The Citizen (Gauteng)
Shades of Marikana come to haunt BASF
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: GERMAN GIANT SLAMMED FOR LONMIN TIES
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.