporting the communities regaining their rights and denouncing cases of violations of community rights.
Justiça Ambiental with support of Kepa launched a publication in April 2013, in which some of those cases are put in the spotlight in order to give visibility to a growing problem and the urgency to solve it. Here are, in brief, some of the disturbing cases presented in the publication.
Wambao, a Chinese agriculture company, was welcomed to the southern province of Gaza by the Mozambican government. The government argued that the project would mitigate Mozambican dependency on imported rice and bring employment to the Gaza region. Wambao was granted with 20.000 hectares of land for a period of 50 years to produce rice for both domestic consumption and export to China. Currently the project is exploring 6.000 ha.
The decision to grant Wambao with 20.000 ha already forced approximately 80.000 people to move away from the ‘machambas’ (farm fields) where they used to produce food for their daily living. The majority of these people are women who greatly depend on agriculture as the source of food and income. Most of the women now stay at home unemployed doing nothing.
The concession was granted to Wambao without proper consultation with the affected communities although the law requires large companies to do so. The farmers have not been compensated for the machambas they lost. Also there is evidence that part of the business was done involving families of high ranking political officials who suddenly claimed that the land belongs to them and they were just lending it to the people for a while.
In 2010 the Bitish based company Mozal, that runs the Africa's largest aluminium smelter in Mozambican capital Maputo, announced a plan to rebuild the smelter’s fume treatment centres (FTCs).
The plan meant that for six months – while the rebuilding was taking place – the emissions from the smelter’s anode bake plant would go straight into the atmosphere bypassing the old filters. This case, once again, put civil society in direct confrontation with both Mozal and the government.
Several environmental groups, including JA!, backed up by much of the Mozambican independent media, campaigned against the bypass demanding that the government revoke the authorization for the bypass, granted by the Ministry of Environment (MICOA). Thanks to the pressure, Mozal had to come out regularly to give explanations on their plans.
Unfortunately, in the end, and with government full support, Mozal went further in working without filters for 6 months disregarding the public opinion and the people of surrounding areas. Once again, this demonstrated clear alliance between the government and the companies, who jointly violate the principles of corporate responsibility.
The mining company Vale Mozambique is a subsidiary of a Brazilian based Vale. It started operating in Mozambique in 2004 after winning the international bid to explore one of the world's biggest coal reserves situated in Moatize district, in the western province of Tete.
In November 2009, Vale started to resettle people living in the concession area. A total of 1.313 families is to be resettled, summing up to almost 7.000 people. In line with their original area of residence, people were resettled to either a rural area of Cateme (some 40 km from Moatize town) or to a more urban neighborhood of 25 de Setembro.
In 2010, while the resettlement was taking place people started to complain that they had been swindled by Vale. The new houses provided by Vale proved to have structural problems contrary to the model houses showed to them which had seemed pleasant houses to live in.
Resettled people also complained that they were promised water and energy but none of it had been supplied. Further, they were promised 2 hectares of arable land, but were given only 1 ha which is not arable. The people resettled into rural area are situated so far from the district capital that they can no longer sell their agricultural products.
The complaints of the people and civil society organizations have been answered by arrogance and silence from both government authorities and the company, both accused of being partners in repressing the legitimate concerns of the resettled people.
It seems that Vale has a history of repeated violations of corporate responsibility principles: In 2012 Vale won the annual Public Eye award for the worst corporate misconduct from activists and NGOs at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, for "repeated human rights abuses, inhumane working conditions and the ruthless exploitation of nature". The announcement was made by Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
The cases showed briefly above are just a fracture of what has been happening throughout the country. They reveal how important it is that civil society monitors the companies and make pressure for greater accountability both from the companies and the government.
Possibly it is due to the civil society pressure that the government of Mozambique, in 2012, commended a study on corporate responsibility. The objective of the study was to lay out some recommendations for the national policy on corporate responsibility for extractive industries that was being drafted at the time. The study was conducted and the recommendations were produced but the corporate social responsibility policy is yet to be finalized.
Together with JA! We hope that the publication will send a clear message to policy makers for the urgency of policies and accountability mechanisms that will secure and ensure that the rights of the communities in their quest for justice and improving of life conditions are met in the face of increasing invasion of multinational companies to their communities.
The writer works as Kepa's Development Policy Officer in Mozambique.