South32 caves to demands of women’s rights group over coal mine impacts ahead of AGM
25/10/2018: South32 came under pressure in Perth today, with women’s rights organisation ActionAid Australia protesting at the major Australian mining company’s AGM and calling on them to address the concerns of women impacted by their coal operations in South Africa.
The group says that women from Phola, a community just a few kilometres from South32’s Klipspruit mine, have documented evidence of significant failures on behalf of South32 to protect women’s rights and uphold their obligations to the local community.
Activists presented postcards from Phola outside the AGM and distributed flyers to shareholders. The protest action quickly resulted in a meeting with South32’s CEO, Graham Kerr, moments before the AGM.
ActionAid Australia Executive Director, Michelle Higelin, said: “South32 claims to be socially and environmentally responsible, but the community affected by their Klipspruit coal mine in South Africa has a different story to tell.
“Through a community-led investigation, local women affected by the Klipspruit mine have brought to light evidence of serious human rights and sustainability concerns that South32 must address.
The vast majority of local women interviewed as part of this investigation say that violence against women and girls has increased due to mining, and they have identified extremely concerning impacts caused by the Klipspruit mine such as chronic health problems, cracks in houses from mine blasting, water contamination and environmental pollution.
“Perhaps most troublingly, 92% of women say they’ve already raised these concerns with South32 to no avail. We are here with their messages to make sure that South32’s board, management, and shareholders can no longer ignore the women of Phola.”
Millicent Nomfundo Shungube, an activist from Phola, reported, “Ever since the mine came in there’s been a lot of changes to our livelihoods. In terms of health, illnesses have increased. Small children are suffering from asthma, sinus issues and eye irritation because of the dust that the mine causes.
“We no longer live in an environment that is stable. Things have really changed. It’s so sad because the mine doesn’t want to be held accountable, they want to come and go,” she concluded.
“They care about coal, not about our health. We are getting sick while they are getting rich,” added Sarah*, another resident of Phola.
“As one of Australia’s largest mining companies, South32 has an obligation to uphold women’s rights and listen to the concerns of the communities,” said Ms. Higelin.
ActionAid Australia has written to South32 and launched a petition calling on the company’s board and senior management to meet with representatives of the Phola women’s organisation conducting this investigation.
Following their last minute meeting with ActionAid staff minutes before their AGM, South32 has now agreed to meet with the women.
“This is a victory for the women of Phola, with South32 agreeing to listen to their concerns, meet with representatives of their group in South Africa, and consult on the legally binding commitments they’ve made to the community. However, we need to keep the pressure up until women’s concerns have been adequately addressed by the company,” said Ms. Higelin.
Representatives from the Phola women’s organistion will be in Australia in November to continue to press South32 to respond to their concerns over the company’s mining operations.
Interviews: ActionAid Australia Executive Director, Michelle Higelin.
For further information and photographic content contact:
Solaye Snider 0401 510 994 or [email protected]
**Note to Editors**
About ActionAid Australia – www.actionaid.org.au
ActionAid Australia is a global justice organisation working to empower women to challenge injustice and inequality and claim their human rights.
*Name changed to protect anonymity