The shareholders of BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world and a major buyer of the platinum produced by mining giant Lonmin, descended on Mannheim, Germany, on May 12 for their annual meeting.
Once again a South African delegation travelled thousands of kilometres to urge BASF to ensure that its supply chains meet the “social responsibility” they claim to uphold.
Almost five years after 44 people were killed at Lonmin’s facility in Marikana, no one has been brought to justice, no proper compensation has been paid and conditions at the mine have not changed.
Mzoxolo Magidwana (29) was a member of the delegation made up of representatives of the affected families. He was among the protestors on August 16 2012 when the South African Police Service opened fire and 34 mine workers were killed and 70 more injured. (Ten others had been gunned down in the days leading up to the massacre.) Magidwana survived, but only just. He was shot nine times. Two of those bullets remain lodged in his body.
He can never forget that day. “In 2012, we were on strike for living wages and better working and living conditions at Lonmin. We expected Lonmin, our employer, to come to talk to us. Instead, Lonmin called the police, who then shot and killed our fellow comrades. I believe that this matter could have been resolved by Lonmin coming to us, to tell us that they [Lonmin] were unable to meet our demands or even to retrench some of us. But not to cause that we be killed, as if we were just animals,” he said to those at the annual meeting.
For three years in a row, South Africans affected by the Marikana shootings have attended the BASF shareholder meetings. Representatives of parents who lost their children, families who lost their breadwinners and men like Magidwana, who continue to live with the consequences of that day — the men who provide the labour through which BASF is able to source platinum for its operations, the platinum through which they profit.
By listening and taking action on the pleas for justice from members of the delegation, BASF has an opportunity to give life to the principles it often claims to uphold. Not just feel-good undertakings, but something concrete that brings justice to those whose lives have been harmed by unethical, exploitative business practices.
In 2016 Kurt Bock, the chairperson and chief executive of BASF, said an investigation by the company had “found that Lonmin has addressed all the main problems causing the massacre, and has assisted those harmed by it”.
An Amnesty International report released later that same year contradicted his claims. By May 2016, Lonmin had not provided a single additional house for mineworkers, despite the role housing played in the events leading up to the massacre.
Furthermore, a report by amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism revealed that Lonmin’s sanitation project, which was supposed to deliver 3 200 pit latrines in the community, “ultimately delivered only two functional toilets”. Lonmin was negligent for failing to oversee the project on which more than R20-million had been spent.
In another missed opportunity to put into practice BASF’s guarantee that all its suppliers comply with human rights, Bock once again shirked off responsibility. He remained adamant, telling the meeting that “we, BASF, will not contribute to that reparation fund …”
The first principle of the United Nations Global Compact, of which BASF is a founding member, is “businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights”. The principle goes on to not only define human rights but also clarify how companies can determine the scope of responsibility, which includes “an analysis of the company’s relationships with governments, business partners, suppliers … consider whether they might pose a risk for the company in terms of implicating it in human rights abuse”.
It is true that BASF was not responsible for what happened at Marikana, but the chemical giant has a responsibility, which it accepted implicitly through the probe it conducted into Lonmin. It cannot now turn around and pretend everything is okay. It should make public its report, pressure Lonmin to make the improvements it promised and, above all, contribute to reparations. Until this happens, BASF will remain just another corporate profiting from the misery of others.
Koketso Moeti has a long background in civic activism, working at the intersection of governance, communication and citizen action. She is an Aspen New Voices Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @Kmoeti