16 June 2023
China is one of the biggest investors in Africa in general and Zimbabwe’s mining sector. Within Zimbabwe’s mining sector, Chinese investments have been witnessed in diamonds, gold, granite, chrome, and coal, among others. Further, with the recent global demand for critical minerals, Chinese companies have intensified investments in the critical minerals sector. The following are some of the lithium mining rights recently acquired by Chinese companies in Zimbabwe;
- In 2022, Bikita Minerals was acquired for USD 180 million by Sinomine Resource Group.
- In 2021, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese-owned mining company, acquired the Arcadia Lithium Project for USD 422 million from Prospect Resources.
- In 2022, the President of Zimbabwe officiated a groundbreaking ceremony for the Sabi Star Mine Lithium Project, worth USD 130 million, by Max Mind (Pvt) Ltd., owned by the Chinese company Chengxin Lithium Group.
While the acquisition of mining rights and investments by Chinese investors presents opportunities for economic development and alleviating poverty within communities, the appetite for the extraction of strategic minerals is likely to have huge environmental, social, and cultural human rights implications. This has already been evident in other mineral resource sectors. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) have in some instances raised concerns regarding the lack of complaint handling mechanisms for Chinese Overseas investments. The complaints handling mechanisms are vital tools for accountability and play an important role in ensuring access to remedies for communities impacted by investments in the mining sector.
The lack of grievance redress mechanisms has resulted in mistrust, suspicions, tensions, and outright hostility between Chinese investors in the mining sector on the one hand and communities and CSOs on the other, especially in those countries where regulation is not watertight. However, the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals, and Chemical Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) has created several tools, initiatives, and mechanisms for promoting responsible business conduct among Chinese overseas investments in the mining industry and critical minerals sector. Of significance are the Responsible Cobalt Initiative and the Chinese Due Diligence Guidelines for Mineral Supply Chain adopted through collaboration with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Recently, the CCCMC adopted Guidelines on Complaint and Consultation Mechanisms for the Mining Industry and Mineral Value Chain. The adoption of the guidelines or mechanism signals a new era and the first step in the right direction. However, the effectiveness of the guidelines remains to be seen and will depend on a lot of factors.
To enable the CCCMC and RCI to understand and appreciate Chinese investments in the mining sector and challenges faced by communities in accessing remedies within the Zimbabwean context, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, in partnership with the Business and Human Rights Resources Center (BHRRC), will next week convene a roundtable dialogue between civil society actors in Zimbabwe and CCMC representatives.