Australian metals and mining company, South32, came under pressure in Perth last Thursday (25 October), with women’s rights organisation ActionAid Australia protesting at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM), calling on the company to address the concerns of women impacted by South32’s coal operations in South Africa.
ActionAid states 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, which 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,” she commented.
Ms Higelin further said that the vast majority of local women interviewed as part of this community-led 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 per cent 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,” she said.
Millicent Nomfundo Shungube, an activist from Phola also said that ever since the mine came in there has been a lot of changes to their 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 commented.
Following their last-minute meeting with ActionAid staff minutes before their AGM, South32 has 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,” concluded Ms. Higelin.
More information on ActionAid can be found here.