The Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) has lodged a notice of intention to defend a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) brought against the organisation by a Canadian mining company, First Quantum Minerals (FQM) at the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. SARW is an independent, nonprofit organisation that monitors corporate and government’s conduct in the extraction of natural resources in Southern Africa. As part of its work, SARW assesses the extent to which these activities uplift the economic conditions of the SADC region’s communities. Often this work puts SARW at odds with some mining companies who do not take well any constructive criticism made against their operational practices particularly matters relating to the impact of their activities on the environment and on adjacent communities.
Over the past few years in collaboration with Zambian civil society organisations and mining-affected communities, SARW has been monitoring the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of FQM in Solwezi District in the Northwestern Province of Zambia. On February 5, 2019, we published a report titled “Living in a Parallel Universe: FQM versus communities” focusing on the plight of communities around FQM’s Kansanshi mine. The research found FQM’s CSR programme as not transforming the lives of mining communities and lacking commitment towards sustainable inclusive development and social justice. FQM disputed the findings of the report, and eventually the parties mutually agreed that SARW would undertake a second study with FQM committing to avail themselves to our research team.
A second report titled “First Quantum Minerals Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility: KANSANSHI MINE”
was published in December 2020 with recommendations to both FQM and the government of Zambia on how to promote a mutually beneficial relationship between Kansanshi mine and the environment within which it operates. The report reaffirmed the findings in the first report. It revealed disparities between what FQM claims to have done and the reality on the ground. The study’s key finding was that the implementation of CSR is top-down, with disregard for the principle of free, prior and informed consent and the participation of the intended beneficiaries. The company’s CSR interventions are designed by the company and imposed on communities. The report also found areas of poor environmental management on the part of the company.
As a result of these two reports, FQM decided to file a SLAPP suit against SARW with the sole intention to intimidate and censor the organisation. “SLAPP suits are part of the tactics that big multinationals like FQM use as a strategy and attempt to escape accountability by closing all avenues for other stakeholders to express their views on their activities,” says SARW’s Governance, Research and Advocacy Officer, Mr Edward Lange. For issues that require dialogue to improve the company’s CSR and government capacity to control mining companies, FQM has opted to serve SARW with a SLAPP suit despite the fact that it participated fully in the research. SARW stands by its findings in support of the mining communities in Solwezi. In SARW’s plea – which was filed on 17 May 2021 – SARW invokes the SLAPP defence recently endorsed by the Western Cape High Court in the Reddell matter. SARW’s plea also vigorously defends the report on the merits. “We are proud to represent SARW’s stand against the abuse of South African courts to intimidate civil society in this case, and the precedent we expect it to make defending civil society’s right to hold corporates accountable across the country and continent,” said SARW’s attorney Dasantha Pillay of Richard Spoor Inc, Attorneys.
SARW is firm that FQM’s action does not seek to silence SARW alone, but it is also a quest to silence the entire civil society in Zambia and beyond particularly mining communities, media and the government against raising objections to corporate practices. “FQM wants to control the state and society. By defending this action, SARW wants to remind FQM that it is not doing Zambia a favour by paying taxes to the government – this is what a good corporate citizen has to do without expecting any favours in return ” says SARW Executive Director Dr. Claude Kabemba.
SARW calls on the global community and civil society to stand with us, as we oppose this corporate bullying by a big multinational company.