Obligations of the state and mining companies regarding sanitation services for workers


By Nyaradzo Mutonhori


This week, an unverified photo circulating on social media purporting to depict conditions of workers toilets allegedly at a mining company in Zimbabwe attracted attention of many critiques. This blog does not in any way seek to validate the authenticity of the photo in question but only serves to provide a brief analysis of legal obligations of the state and mining companies in Zimbabwe towards workers in the context of provision of health and sanitation services.

Legal Obligations of the State and Mining Companies

According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the UNGPs), `the state has the responsibility to protect human rights from infringement by corporations through provision of adequate laws and regulations.[1] The government must go a step further to ensure adherence to such laws and regulations.[2] The legal framework which regulates health and safety in mining operations in Zimbabwe is the Mines and Minerals Act [Chapter 21:05] as read with Section 73 of the Constitution which provides for the right to a clean, safe and healthy environment. Access to sanitation and good hygiene are foundations of a safe and healthy environment. In addition, Statutory Instrument 109 of 1990-Mining (Management and Safety) Regulations and Statutory Instrument 185 of 1995 Mining (Health and Sanitation)Regulations also have relevant provisions[3]. Furthermore, the Labour Act defines the fundamental rights of employees and regulates conditions of employment (including issues relating to occupational safety and health). The Ministry of Mines and Mining Development is mandated to enforce occupational health and safety in mining operations. According to the Mines and Minerals Act[4] all mining companies are to submit site plans for approval by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. The site plans depict positioning of the works like compounds for workers, sewage disposal works or any buildings of a permanent nature like ablution facilities. Poor sanitation conditions not only result in direct violations of workers right to a clean, safe and healthy environment but also pose as a significant public health risk in terms of the Public Health Act. The National Social Security Authority (Accident Prevention and Workers Compensation Scheme) Notice provides comprehensive regulations for the prevention of occupational injuries and diseases; and the compensation of employment-related injuries and diseases.

Current Challenges and Risks of Poor Sanitation Conditions

Corporations have a duty to respect human rights, as per the UNGPs, and because of the increasing mandate of sustainability, there is an urgent need for a transformative approach in provision of safe, clean and inclusive sanitation services. Generally, the mining sector, especially medium and small-scale mining, has been critiqued for challenges in providing sanitation services. OHS concerns in the mining sector have been primarily focused on provision of personal protective equipment, for instance Report of the Auditor General of Management of Operational Health and Safety (OHS) in mining operations by Ministry of Mines and Mining Development presented to Parliament in 2019.[5] The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically highlighted the importance of hygiene and sanitation services, especially in the mining sector as it was among sectors that continued to be exempted to continue operations, even during lock-down. The lack of dignity and well-being associated with deplorable and/or sometimes non-existent hygiene and sanitation services in the sector heightened the risk of workers contracting and spreading COVID-19, water borne diseases including diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid is heightened with possible fatalities. Women have been worst affected by the plight of sanitation conditions in the mining sector which exposes them to sexual harassment and risks to sexual reproductive health through inability to manage menstrual cycles.[6] International Labour Organization (ILO) standards stipulate that adequate sanitary facilities should include, a minimum of one toilet, one wash basin and, one tub or shower for every six persons.[7] They should be provided at a convenient location which prevents nuisances. Sanitary facilities provided should meet minimum standards, of health and hygiene. They should also, provide reasonable standards of comfort, including hot and cold fresh running water. There should be separate sanitary facilities, provided for men and for women. Sanitary facilities should have ventilation to the open, air, independently of any other part of the accommodation. Soap and hygienic paper should be adequately stocked.

Possible Solutions and Recommendations

Adequate monitoring and intersectoral coordination of OHS including sanitation and hygiene in the mining sector is possible with sufficient allocation of resources by government for this. Under the Mines and Minerals Act mining inspectors have this responsibility. There is an overlapping role with District Public Health Teams under the Public Health Act and linkages with District WASH Committees. There is a need for government to strengthen the coordination mechanism to ensure adherence to OHS standards on mining sites. In addition, the mining inspectors should continue to receive capacity strengthening to enhance their understanding of sanitation and hygiene standards. Last year, the government undertook a Responsible Mining Audit through a multi-ministerial taskforce. This was hailed as a positive step through which government conducted oversight and set out clear expectations of the requirement of mining enterprises to respect human rights. By publishing the Responsible Mining Audit report publicly, this would further strengthen the accountability of mining companies for human rights abuses, such as those related to OHS standards related to sanitation and hygiene. In order to protect workers rights, the ongoing amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act should clearly set out the sanitation and hygiene standards for mining site ablution facilities in line with ILO stipulations.

Adequate penalties for violations help to improve corporate accountability and deter mining companies from blatantly violating workers rights to safe and healthy environment. Limited consequences for con-compliance or non-performance perpetuate impunity. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has a key role to play to promote awareness of workers rights and to call for sterner enforcement measures. Mine workers unions and other civil society organizations also have a role to play in increasing awareness of and promotion of the adoption of policies to implement the many international labour standards that support access to WASH, including menstrual hygiene, in mining workplaces and workers housing. Lastly but not least, the Local Authorities ought to carry out periodic inspections to ensure that mining companies within their districts are complying with all the laws and regulations on OHS, especially the Public Health Act. The active monitoring by local authorities will help to ensure that the workers rights to safe and healthy working environment are protected.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf

[2] Ibid

[3] https://mywage.org/zimbabwe/decent-work-check/health-and-safety-laws/health-and-safety-regulation

[4] Section 234

[5] https://www.veritaszim.net/sites/veritas_d/files/Auditor-General%20Report%20on%20the%20Management%20of%20Occupational%20Health%20and%20Safety%20in%20Mining%20Operations%20by%20the%20Ministry%20of%20Mines%20and%20Mining%20Development.pdf

[6] https://cnrgzim.org/news/the-plight-of-women-working-in-mining-companies/

[7] https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/—emp_ent/—multi/documents/publication/wcms_116344.pdf

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