Shades of Marikana come to haunt BASF


The Citizen (Gauteng) - - BUSI­NESS -

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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