Haiti’s Mining Industry: Worker Rights in Peril

Haiti’s Mining Industry: Worker Rights in Peril

If the current political impasse in Haiti is resolved, lawmakers are likely to consider how to develop the country’s untapped gold and copper veins—and the process will determine the extent to which workers achieve their share of economic prosperity.

“Given the dearth of decent employment opportunities and pervasive extreme poverty, workers are highly susceptible to exploitation and rights violations,” according to a new report, “Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti.”

“Building strong labor protections into the emerging regulatory regime for mining is therefore essential to guarantee the rights of Haitian workers,” the report asserts.

Metal mining in Haiti could yield an estimated $20 billion in gold alone. Between 2006 and 2013, foreign mining companies invested some $30 million to prospect for metals in Haiti. Yet as the report notes, mining activity in Haiti will occur in an environment “already characterized by widespread rights abuses, particularly deprivations of economic and social rights and denials of the right to information and political participation.”

Workers ‘Highly Susceptible to Exploitation’
Many Haitians are unaware of the potential of gold mining, and the current government has been negotiating new mining laws behind closed doors, according to Global Risk Insights. The report asserts that the next government will face pressure to open up the country to mining to alleviate deep poverty in the hemisphere’s poorest country.

More than two-thirds of Haitian workers lack formal employment, and those who have jobs typically earn wages far below the cost of living. Given the lack of decent employment opportunities and pervasive extreme poverty, workers are highly susceptible to exploitation and rights violations.

The report cites failed examples of foreign investment in the garment sector as a warning that workers may be promised much but receive little with the development of the gold mining industry. For instance, a $300 million factory complex in the northern town of Caracol displaced families dependent upon agriculture with the promise of creating up to 65,000 low-wage jobs. More than two years later, only an estimated 5,000 jobs have been created and workers are paid less than $7 a day—an amount insufficient to adequately feed a family.

The mining sector lacks the regulation and transparency of the apparel industry and so employers have less incentive to follow sound labor practices. Further, mining tends to be concentrated in isolated regions with few formal jobs—creating more potential for abuse of worker rights.

Steps for Safeguarding Workers
To protect the rights of Haitian workers, the Solidarity Center recommends that Haitian mining law should:

  1. Require compliance with the national labor code.
  2. Adopt the protections and measures outlined in the International Labor Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines.
  3. Include language to establish a formal workforce, in which workers have contracts, subcontracting is discouraged and local Haitian labor is hired.
  4. Stipulate guidelines for profit-sharing.

The 264-page report was compiled by the Haiti Justice Initiative and the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, a member of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, a Solidarity Center ally. Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center senior program officer for the Americas, contributed to the report.

India: 2.5 Million Miners Now Have Worker Compensation

Some 2.5 million mine workers in Rajasthan, India, will now be covered by worker compensation for job-related  illnesses and injuries, a victory that stems from a multiyear campaign by safety and health advocates. The decision this week by the state of Rajasthan, in northwest India, also provides compensation to widows of miners who died from silicosis and creates a structure for improved safety standards.

The Rajasthan-based Mine Labor Protection Campaign (MLPC) is a member of the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV), a Solidarity Center partner comprised of trade unions, worker rights organizations and occupational safety and health activists from across the region. MLPC pushed for monetary relief for silicosis victims and their families and demanded the government develop a list of Rajasthan’s 30,000 mines. Only 3,706 mines are registered with the Department of Mines, making it impossible to ensure mine safety, according to the MLPC.

Because the central government oversees the regulatory agency on mine safety, these new standards ultimately will apply to the entire country, according to the MLPC.

Silicosis, an occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust, is incurable—but it is also preventable. In 2006, the National Human Rights Commission declared silicosis an important health problem in India and began accepting complaints on silicosis.

The director general of mine safety will now issue notices to 27,000 mine owners, asking them to update their information within three months or face action. According to the Hindustan Times, the mine safety director general said if the mine owners did not give information about the workers, they would be prosecuted after an inspection of the mines. The agreement also establishes hospital facilities for diagnosing silicosis, which for many years was not correctly diagnosed, according to the Times of India.

Most of India’s miners are internal migrants—people forced by poverty, drought, famine or failed crops to take up this difficult and sometimes deadly job. Ninety-eight percent of miners are tribal or Dalit (belonging to the so-called untouchable class), which places them among the most marginalized of India’s poor, systematically deprived of decent wages and social service support.

This victory follows on the heels of an August 2012 announcement  by the Gujarat state government that the heirs of agate workers who die as a result of silicosis be compensated through an insurance scheme. The People’s Training and Research Center, another ANROEV partner, helped secure this protection for workers and their families.

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