The Citizen (Gauteng)

Shades of Marikana come to haunt BASF

SOCIAL RESPONSIBI­LITY: GERMAN GIANT SLAMMED FOR LONMIN TIES

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Marikana has resurfaced to haunt German chemical giant BASF with accusation­s it uses Lonmin as its principal source of platinum.

Shareholde­r activists challenge BASF’s 30-year ties with Lonmin, its principal supplier of platinum, at annual meeting.

The Marikana tragedy has resurfaced to haunt German chemical giant BASF for its use of Lonmin as its principal source of platinum. A 2012 clash between strikers and police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine left 34 protesters dead. The findings of an inquiry into the shootings have yet to be published.

Now the tragedy is highlighti­ng the challenge facing multinatio­nals to control suppliers and promote humanitari­an measures.

BASF uses platinum, palladium and rhodium in its catalytic converters, which are used in cars. The company bought €450 million (R6 billion) worth of precious metals from Lonmin in 2014 and has had a close relationsh­ip for about 30 years, BASF says.

Chief executive officer Kurt Bock rejected calls at the company’s annual shareholde­rs’ meeting last week to contribute to a fund to support the families of the dead strikers.

Johannes Seoka, a South African Anglican bishop, posed questions that were read out in German by Markus Dufner of the Associatio­n of Ethical Shareholde­rs Germany.

The world’s biggest chemical company should “take responsibi­lity as Lonmin’s principle customer” and make reparation payments to the families of the miners, Seoka said.

BASF, based in Ludwigshaf­en, Germany, should also look into the housing and working conditions around Lonmin’s mines where many workers lived without running water or electricit­y, Seoka said.

Seoka said Lonmin, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer by volume, bore some of the responsibi­lity for the deaths.

The issue stresses the difficulti­es companies have with controllin­g their sources of components for their products.

IPhone maker Apple hired a watchdog to inspect working conditions at factories after suicides at its Chinese partner Foxconn Technology Group in 2010.

“You can be sure that we know how platinum is obtained and what the conditions in the mines in South Africa are,” Bock said. “But it’s really difficult for us to make judgments here from a distance.”

There had been “repeated, ... very long and very intensive labour disputes” at South African mines in recent years, he said.

Bock is a board member of the UN Global Compact, an initiative for businesses committed to ethical operations.

“I can’t imagine that BASF can approve, or tolerate, such conduct by one of its suppliers,” Seokasaid.

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