Bauxite mining in Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, is booming. Since 2015, the government of President Alpha Condé has transformed Guinea into a top global exporter, and the biggest to China, where the bulk of global aluminum is produced. Bauxite from Guinea now makes up a large proportion of the aluminum used across the world in car and airplane parts and consumer products like beverage cans and tin foil. With several more companies preparing to begin exports, Guinea, which has the world’s largest bauxite deposits, may soon become the largest global producer.
The Boké region, in northwestern Guinea, has been the center of much of the bauxite sector’s recent growth. The region now has dozens of open-sky bauxite quarries, whose red earth makes them hard to miss in Guinea’s often verdant landscape. Mining companies use heavy machinery to remove any earth covering the bauxite and dynamite blasting to break up the ore found underneath. A network of mining roads and railways, used to transport bauxite to ports, crisscross once isolated rural communities. Industrial ports, where bauxite is loaded onto barges or ships for export, are juxtaposed with the mangroves, paddy fields and local fishing ports that formed the backbone of riverside communities’ livelihoods.
Although Guinea’s bauxite boom provides much-needed tax revenue for the government, thousands of jobs, and profits to mining companies and their shareholders, it has profound human rights consequences for the rural communities that live closest to mining operations. Mining companies take advantage of the ambiguous protection for rural land rights in Guinean law to expropriate ancestral farmlands without adequate compensation or for financial payments that cannot replace the benefits communities derived from land. Damage to water sources that residents attribute to mining, as well as increased demand due to population migration to mining sites, reduces communities’ access to water for drinking, washing and cooking. Women, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are forced to walk longer distances or wait for long periods to obtain water from alternative sources. The dust produced by bauxite mining and transport smothers fields and enters homes, leaving families and health workers worried that reduced air quality threatens their health and environment.
Riots broke out in Boké in April and September 2017, due to anger at inadequate local services, particularly a lack of water and electricity, resentment at the rapid expansion of mining and broader concerns about the impacts of mining on local communities. Thousands of young people ransacked government buildings and erected informal checkpoints, preventing mining companies from operating. “If frustrations accumulate, it can be anything that sparks the powder,” a senior ministry of mines official told Human Rights Watch. “The population sees the financial investment a company is making, they see taxes being collected, trucks taking bauxite from their farmland abroad [for export], they breathe the dust, and they ask, ‘what do we get out of it?’”
Guinea’s government told Human Rights Watch that, in view of the potential human rights issues associated with mining, the government “utilizes fully its state power to ensure Guinean laws [relating to the mining sector] are respected and to oversee the activities of mining companies.” But the government’s focus on growing the bauxite sector has at times appeared to take priority over social and environmental protections. “We wanted mining activities to begin first, while there was a lack of supply [from other countries] in the market, while at least ensuring the minimum legal rights were protected from the beginning,” said Saadou Nimaga, secretary general of the ministry of mines. “We’re aiming to integrate environmental and social protections gradually.”
This report, based on more than 300 interviews in more than 30 mining-affected villages in the Boké region, as well as dozens of interviews with local and national government officials, civil society groups, environmental scientists, public health officials and company representatives, documents how the practices of mining companies, when combined with inadequate government oversight, upend the lives and livelihoods of rural communities. The report’s research and conclusions are based on the conduct of two mining projects, chosen because they were, at time of writing, Guinea’s two largest bauxite producers.
The first project, La Société Minière de Boké (SMB), is a joint venture that includes a Chinese company that is the largest aluminum producer in the world. The SMB consortium has expanded rapidly since it began operating in 2015 and is already Guinea’s biggest exporter. The second, La Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG), is a decades-old company, co-owned by the Guinean government and multinational mining companies, including Alcoa and Rio Tinto. This report considers the impact of these two projects on communities’ land and livelihoods, access to water, air quality, and health.
Loss of Land and Livelihoods
Dozens of farmers from 16 villages located near mines, ports and mining roads described how mining companies have expropriated ancestral farmlands without adequate compensation or in exchange for financial payments that don’t replace the benefits families and communities derived from land. “They’ve expanded into our fields, the areas we depended on for food. And now much of our fertile land has been taken from us,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé, a village surrounded by five CBG mines. “The company has destroyed our means of subsistence.”
Rural land is Guinea is typically organized by reference to customary (i.e. traditional) laws, which recognize the right of a family, linage or community to land based on their longstanding connection to the local area. Although Guinea’s land law can be interpreted to recognize customary rights, obtaining legal protection in practice requires communities or individuals with customary land tenure to have formally registered or recorded their landownership. Very few rural farmers have done this–in large part due to the government’s failure to roll out a 2001 rural land policy intended to facilitate land demarcation, registration and protection in rural areas. Since the passage of a 2011 mining code, the government has also failed to pass regulations establishing compensation standards for land acquisitions in the mining sector–a missed opportunity to provide clearer protection for the land rights of rural farmers and communities.
In the absence of clear protection for customary land rights, mining companies often maintain that rural land remains, in legal terms, “the property of the state,” which has granted the company the right to exploit it. This interpretation allows companies to acquire land without the informed consent of rural farmers or without providing adequate compensation. In CBG’s case, for example, local officials and community leaders said that for decades the company never paid compensation for land used for mining. “When CBG needed land, they just took it,” said one community leader. CBG said it paid compensation in most cases and showed Human Rights Watch documented examples of compensation payments. Where compensation was paid, however, CBG often utilized outdated compensation standards, which severely undervalued farmers’ crops, and did not adequately compensate farmers for the value of the land itself, making it harder for farmers to find replacement land or to develop new revenue streams. “As we lose our land, we’re forced to more frequently farm other areas, and so our land is becoming less productive,” said a farmer from Hamdallaye, a village where satellite imagery shows that the community has lost 40 percent of its ancestral lands to CBG’s mining activities. CBG in 2018 committed to deploy a new approach to compensation, in which farmers will receive replacement land from rehabilitated mining sites.
Although the financial compensation mining companies do pay–at times to the entire community, at times to individual farmers–can be a short-term windfall, it is difficult for subsistence farmers to use the money to develop sustainable sources of income in the longer term. SMB’s cash-for-land approach, for example, which gives farmers one-off financial payments to reflect both the value of land and trees and crops growing it, has allowed the consortium to acquire land quickly to fuel its rapid expansion. But it has often left farmers without the resources, support or training needed to find new land or new livelihoods. “Compensation just comes in one go, whereas your crops and fields stay with you for many years, for decades even,” said one farmer.
Mining executives said that individuals often refuse to accept alternatives to financial compensation but acknowledge the need for mining companies to combine financial payments with other forms of support, including training on how to manage compensation payments and assistance developing new sources of food and income. As things stand, civil society leaders said that, instead of reinvesting compensation money, farmers share it with family members, build new houses, or even send their children to Europe via the North Africa migration route. “I used the compensation money I got to send my two sons to Europe,” a father told Human Rights Watch. “But since they arrived in Libya I’ve not had any news for about two months. I’m worried they are in prison or dead.”
Dozens of farmers said that the impact of loss of land has been compounded by the damage caused by mining to remaining farmland, and other sources of livelihood, like fishing. “Now the mine has arrived, our fields are covered in dust,” said one villager, who showed Human Rights Watch researchers trees and crops covered in a layer of red dirt. “When you cut a branch, dust just falls off it, and you’re inhaling it. Why should we have to work like that?” Community leaders said that mining companies rarely accept that they are responsible for the reduced productivity of agricultural land or reduced income from fishing and only occasionally provide compensation.
Although women participate in farming, the bulk of compensation for land belonging to families or communities is paid to men in family or community leadership roles. Land that men and women depended on and exploited is therefore replaced by financial compensation distributed only to a handful of largely male community leaders. “Our husbands just give us whatever they want, even if the products that came from this land were used by all of us,” one woman told Human Rights Watch. While some men can at least obtain jobs at mining companies to replace lost income, women are rarely employed by mining companies, even though they are often responsible for finding alternative sources of food where land is lost to mining.
Reduced Access to Water
Unless managed appropriately, studies show that bauxite mining will have significant impacts on the hydrology of the surrounding landscape. Scores of residents told Human Rights Watch that they believe that mining had reduced water levels and quality in the local rivers, streams and wells that they rely on for washing, cooking and drinking, threatening the access to water of thousands of people. In several communities adjacent to SMB mines, damage to natural water sources meant villagers were for long periods forced to rely on SMB to bring them water in tankers. “Some days the water in the tankers is dirty,” said one community leader. “So we have to conserve the clean water we have and wait for the next delivery.”
Communities in the Boké region also told Human Rights Watch that the expropriation of land for mining or mining infrastructure had prevented communities from accessing streams and natural springs where they previously found water, while an influx of people seeking jobs in mines increased pressure on remaining water resources. Water scarcity means that women and girls, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are forced to walk longer distances than they would ordinarily do, or wait longer to use overburdened remaining sources, such as boreholes or wells. A woman from a village near an SMB consortium port said she wakes up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to get in line for water. “I take my children with me so that by the time we’re finished they can go to school,” she said.
Mining companies underscore that there are multiple reasons for inadequate access to water in the Boké region, including population migration, climate change-related factors and the aridity of the area, particularly in the dry season. They say they take steps to mitigate the impact of mining on local water sources and highlight their work to build boreholes and wells in mining-affected communities. The absence of public government or company data regarding the impact of mining on water levels and quality, however, makes it difficult to assess the adequacy of companies’ responses.
In SMB’s case, research by Human Rights Watch suggests that the company has not done enough to prevent damage to water resources, with significant consequences for local communities. “The river where we draw water has been polluted by red mud that drains down from the mine,” said one community leader from a village near an SMB mine. An April 2017 government inspection concluded that, “SMB has not taken any effective measure to reduce pollution of surface water by the transport of sediments into waterways that renders them murky and further contaminates them.” A 2018 mining ministry-commissioned audit found that, “[SMB’s] mining roads demonstrate some important environmental limitations,” including several technical deficiencies that could result in sediment flowing into rivers and streams. SMB told Human Rights Watch that the consortium has built or repaired 120 boreholes in local communities and said that it is only aware of one location in which mining had damaged local waterways, where the situation had been quickly remedied. But SMB, which conducted little or no monitoring of water quality or availability during the first three years it operated, lacks the data needed to support the contention that its operations have not affected access to water. The consortium told Human Rights Watch it began a water quality and availability monitoring program in 2018.
CBG has for decades built, operated and maintained a water treatment system and pipe network that provides running water to large areas of Sangaredi town, where its mines are located, and the neighborhoods where its workers live in the port town of Kamsar. But in six of the rural villages that surround CBG’s mines in Sangaredi, residents said that years of mining have damaged local rivers and streams. “We used the river for drinking water, for washing and fishing–it was clean water,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé. “But CBG has exploited near the source of the river, reducing its flow, and red mud from the mines flows into it during the rainy season.” CBG said it follows international best practices to prevent mining-related damage to water resources and Halco (Mining) Inc., the holding company that comprises CBG’s private-sector shareholders, told Human Rights Watch that: “CBG is unable to address claims [relating to damage to water sources] of an unsubstantiated nature dating back as far as 1973.”
The responsibility for monitoring the impact of mining on local water sources, however, belongs to mining companies, not local communities. Until 2017, CBG did not deploy the necessary monitoring tools–such as a model tracking the impact of mining on the flow of local rivers, streams and groundwater–to adequately track the impact of mining on water levels. CBG said it is now developing the monitoring tools that will allow the company to understand the impact of mining on local water sources.
Threats to Health from Reduced Air Quality
Scores of residents from the Boké region described how their lives had been blighted by the dust produced by the mining and transport of bauxite, with red dust entering villages and homes and covering crops. “It gets everywhere, even into our food when we’re cooking,” said one woman from a village near an SMB hilltop mine. Villagers, many of whom said they believe mining is already contributing to respiratory illnesses, worry about longer-term health impacts. “When you come back from your fields dirty, and covered in dust, even if an illness doesn’t show straight away, it can certainly appear later,” said one community leader.
Doctors and health workers who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that, given the absence of public air quality monitoring data by mining companies and the lack of reliable local government health statistics, it is impossible to draw firm conclusions on potential associations between mining and respiratory illnesses. Many are worried, however, that reduced air quality from mining activities could contribute to negative health outcomes. “I don’t think humans can coexist with the mine,” said a health worker who serves villages where SMB operates. The Guinean government conducts only a very limited number of air quality measurements for each company each year, but in some cases, particularly in SMB’s concession, the monitoring suggests at worst a potentially serious risk to public health and at best an urgent need for improved monitoring by mining companies and the government.
The dust blown from open-sky bauxite mines and storage areas and displaced from the roads on which the ore is transported is not normally more toxic than other forms of dust. But the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that exposure to any fine particle dust, which makes up a portion of the dust produced by mining activities, can cause, trigger or exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Vehicle exhaust emissions are also a proven cause of respiratory illness.
Residents of the dozens of villages and homes located along the SMB consortium’s unpaved mining roads, on which hundreds of trucks transporting bauxite travel every day, are the most acutely concerned by dust and vehicle emissions. “Even our saliva has changed color due to the dust,” said a woman from a village adjacent to a mining road. A 2018 mining ministry-commissioned audit estimated that the truck traffic on SMB’s roads is, “as many as 4,0oo or 5,000 vehicles per day.” CBG transports ore for export by train, but villagers located close to active mines operated by both CBG and SMB remain concerned about air quality, as do those in residential neighborhoods close to a CBG processing plant where bauxite is crushed and dried.
SMB denies that its activities are negatively impacting air quality and health. After initially operating with far from adequate mitigation measures for limiting dust emissions, SMB significantly lowered dust levels on its mining roads in the 2018 dry season by more frequently watering its mining roads. Communities remain concerned, however, about the impact on air quality of both exhaust emissions and dust, even if dust levels have somewhat reduced. A joint ministry of mines and ministry of environment inspection in February 2018, the middle of the dry season, recorded levels of fine particulate matter well above the levels recommended by the WHO in four villages near SMB’s operations. SMB’s leadership disputes the validity of these findings, noting that testing was only conducted in each location for a matter of minutes. SMB began conducting its own air quality testing in 2018 but said that the results will not be made public until the end of 2018. CBG began comprehensive air quality monitoring in 2017 and has not yet released updated public data, although it told Human Rights Watch in July 2018 that its monitoring shows that air quality, including particulate matter, is within the highest-level targets established by the WHO.
Access to Remedies
Community leaders told Human Rights Watch that mining companies often do not promptly or meaningfully respond to their complaints about the impacts of bauxite mining on their land, livelihoods, health and water sources. “Many [community members] testified to the fact that all complaints addressed directly or indirectly to CBG went astray and did not result in any remedial action,” concluded a CBG-commissioned study in December 2014. CBG has since implemented a new grievance mechanism, in which minor complaints are dealt with by community relations staff but serious or persistent problems are elevated to senior management. Local officials said that, while the new mechanism is slow, they believe CBG does make a good faith effort to resolve complaints.
Communities where the SMB consortium operates said that, while community relations staff meets frequently with residents, these meetings rarely lead to action to address complaints. “I’m fed up with meeting with the company representatives,” said one community leader. “We always have meetings with them, and nothing changes.” SMB did not refer Human Rights Watch to a copy of its grievance policy, but said that nine complaints had been filed by communities or individuals in 2017–none by women–with six resolved. In view of the limited number of complaints filed, and the widespread frustration communities expressed with the consortium’s failure to resolve problems, SMB should immediately develop and publish an effective grievance process and ensure that it is widely understood and utilized by communities.
Where communities asked local authorities to mediate with mining companies, many residents said this often did not lead to the resolution of issues. “Each time it’s the same speeches that are made,” said one community leader. “There’s no follow up, so we don’t think the authorities are really fighting [for] our side in all this.” Several community leaders said that in the absence of constructive ways to resolve grievances, they had no option but to stage demonstrations to disrupt mining activities to force companies and the government to listen to their concerns. “We organized a demonstration in 2015 to stop CBG destroying one of the sources to the river we use for water,” said a youth leader from a village near Sangaredi. “But the local authorities said that, if we continued, we’d be arrested. Of course, once we left, CBG continued their work regardless.” SMB has paid villages a bonus–in the form of rice and other supplies given to community leaders–if they do not disrupt mining activities over a three-month period. “We don’t need their rice,” one villager told Human Rights Watch. “They just need to face up to the things that we’ve asked them to fix.”
Although women are acutely impacted by loss of land to mining, reduced access to water, and concerns over health, strong social norms that discourage women from equal participation in village governance mean that women face barriers in lodging complaints. Mining companies said that they make sure to include women in community meetings, and to ask them for their views, but women said that it is difficult to speak frankly in the presence of their husbands or male elders and that the solutions agreed often do not adequately address women’s needs.
The capacity and resources of the government agencies that oversee the mining industry have improved in recent years, due in part to training and equipment from international donors. Nevertheless, government institutions still have nowhere near the personnel, resources and, at times, political will to effectively oversee an ever-expanding list of projects, with the government’s focus on growing the mining sector at times trumping environmental and social concerns. “We’ve got to be careful,” said a senior mining ministry official. “We’ve signed up to this whole concept of ‘responsible mining,’ but we need to be careful not just to be happy only with words on the page.”
In SMB’s case, the government took shortcuts during the approval process for new projects to ensure mining started quickly, prioritizing investment over a comprehensive analysis of social and environmental risks. Indeed, despite deficiencies with the environmental and social impact assessments first submitted by SMB, the government allowed the project to rapidly move forward, leading to tangible environmental and social consequences for communities. “We had a decision to make,” Saadou Nimaga, Secretary-General of the ministry of mines told Human Rights Watch. “If we had to wait for all these studies, the market wasn’t going to wait. We knew already broadly what the impacts of mining would be.” When asked about problems with its environmental and social impact assessments, the SMB consortium told Human Rights Watch that all its documentation had been approved by the Guinean government. SMB did state, however, that it is, “currently taking different actions to address the weaknesses of its first round of impact assessments and environmental management plan,” including to address dust emissions and impacts on surface water. SMB in February 2018 commissioned an international consultancy to update its impact assessments and revise its management plan.
Once mining begins, environment ministry officials said that they can in theory refuse to renew a company’s environmental certificate, required to operate in Guinea, where deficiencies are identified. “If the certificate isn’t renewed, the company is then in a position of illegality in relation to Guinea’s environmental laws,” said Seydou Barry Sidibé, the secretary general of Guinea’s environment ministry. However, environment ministry officials acknowledged that it is difficult for the government to close large-scale, profitable projects. “We are a poor country, a country still developing, and so we need jobs for our young people, schools for our children,” said Sidibé. “So, while some mining companies do not respect environmental and social norms, it’s not easy for us to suddenly close these companies down.”
Although the government can in principle fine companies in breach of environmental obligations, national and local officials said that they believe that the contribution of mining to the Guinean economy protects companies from government sanctions. “I think criticizing SMB has become taboo inside the government,” said a senior mining ministry official. “There’s a political pressure that the project goes fast, because they are getting things done, and their revenue is benefitting the government and the state. It’s left little chance for the Guinean government to control what’s happening on the ground.”
A lack of transparency from mining companies and the Guinean government regarding the social and environmental impacts of mining compounds the absence of effective state oversight. Civil society organizations and even local officials often struggle to obtain copies of impact assessments, environmental social management plans, inspection reports, audits and monitoring data.
Guinea’s National Assembly has commissions on mining and on natural resources that should provide oversight of the government’s regulation of the mining sector, including through field visits to mining facilities. Because President Condé’s ruling coalition, however, holds the majority of seats in parliament they are able to and have blocked proposed plenary debates in the Assembly or the formation of parliamentary commissions of inquiry to investigate allegations of misconduct by companies or inadequate government oversight.
What Needs to Be Done
As Guinea’s bauxite boom continues, it is imperative that the government’s capacity to oversee the mining sector and protect the rights of community members keeps pace. The government should begin by enacting long-delayed regulations establishing a uniform compensation process and standards for land acquisitions in the mining sector. The government, with support from international donors, should also strengthen national and local-level government institutions to enable them to provide effective and more regular supervision of mining companies. To enable civil society organizations to supplement government oversight, the government should ensure greater transparency in the sector, including by requiring publication of environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs), environmental and social management plans (ESMPs), government and company periodic monitoring reports, and public data–from both companies and the government–on the health and environmental impacts of mining.
Although the Guinean government bears the primary responsibility for protecting communities, companies also have an obligation to ensure that their activities do not result in negative environmental, social and human rights impacts. Companies should provide replacement land or livelihood restoration assistance to households who lose land to mining, ensuring that any financial compensation is provided in a way that promotes economic self-sufficiency. In view of the distinctive impact of mining on women, and the barriers they face in airing grievances, companies should consult regularly with women and ensure that remedies include specific solutions for women. Companies should also monitor air quality and water levels and quality, publish the results and publicly explain potential health impacts. Finally, they should ensure that their staff are adequately resourced and trained to effectively monitor the impacts of mining and establish effective grievance mechanisms to remedy adverse consequences. International financial institutions, including the IFC, should ensure companies meet the standards required by loan agreements, including through regular monitoring of compliance and, where necessary, appropriate sanctions.
Where mining companies fail to meet their obligations, the Guinean government and parliament should hold them accountable. While a development-focused government might want to attract investment into the sector, it should also fine, suspend or stop mining projects where companies egregiously or persistently flout the environmental, social and human protections enshrined in Guinean law. A failure to do so could mean that, far from being part of the solution to Guinea’s drive for development, mining remains a major threat to communities’ livelihoods and way of life.
To the Government of Guinea
- Strengthen the approval process for new mining projects: Only approve proposed extractive industries projects where applicants’ have adequately assessed human rights, social and environmental risks and demonstrated their ability to protect communities from negative impacts.
- Require that affected communities have access to independent legal advice when environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) are conducted by companies and reviewed by the Guinean government. This legal advice should discuss: the government and mining companies’ obligations during the ESIA process; how communities can provide input into the ESIA process, as well as how communities can challenge the arrival of mining operations in their locality; the steps that communities or individuals with customary land tenure can take to protect their property rights.
- Publish online and post in prefectures and subprefectures decisions to approve an ESIA, including additional obligations imposed on companies if the approval was subject to conditions.
- Ensure that two civil society representatives participate in follow up meetings to determine whether the company has met the conditions imposed when an ESIA was first approved.
- Improve monitoring of mining companies: Strengthen the capacity of government institutions at all levels, particularly the Ministry of the Environment and the Office of Environmental Studies and Evaluation (Bureau Guinéen d’Etudes et d’Evaluation Environnementale (BGEEE)), to effectively monitor the human rights, social and environmental impact of mining operations.
- Provide the BGEEE with adequate resources and personnel to conduct week-long inspection missions to every active mining company by the end of 2019 and every six months by the end of 2020.
- Increase the number and capacity of trained staff in the Ministry of Environment and BGEEE able to analyze ESIAs, monitor compliance reports, and form inspection teams to verify that companies adhere fully to their environmental and social obligations. Strengthen the capacity of staff to oversee currently-neglected impacts of mining, such as the consequences of resettlement and land expropriations.
- Operationalize Prefectural Committees for Environmental and Social Supervision (Comités Préfectoraux de Suivi Environnemental et Social (CPSES)) by providing the equipment and funding, from mining companies if appropriate, needed for CPSES members to conduct site visits every quarter to each company operating in their locality. Ensure that the reports that result from CPSES missions are made public.
- Ensure all monitoring includes detailed consideration of impacts on women.
- As well as monitoring the impact of individual mining projects, monitor and publicly report on the cumulative impacts of mining on the environment and livelihoods, including impacts exacerbated by climate change.
- Sanction non-compliant companies: Develop and deploy a broader set of sanctions for companies that violate Guinean laws regarding social and environmental management. Potential sanctions should include meaningful financial penalties, temporary suspension of activities for a defined period and, ultimately, the project’s termination.
- Publish a policy paper describing the government’s approach to sanctioning mining companies and the circumstances in which each form of sanction will be imposed.
- Ensure that all sanctions, and the reasons for their imposition, are made public.
- Improve transparency: Improve the access of affected communities and civil society organizations to key documents, from the government and mining companies, related to the human rights, social and environmental impacts of bauxite mining.
- Key documents include environmental and social impact assessments; government decisions validating impact assessments, including the conditions imposed on companies where approval was subject to conditions; resettlement plans; monitoring reports or audits conducted by the government and companies; decisions regarding the renewal or otherwise of companies’ operating permits, as well as decisions describing sanctions imposed on companies.
- Summaries of key documents should be translated into local languages, made available online, and posted in public buildings, including in mining-affected communities. Government authorities should not only make the information accessible upon request, but also proactively disseminate information that is relevant to the protection of rights of affected communities.
- Ensure that civil society organizations, mining-affected communities and vulnerable groups, including women, can meaningfully participate in consultations regarding proposed regulations or new policies in the mining sector.
- Implement land reform to protect customary land rights: As part of a wider land reform process, urgently take action to identify, secure and demarcate customary land rights, particularly in areas where mining exploitation is planned. Ensure there is a legal mechanism to protect such land rights.
- Develop regulations on land acquisitions in the mining sector: Draft and adopt regulations describing the process to be followed to resettle and compensate communities who lose land to mining, whether homes or agricultural land. These texts, which should be developed in consultation with civil society and affected communities, should:
- Make clear that compulsory land acquisition should only be a last resort, where necessary and proportionate, and only to the minimum extent necessary.
- Clarify whether the Guinean government and companies are required to follow Guinea’s public utility process for compulsory land acquisitions, including land occupied by farmers with customary land tenure. If they are not required to do so, any alternative mechanism should reflect the safeguards for compulsory land acquisitions and involuntary resettlement contained in human rights law.
- Ensure that individuals with customary land tenure, and occupants of land who have planted crops or built infrastructure on land, are adequately compensated where land is acquired for mining and that their living standards are not negatively impacted.
- Address the role that the prompt rehabilitation of land can play in restituting land, including by discussing how to secure the land tenure rights of local communities when land is restituted.
- If the provision of replacement land is not possible, require companies to provide both financial compensation for the value of land and property and livelihood assistance to restore or improve communities’ living standards.
- Provide safeguards to ensure that women can participate in compensation processes and receive adequate compensation, replacement land and/or livelihood assistance.
- Require companies to monitor and publicly report on the effect of land acquisitions on living standards, including with disaggregated data on women.
- Monitor and protect access to clean water: Monitor the effectiveness of companies’ measures to protect access to water, including by monitoring water levels and quality, making public monitoring data, and explaining any potential health impacts.
- Only approve ESIAs and environmental and social management plans (ESMP) if they contain adequate measures to protect natural water resources and/or to provide communities with alternatives water sources.
- Require companies to conduct monitoring of water levels and quality that meets industry best practices and to publish the data.
- Where government or company monitoring suggests mining is impacting access to clean water, ensure companies take immediate steps to address the cause. If necessary for public health or to protect access to water, suspend mining activities until the problem has been addressed.
- Monitor and protect air quality: Monitor air quality in residential areas affected by mining, publish the monitoring results and publicly explain potential public health impacts.
- Partner with international public health experts to improve the BGEEE’s capacity to conduct air quality monitoring, including by improving the equipment used for monitoring and significantly increasing the frequency of monitoring.
- Do not approve ESIAs unless they include quantitative estimates of the impact of mining operations, including the transport of bauxite, on air quality.
- Require companies to conduct air quality monitoring that meets industry best practices and to publish air quality data.
- Where government or company monitoring suggests that levels of particulate matter or other emissions exceed the World Health Organizations’ recommended levels, ensure companies take immediate steps to address the source of the emissions. If necessary for public health, suspend mining activities until the source of emissions has been addressed.
- In coordination with the Guinean health ministry, assess whether adequate health services are in place to address the health impacts of reduced air quality, especially for children and older people.
- Adopt the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Adopt and fully implement the standards of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative by governments, major multinational extractive companies, and NGOs that seek to address the risk of human rights abuses arising from security arrangements in the oil, gas and mining industries.
To Mining Companies
- Address weaknesses in past ESIAs: Redo impact assessments that did not involve effective consultation with local communities or which did not adequately assess or propose mitigation for the environmental and social consequences of mining. Ensure the consultation process is inclusive of women and other marginalized members of the community.
- Improve internal monitoring of social and environmental impacts: Ensure that existing community relations teams and health, safety and environment staff are adequately staffed, resourced and trained to effectively monitor the environmental, social and human rights impacts of mining.
- Conduct independent monitoring: Commission independent monitors, paid for by the company but operating as a separate entity, to periodically (every six months) evaluate the environmental, social and human rights impact of mining operations and publish periodic reports by those monitors.
- Improve transparency: Publish environmental and social impact assessments, environmental and social management plans and periodic environment monitoring reports. Summaries and full reports should be translated into local languages, made available online, and posted in public buildings, including at prefectures and subprefectures in directly affected communities.
- Respect rural land rights: Ensure that, where land is acquired for mining, fair compensation is paid, including to individuals and communities with customary land rights, and that land acquisitions do not negatively impact local communities’ livelihoods.
- Consider alternatives to one-off financial payments that better promote economic self-sufficiency in the long-term.
- Combine financial payments with provision of replacement land or livelihood restoration assistance.
- Pay special attention to impacts of land acquisitions on women, and ensure they are appropriately compensated for their losses.
- Monitor the impact of land acquisitions on communities’ livelihoods and living standards and provide additional assistance if over time monitoring shows communities have been negatively impacted.
- Before expropriating land, develop an agreement for returning land to the individuals or communities it is acquired from, including details as to the condition in which land should be returned. Ensure that land is rehabilitated in a manner that allows it to be farmed and utilized by local communities.
- Develop an approach for addressing historical land acquisitions that did not respect Guinean law or international human rights law, including through land rehabilitation programs and other forms of compensation.
- Monitor and protect access to clean water: Follow international best practices to prevent or mitigate the impact of mining on access to water, and monitor the impact of mining on water levels and quality. Immediately end any activities that have been shown to prevent communities accessing adequate water for their needs, until access to water has been secured. All ESIAs and ESMPs should include:
- Baseline monitoring of water levels and quality before mining operations begin, including mapping of existing surface and underground water sources, as well as a comprehensive monitoring plan once mining operations begin.
- A water balance for mining operations, describing how mining will occur without altering local water levels and quality.
- A stream crossing plan describing how, where mining infrastructure crosses rivers or streams, the impact on water levels and quality will be minimized.
- A water supply plan, as required by the mining code, detailing the steps the company will take to maintain and improve water supply for local communities.
- Adequate measures to prevent sediment run-off from mines and mining roads.
- Monitor and protect air quality: Monitor air quality in residential areas affected by mining, publish the monitoring results and publicly explain potential public health impacts.
- Where particulate matter or other emissions exceed the World Health Organizations’ recommended levels, take immediate steps to address the source of the emissions.
- If necessary for public health, suspend mining activities until the source of emissions has been addressed. Mitigation measures that should be implemented immediately include paving mining roads passing close to towns, villages or other inhabited areas.
- In coordination with the Guinean health ministry, assess whether adequate health services are in place to address the health impacts of reduced air quality, especially for children and older people.
- Assist the Guinean government to develop a public health response to the impact of its operations on air quality that is proportionate to, and addresses, the impacts of its activities.
- Develop effective grievance processes: Establish effective grievance mechanisms so that individuals affected by mining projects can complain directly to companies in addition to the government.
- Ensure that social and economic barriers, including illiteracy, do not prevent at-risk populations, including women, from filing complaints.
- Regularly publish complaints-related data, including disaggregation by sex and by the nature of the complaint, and the number of cases resolved.
- Ensure there is no retaliation, in any form, against community members or company employees bringing complaints.
- Adopt the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Adopt and fully implement the standards of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative by governments, major multinational extractive companies, and NGOs that seek to address the risk of human rights abuses arising from security arrangements in the oil, gas and mining industries.
To Companies Sourcing Bauxite from Guinea
- Establish a thorough due diligence process, including regular monitoring, to ensure that exporters respect the rights of communities where mining occurs. If there are reports of human rights violations companies should specifically investigate these reports. The due diligence process should also include procedures to address adverse human rights impacts.
To the National Assembly of Guinea
- Where mining conventions are submitted to the National Assembly for ratification, only approve proposed extractive industries projects after duly assessing human rights, social and environmental risks.
- Undertake regular site visits to mining-affected communities and ensure that resulting reports are made public and debated in plenary sessions of the National Assembly.
- Initiate a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the environmental, social and human rights impact of bauxite mining in the Boké region.
To International Financial Institutions, including the IFC and OPIC
- Regularly monitor client companies’ compliance with performance standards and work with them to achieve compliance where it is not yet met.
- Where land is acquired for mining, work with clients to ensure that fair compensation is paid to individuals with legal and customary land tenure, including for the value of land. Ensure that clients provide replacement land or livelihood restoration assistance to landowners or occupants who lose land to mining.
- Work with client companies to ensure that they revisit past land acquisitions that did not meet IFC standards, but which occurred after IFC involvement, including by surveying households in affected villages to determine whether they maintain the same standard of living as before land was acquired for mining. Ensure companies take steps to improve households’ social and economic rights until they exceed pre-mining levels.
To the Government of Guinea’s International Partners
- Provide financial and technical assistance to strengthen robust environmental, social and human rights monitoring in the extractive industries.
- Provide more support to civil society organizations providing legal or advisory services to mining-affected communities, including the conduct of community-level or civil-society led parallel ESIAs and monitoring reports; support for communities and individuals filing complaints in companies’ grievance mechanisms, national or regional courts, or before accountability mechanisms at international financial institutions; and community-led air and water-quality testing.
This report documents how the practices of mining companies, when combined with inadequate government oversight, upend the lives and livelihoods of rural communities. It is based on research conducted between March 2017 and April 2018, including field visits to Guinea in March, April and July 2017, and January and April 2018, and advocacy trips in October 2017 and July 2018. Our research focused on two mining projects, those of La Société Minière de Boké (SMB) and La Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG). These projects were chosen because they were the two biggest exporters of bauxite in Guinea in 2017.
Research for this report was conducted in the Boké region, the capital of Guinea’s bauxite belt. The Boké region is divided into five prefectures. Most of Human Rights Watch’s research was conducted in the Boké prefecture, which comprises the city of Boké and nine other subprefectures.
Local Government in Guinea
Boké is one of Guinea’s eight administrative regions, which are subdivided into 33 prefectures. Local government officials in Guinea include those nominated directly by the executive, whose role is to represent the central government at the regional level (through a governor), in prefectures (through prefects) and in subprefectures (through subprefects). Guinea’s efforts to decentralize government, however, also means that there are elected officials, who head local councils (collectivités locales), called urban communes in towns and cities (Communes Urbaines) and rural development communities (Communautés Rurales de Développement, (CRD)) in rural areas. These elected officials, which are led by a mayor in urban communes and a president in a CRD, manage the budget and development program of the local area. There are 38 urban communes in Guinea’s towns and cities (including five in Conakry) and 303 CRDs, or approximately one in each subprefecture.
In total Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in more than 30 villages in the Boké region, as well as in the city of Boké itself. In areas where the SMB consortium operates, we conducted research in communities around the consortium’s ports at Dapilon and Katougouma, its mines at Kaboe and Malapouya and along the mining roads linking Katougouma port to the Kaboe and Dabis mines and Dapilon port to the Malapouya network of mines. In total, we visited 17 communities. These are Dapilon, Diakhabia, Djoumayah, Kaboe, Kakissa, Kakoumba, Kandouga, Kanfarende, Kakoui, Katougouma, Lansanayah, Mamaya, Noumouya, Soleya, Songuebouyni, Tintima, and Toukerem. We also conducted research in Kolaboui, a town located on SMB’s mining road from Dapilon port to Malapouya.
Human Rights Watch visited 12 communities around CBG’s mines in Sangaredi, including several villages close to the railway used by CBG. We also conducted research in the town of Kamsar, where CBG’s port is located. In total, we visited 12 villages: Boundou Waadé, Danta Fonye, Fassaly Foutabe, Hafia, Hamdallaye, Kalinkolé, Kankalaré I, Kankalaré II, Kogon Lengue, M’Bororé, N’Koussi, and Parawol.
Human Rights Watch typically began visits to communities, including repeat visits, with a group interview with community leaders, before conducting individual interviews with community members impacted by mining, including women. Group interviews lasted one to three hours. Individual interviews lasted 30 minutes to two hours. Interviewees were not compensated. Human Rights Watch conducted most interviews with community members in local languages, with translation into French. Group interviews were typically conducted in village meeting places, often in the open air. Individual interviews were conducted in a variety of locations, including homes or in secluded open-air settings.
Human Rights Watch also met local mining, environment and agriculture officials in Boké and Sangaredi. In Conakry, we met with officials from the Ministry of Mines and Geology, Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests, Office of Environmental Studies and Evaluation, and members of parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources, the Environment and Rural Development. We also interviewed independent human rights analysts, researchers, environmental scientists, medical personnel, public health experts, civil society organizations, activists, and lawyers working on mining issues in Guinea. In April 2018, we also sent the Guinean government a list of questions, and the government’s response is annexed to this report.
Respondents verbally consented to be interviewed and were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the data would be used. Human Rights Watch informed interviewees that they could decline to answer questions or could end the interview at any time.
Community members we interviewed typically asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals from the government or mining companies, but agreed that we could use the name of their village, which we have done in this report. While some government officials agreed to be identified, the name of others, particularly those discussing sensitive information, have been withheld to prevent possible reprisals.
We met on several occasions with the SMB consortium’s leadership, principally its director-general, Fréderic Bouzigues, to discuss our findings, and visited CBG’s headquarters in October 2017, April 2018 and July 2018, where we met the company’s director-general, Souleymane Traoré, and community relations and health, security and environment teams. In May 2018, we sent a list of questions to both CBG and SMB. Their responses were integrated into this report, while the complete letters are available on our website. We also met with the leadership of several other mining companies and representatives of the International Finance Corporation, both in Guinea and in Washington, D.C. in the United States.
We took measures to ensure that our investigations accurately reflected women’s distinctive experiences with mining. Such measures included working with Guinean female researchers and interpreters, meeting with women individually and in groups to explain the aims of the research and seeking advice from experts on gender and mining.
Human Rights Watch also reviewed secondary data sources, including laws, government documents, reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutes, and maps. We used satellite imagery to assess how mining has affected land use and to understand when mining projects began construction and exploitation.
As discussed above, this report focuses on the practices of two mining projects, CBG and SMB, as well as the government’s regulation of those projects. We have sought to make clear where differences exist in the practices of CBG and SMB. While at times in the report Human Rights Watch has drawn on research related to the bauxite sector as a whole, the report does not purport to draw specific conclusions on other mining companies or projects operating in Guinea.
Guinea’s Mining Industry
Guinea is a small, resource-rich country in West Africa, with a population of approximately 12.5 million people. After gaining independence from France in 1958, Guinea endured more than 50 years of authoritarian rule, with President Alpha Condé winning the country’s first democratic elections in 2010. He was reelected in 2015.
Guinea possesses the world’s largest bauxite reserves, with more than one-third of the Earth’s known deposits, as well large amounts of iron ore, gold and diamonds. Much of Guinea’s vast bauxite deposits are found near the surface, making them easy to extract. Mining companies use heavy machinery to remove any earth covering the bauxite, before using dynamite blasting to break up the ore found underneath. The bauxite is then loaded by excavators onto trucks and taken to a storage location before being transported by specially-constructed railways or mining roads to ports. Bauxite from Guinea is exported to refineries across the world, including in China, North America, and Europe, where it is refined into aluminum for use in car and airplane parts and consumer products like beverage cans and tin foil.
Mining has long been a major contributor to the Guinean economy, with mining revenues making up almost 20 percent of Guinea’s gross domestic product and almost 90 percent of its exports in 2014. But despite its abundant mineral wealth, Guinea remains one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 183of 188 states in the 2015 Human Development Index.
After first winning election in 2010, Condé highlighted the richness of Guinea’s mineral resources and embarked on an ambitious reform program targeting the mining sector. His government in 2011 promulgated a new mining code, which was already in development when he came into office, envisioned to give the Guinean government a greater share of mining revenue and improve governance of the mining sector, including by increasing the transparency of the process through which mining titles are awarded. The new code also introduced new requirements to make mining projects more respectful of social and environmental standards, including setting out more clearly companies’ obligation to conduct detailed environmental and social impact assessments.
The government’s efforts to grow the mining sector during Condé first term, however, encountered obstacles. Pushback from mining companies about the level of taxes they were expected to pay led to the passage of an amended code being passed in 2013. Development of vast iron ore deposits in Guinea’s southeast region have long been undermined by corruption allegations, as well as the enormous costs of exporting the ore from an area more than 700 kilometers from Guinea’s coast. The devastating 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, which cost more than 2,500 Guineans their lives, also caused many investors to freeze planned projects. This meant that, when added to a slump in the global price of bauxite, Guinea’s bauxite sector barely grew during Condé’s first term, with production marginally increasing from 17.6 million tons in 2011 to 18 million in 2015.
The Bauxite Boom
Guinea’s bauxite sector has grown rapidly since 2015. The demand for Guinean bauxite in global markets has increased in recent years as other countries, notably Indonesia in 2014 and Malaysia in 2016, have banned exports. By the end of 2017, Guinea was already among the world’s top three producers of bauxite. Guinea’s bauxite boom now shows no signs of slowing down: there were, at time of writing, at least 10 more projects preparing to begin exports, on varying timelines, including companies from Australia, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and China. Guinea’s mining ministry states that the country ultimately hopes to export 100 million tons of bauxite per year.
Demand from China has been a key factor in the bauxite sector’s recent growth. China is the world’s largest aluminum producer, producing more than 50 percent of global supply, and by early 2018, Guinea was the largest supplier of bauxite to China. Much of the recent increase in exports to China has been driven by a single producer, La Société Minière de Boké (SMB), a consortium bringing together a company linked to China’s largest aluminum producer, China Hongqiao Group, as well as a Singaporean shipping company, Winning International Group, and a Guinean logistics company, United Mining Services International. Chinese involvement in the bauxite sector is likely to continue to expand. In September 2017 Guinea signed a $20 billion donor partnership with the Chinese government under which Guinea receives loans from China for major infrastructure projects that are secured against future bauxite exploitation by Chinese companies.
SMB is in many ways the poster child of Guinea’s bauxite boom. Although it often takes years for a new operator to begin exports, it took SMB only six months–the consortium first obtained a research permit on January 9, 2015, obtained an exploitation permit on July 7, 2015 and shipped its first exports on July 20, 2015. As discussed below, the government’s willingness to allow the SMB consortium to begin construction of major infrastructure months before it had secured operating permits–and before environmental and social impact assessments were reviewed and approved by the environment ministry–was a key factor in this rapid growth. SMB has since expanded further, acquiring the rights to new mining territory by snapping up licenses from other companies and striking deals with competitors. SMB says it exported 31 million tons in 2017–approximately twice its 2016 output–meaning it would have become Guinea’s biggest bauxite exporter, and one of the largest in the world, in only three years. “We’ve shown that you can quickly and profitably exploit bauxite in Guinea,” Fréderic Bouzigues, SMB’s Director-General, told Human Rights Watch. All of SMB’s bauxite is exported to China, where it is purchased by China Hongqiao Group, a member of the SMB consortium.
The SMB consortium operates multiple open-sky mines throughout the Boké region. Once excavated, bauxite is transported to ports for export along specially-constructed mining roads, which are largely unpaved, with hundreds of lorries traveling to and from the consortium’s mines each day. The SMB consortium operates two ports, one in Katougouma, serving mines like that at Dabis about 35 kilometers northwest from Boké, and another at Dapilon, serving mines like those around Malapouya, 20 kilometers northeast of Boké. Both of SMB’s ports are located on the Rio Nunez river, and are not capable of being traversed by ocean-going transport vessels. Instead, the ore is transferred from stockpiles into barges, each carrying approximately 8,000 tons, which in turn transfer the bauxite into transport vessels at a deep-sea port off the Guinean coast. The SMB consortium’s ports are principally operated by consortium member and shipping company Winning International Group, while road transport is led by consortium member United Mining Services International.
The other project examined in this report, CBG, was created in 1963 but has been exporting bauxite since 1973. Although CBG operates as an independent company, it is jointly owned by the Guinean government, Alcoa (headquartered in the United States), Rio Tinto (United Kingdom), and Dadco (Channel Islands). CBG operates multiple open-sky mines around the town of Sangaredi, about 70 kilometers from Boké. CBG uses a 125-kilometer rail line to transport bauxite from the mines around Sangaredi to a deep-sea port in Kamsar, at the mouth of the Rio Nunez river.
CBG exported 14.4 million tons in 2017 and plans to export a similar amount in 2018. CBG is currently implementing a $1 billion expansion project to help it increase production to 18.5 million tons per year and, eventually, to 27.5 million tons. CBG’s expansion is partly financed by a $200 million loan from the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank affiliate, which in turn helped the company attract loans or underwriting from the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the German government’s United Loan Guarantees of Germany (UFK) and private banks and investors.
Bauxite mining has made the Boké region, which is in lower Guinea (La Basse Guinée), along the country’s western coast and bordering Guinea Bissau, the center of Guinea’s mining-driven economic growth. Although only one of Guinea’s bauxite producers currently refines the raw material in the country, the industry still generates significant tax revenue for the Guinean government. SMB said it estimates that its overall contribution to the Guinean economy in 2017 was $400 million. CBG said that it paid $90 million in taxes to the Guinean government in 2017 and estimates that, through taxes and dividends, it provides the government approximately 10 percent of its operating budget.
Guinea’s bauxite boom has generated thousands of jobs in the Boké region. SMB told Human Rights Watch that the consortium directly employs 7,663 people, and a further 10,000 people indirectly. CBG in May 2018 employed 2,284 people directly and a further 2,254 through subcontractors.
Despite the creation of jobs, however, the influx of mining companies into the Boké region has caused resentment among the local population. In April and September 2017, Boké was paralyzed by riots, as thousands of young people ransacked government buildings and stopped mining companies from operating. Security forces clashed with protestors, at times using live ammunition, resulting in the deaths of at least one person in April 2017 and two more in September 2017. “If frustrations accumulate, it can be anything that sparks the powder,” a senior ministry of mines official told Human Rights Watch. “The population sees the financial investment a company is making, they see taxes being collected, trucks taking bauxite from their farmland abroad, they breathe the dust, and they ask, ‘what do we get out of it?’”
The protests demonstrated deep-rooted anger driven by a perception that Boké residents had not only insufficiently benefited from mining but also endured the negative impact of mining on people’s livelihoods, health and environment. In an April 2017 memorandum addressed to the Guinean government, local officials, religious leaders, civil society activists and youth leaders from Boké described the factors motivating resentment toward the government and mining companies. The memorandum referenced a lack of drinking water and electricity in Boké, and referred to the impact of mining on health, livelihoods and the environment, decrying “the destruction of forests, biodiversity, grazing fields and agricultural land from clearing and exploitation by mining…the pollution of the environment which affects the health of the population…the inadequacy of social structures in view of the growing population,” and “the systematic exclusion of affected populations from the financial benefits of mining exploitation.”
Although neither Guinea’s 2011 mining code nor its 1989 environment code explicitly mention human rights, they both impose obligations on companies to avoid or remedy the negative social and environmental impacts of mining. Guinea’s 2011 mining code requires companies to, “ensure the rational exploitation of mineral resources in harmony with the protection of the environment and the preservation of health,” as well as work for the “promotion or maintenance of the living conditions and general good health of the population.” Guinea’s environment code requires that companies, “take all necessary measures to manage and avoid the pollution of the environment.”
Prior to obtaining government approval for a mining project, the 2011 mining code requires mining companies to submit an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) that examines the likely consequences of mining on local communities. Companies must also formulate a strategy, known as an environmental and social management plan (ESMP), to prevent and mitigate negative impacts. Once an ESIA is submitted to the Guinean government, it is assessed by a 23-person inter-ministerial committee, which includes representatives of civil society organizations. Only upon the committee’s approval can a company obtain the environment ministry certificate (a Certificate of Environmental Conformity) necessary for the project to proceed. Companies are required to reapply annually to the environment ministry for renewal of the certificate, which should only be renewed if the company demonstrates adequate compliance with its ESMP.
In conducting impact assessments and preparing ESMPs, the mining code requires companies to integrate internationally-accepted mining industry standards. The code requires that ESIAs be conducted, “in accordance with the environment code and its implementing regulations, as well as internationally-accepted standards,” and that, “appropriate techniques and methods must be used to protect the environment and the safety of workers and the local community in accordance with the environment code or international best practices in this area.” 2014 government regulations describing how impacts assessments in the mining sector should be conducted state that companies must demonstrate compliance with national environmental standards or, in their absence, with international best practices.
In discussing relevant international best practices, the Guinean regulations on ESIAs refer to the policies and performance standards established by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). This suggests that, while these standards are not in and of themselves binding under Guinean law, they may be useful in setting out the kinds of best practices companies should respect. Companies that accept loans from the IFC, like CBG, are more clearly required to comply with the IFC’s performance standards as a condition of receiving a loan from IFC. The World Bank group, of which the IFC is part, has also developed detailed environmental, health and safety guidelines for all industries, as well as guidelines specific to the mining sector. These guidelines are intended as general and industry-specific good practices and represent measures, “considered to be achievable in new facilities at reasonable costs by existing technology.”
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests is the agency primarily responsible for overseeing companies’ compliance with Guinea’s environmental laws. An environment ministry agency, the Guinean Office of Environmental Studies and Evaluation (Bureau Guinéen d’Etudes et d’Evaluation Environnementale, (BGEEE)), is responsible for analyzing the quality of ESIAs and coordinating their review and approval by government. Once mining begins, the BGEEE also conducts annual inspections of mining companies, which help the environment ministry to decide whether to reissue each year a company’s Certificate of Environmental Conformity, which is, in theory, required for the company to continue operating each year. The mining ministry has also, since 2017, begun to play an active role in auditing companies social and environmental practices, although it does not have a formal role in certifying companies’ compliance with their environmental obligations.
Although oversight by both the mining and environment ministries is led by officials in Conakry, both ministries have representatives at the prefectural level, in local government offices in the city of Boké, and in certain subprefectures, including in Sangaredi, where CBG’s mines are located. The local representatives of both ministries are supposed to provide additional oversight of companies’ activities and report periodically to their superiors in Conakry.
International Human Rights Standards
The Guinean government has an obligation under human rights law to protect and secure human rights against abuses by businesses, such as mining companies, including through the enforcement of laws requiring companies to respect human rights.
Guinea has ratified several United Nations and African human rights treaties that protect rights applicable to the issues discussed in this report. For example, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protects the right to healthy natural environments as part of the right to health. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR), the committee of experts that monitors the implementation of the ICESCR, has stated that this requires states to take measures to prevent pollution by third parties, such as mining companies. A state’s, “failure to enact or enforce laws to prevent the pollution of water, air and soil by extractive and manufacturing industries” can therefore constitute a violation. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states that “[all] peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.” The African Commission has interpreted this to require that, “states take reasonable and other measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation, to promote conservation, and to secure an ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.”
International human rights standards also increasingly require corporations, including in the mining sector, to respect human rights. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that: “Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.” The Guiding Principles also encourage companies to ensure that they account for human rights impacts throughout their supply chain.
The need for human rights diligence has also been integrated into regional and national guidelines. In 2009, as part of a directive designed to harmonize standards regulating mining in West Africa, the West African regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), declared that states and mining companies have an “obligation to respect and promote recognized human rights including the rights of women, children and workers arising from mining activities.” Guinea’s corporate social responsibility policy encourages companies “to sign up to a commitment to prevent any threat to human rights through evaluation and the management of impacts and risks factors as regards their activities on local populations.”
Organizations in countries where multinational companies are headquartered have also developed non-binding standards which recommend that multinationals, including mining companies, respect human rights in the countries where they are operating. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), for example, has developed Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises that reflect the content of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. OECD members include the United Kingdom and the United States, where CBG’s co-owners Rio Tinto and Alcoa are headquartered. The China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters has published voluntary Guidelines for Social Responsibility in Outbound Mining Investments that are targeted at mining projects that Chinese companies invest in. The Guidelines state that companies should “ensure that all operations shall be in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights during the entire life-cycle of the mining project.”
When asked about the social, environmental, and human rights consequences of mining, the Guinean government and mining companies often state that mining has generated thousands of jobs in the Boké region and highlight the considerable money and time that they invest in community development projects, from building or refurbishing local schools to partnerships with local women’s cooperatives. These efforts, however, while commendable, do not relieve mining companies of their responsibility to exercise due diligence to prevent mining operations–the core of their business–from infringing on the rights of local communities, and to provide redress where damage is caused. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that: “Business enterprises may undertake other commitments or activities to support and promote human rights, which may contribute to the enjoyment of rights. But this does not offset a failure to respect human rights throughout their operations.”
Loss of Land and Livelihoods
Dozens of farmers from 16 villages located near mines, ports and mining roads described how mining companies have expropriated ancestral farmlands without adequately addressing the impact on farmers’ ability to support and feed their families. These practices are facilitated by the inadequate protections afforded by Guinean law to customary land tenure rights, particularly in rural areas, where mining has the biggest impact. The Guinean government has, since the passage of the 2011 mining code, failed to pass regulations establishing compensation standards for land acquisitions in the mining sector–a missed opportunity to provide clearer protection to rural farmers and communities.
Community leaders from several villages adjacent to bauxite mines walked Human Rights Watch researchers across the exposed red earth that indicates where the mining company has removed topsoil and then extracted the ore underneath. “They’ve expanded into our fields, the areas we depended on for food. And now much of our fertile land has been taken from us,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé, a village surrounded by five CBG mines. “The company has destroyed our means of subsistence.”
The SMB consortium’s mines and infrastructure have expanded particularly rapidly since it began operating in 2015, and on several occasions Human Rights Watch researchers returned to a village after only a few months to find that SMB had added a new mining site. Communities as yet untouched by mining are concerned that their land is also at risk. “We don’t know where the limit of the mine will fall,” said one farmer. “SMB are in the process of doing surveys everywhere, and we just don’t know where they are going to exploit next.”
Although the compensation mining companies do pay–at times to the entire community, at times to individual farmers or families–can be a short-term windfall. In the absence of training or other assistance it is difficult for subsistence farmers to use the money to develop sustainable sources of food or income in the longer term. “My priority has always been finding food for my family,” said a farmer from Dapilon. “You can use compensation to improve your house, but now that your farmland has gone you still have to put food on the table.”
Communities said that the effect of land losses was exacerbated by the impact of mining projects on other sources of income, like fishing, as well as the consequences of the dust from SMB’s operations on the productivity of remaining agricultural land. “There were at least 100 adults in the village who exploited land here,” said a community leader from Lansanayah, a village near SMB’s Malapouya mine. “But we lost land to the mine and last year we couldn’t farm much of what we have left because the dust makes trees unproductive.” Guinean law does not currently require companies to provide communities who lose land with livelihood assistance to maintain or improve their income and living standards, threatening community members’ rights to food and to development, protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
While mining has brought thousands of jobs to the Boké region, residents of rural villages said that jobs in the mining sector cannot offset the food and income that the community previously derived from land. Community leaders said that too few villagers are employed by mining companies and, in any case, the pay that individual employees receive doesn’t offset the benefit that entire households, families or communities derived from land. “The whole village–young and old–used to be able to farm the land, and get food and income from it,” said one village elder from Dapilon, an SMB consortium port. “The young men employed by the mine are focused on their own needs, or their wives and children, so it’s not the same thing.” Current and former mine workers also underscored that residents of rural villages often lack the education needed to obtain anything other than unskilled jobs (such as security guards or laborers), often with subcontractors, and frequently lack job security.
Although women participate in farming, the bulk of compensation for communal or familial land is often paid to men considered household heads. Land that men and women depended on and exploited is therefore replaced by financial compensation distributed only to a handful of largely male community leaders and household heads. While some men can at least obtain jobs at mining companies to replace lost income, women are rarely employed by mining companies, even though they are often responsible for finding alternative sources of food where land is lost to mining.
Human Rights Protections for Customary Land Rights
Rural land in Guinea is typically organized by reference to customary (i.e. traditional) laws. Customary laws in Guinea generally recognize the family, linage or community that first founded a village and exploited the surrounding land as the ultimate owner of agricultural land. As time passes, the village’s land is subdivided, and new families are granted the right to farm specific plots of land and to pass on this right to their children. Village land that isn’t exploited by a particular family or household can be used by all community members for the purpose of hunting or picking wild fruits, leaves, backs of trees or crops.
International and African human rights instruments protect individuals and communities, including those with customary land tenure, from arbitrary interference with their rights to property and land. Under the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, states may, as a last resort, involuntarily remove occupants of land where evictions are, “authorized by law,” provide, “full and fair compensation,” and do not result in a community’s regression in the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to health, food and water. The UN Basic Principles on Evictions state that, irrespective of whether people hold title to property, they are entitled to compensation for lost land as well as for material damage and loss of earnings.
Inadequate Protection of Customary Land Rights in Guinea
Guinea’s 1992 property law can arguably be interpreted to recognize customary rights under a provision that says that property owners include occupants of land who can demonstrate “peaceful, personal, and continuous occupancy in good faith.” In practice, however, obtaining legal protection requires communities or individuals with customary land tenure to have formally registered their land tenure rights or recorded them in local land maps. Very few rural farmers, however, have done this–in large part due to the government’s failure to adequately roll out a 2001 rural land policy to facilitate land registration and the mapping of land boundaries in rural areas.
For individuals or communities with legally-recognizable property rights, Guinean laws do on paper provide some protection from interference with these rights by mining companies. Guinea’s constitution states that land can only be expropriated in the public interest and with payment of fair compensation in advance. The mining code states that the arrival of a mining project does not extinguish property rights and that, “no right to prospect or operate is valid without the consent of the individual with property rights or his or her successors, with regard to activities involving the surface or affecting it.” Where a mining company cannot obtain consent, the mining code does give the state the right to require mining to occur, but only after adequate compensation is paid. The code states that the amount of compensation owing is, “determined as for expropriation,” which suggests that companies may be required to follow the same legal mechanism through which land can be expropriated in the public interest, a process that is in principle overseen by the judiciary. An inter-ministerial committee led by the Ministry of Cities and the Management of Land in 2017 drafted and validated, with several international organizations, a detailed set of guidelines on how such public interest expropriations should occur, but they had not yet, at time of writing, been approved and adopted by Guinea’s government.
Even if the guidelines were already incorporated into Guinean law, it is in any case unlikely that mining companies would follow the process they set out for compulsory public interest expropriation of land. Because very few rural farmers have been able to register their property rights, many mining companies maintain that, in strict legal terms, rural land remains the “property of the state,” minimizing or negating the rights of communities with customary land tenure rights. By adopting this interpretation, companies can acquire land without the informed consent of those who hold customary land tenure rights and without following a public expropriation process. Companies have in the past instead only acknowledged their responsibility to compensate the occupants of land for the crops and trees they have grown upon it, not–as required by human rights law–for the value of lost land and potential future loss of earnings.
The land law’s ambiguous protection of customary rights would be less problematic if the Guinean government had established regulations setting out uniform standards for resettlements and land acquisitions in the mining sector, which could set out more clearly the compensation owed to anyone occupying land or holding customary land tenure rights. Although the mining code states that any lawful occupant of land should receive, “compensation for the disturbance of enjoyment suffered,” it does not provide further detail and states that, “the amount, frequency, method of payments and other terms” relating to compensation are to be determined in accordance with the mining code and further implementing regulations. Although the mining code was first enacted in 2011, the Guinean government has not yet passed these implementing regulations. The mining ministry was, in July 2018, drafting regulations on this issue, although they may not be adopted for months.
In the absence of more detailed guidelines, the only existing Guinean government guidance on compensation standards is a Ministry of Agriculture policy, originally developed in 1987, but partially updated in 2008. These guidelines, consistent with the ambiguous protection of customary rights in Guinea’s land law, seem to assume that mining companies are only required to pay farmers for the value of trees and crops growing on land.This policy is so outdated, however, that companies set their own compensation frameworks, giving them significant discretion as to how much to pay and for what. “Each company has their own method for calculating compensation,” said Nestor Fara Leone, the head of the Rural Development Service in Sangaredi, which supervises companies’ compensation payments during land acquisitions. “We’d like the authorities in Conakry to propose a unified approach.”
Since it began exporting bauxite in 1973, CBG has progressively excavated and mined large tracts of land surrounding the town of Sangaredi, where its mining operations are concentrated, moving between different pits to find the necessary quality of bauxite to meet suppliers’ demands. Although much of its infrastructure, including a railway line and the port in Kamsar, was first constructed in the 1960s, CBG’s current expansion project means it is now acquiring land for new infrastructure.
Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows the land that CBG has expropriated for mining. Human Rights Watch visited four villages around Sangaredi–Hamdallaye, Boundou Waadé, Danta Fonye and Kogon Lengue–where community leaders said they had lost significant portions of their ancestral lands to mining; two more recent settlements, Kankalaré I and II, that CBG relocated in 2017 and early 2018; and three other villages, Parawol, Fassaly Foutabé and M’Bororé, who stand to lose land as CBG’s operations expand.
Community leaders described the impact of land losses on farming. “Before the mine every family member had a plot of land they could farm,” said one Hamdallaye elder. “But now we have to decide who can have land and who can’t.” Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that since 2005, CBG has expropriated some 10 square kilometers of Hamdallaye’s ancestral farmlands, or around 40% of the land, taking land for open-sky mines and, since 2016, to build a bauxite storage area and new sections of railway and roads to expand its operations. “There’s nobody in this community who hasn’t lost land to CBG,” said a community leader. Mining will in 2019 also force the community to relocate their homes, although the community hopes to continue to farm the land that has so far been spared by mining.
In Boundou Waadé, an adjacent community to Hamdallaye that was also established before CBG’s arrival, satellite imagery shows how the village has been progressively surrounded by CBG’s mines since approximately 2000. Farmers said that the lack of remaining land threatens to destroy their system of crop rotation–in which fields are only farmed every seven or more years–needed to keep land fertile. “As we lose our land, we’re forced to more frequently farm other areas, and so our land is becoming less productive,” said one farmer. “In less than 10 years, I think the land will be exhausted.” Residents who stand to lose land as CBG’s operations expand expressed fears of the impact on their own livelihoods. “I’m scared about what will happen when my land is destroyed–that’s what we live from,” said a villager from M’Bororé.
CBG’s Past Compensation Practices
Community leaders, farmers and even local officials told Human Rights Watch that, until approximately 2015, CBG expropriated land without compensation. “When CBG needed land, they just took it,” said a community leader from Kogon Lengué. “CBG only really started paying compensation in 2015,” said Nestor Fara Leone, the head of the local government’s rural development service in Sangaredi. A 2014 CBG-commissioned stakeholder consultation found that:
In the mine zone, the village residents and local authorities met insisted that CBG has been grabbing their land for decades without informing or consulting them beforehand, far less compensating them materially or financially.
CBG staff said the company did pay compensation for many of the land acquisitions that occurred before 2015. The company said it could not guarantee that compensation was paid in all cases, but showed Human Rights Watch documentation indicating the compensation paid for several historical land acquisitions, from 2003 to 2014. They said that the company had paid compensation for the value of crops and trees growing on the land, with an additional 10 percent added to the valuation to reflect the cost to farmers of obtaining new land and 10 percent for the inconvenience suffered and for potential errors in valuation.
Even where applied, however, this approach to compensation had several problems. First, until 2016, when CBG developed its own compensation standards, the company appears to have applied the tariffs set out in the agricultural ministry’s 1987 policy, even after they were clearly outdated. This meant that the value of crops and trees was not adjusted for inflation or changes in the market value of crops and trees. In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, a farmer who received compensation in 2003 was paid according to the valuation set in the 1987 compensation matrix. He received 576,000 GF for 16 fully-grown mango trees, which would have been worth $1,404 in 1987 but by 2003 inflation meant it was only worth $291. CBG’s 2017 compensation matrix provided for a payment of 1,319,819 GF ($127) for a fully-matured mango tree.
Second, limiting compensation payments to plants and crops also meant that farmers received no compensation for land that, although currently lying fallow, is a key part of their village’s crop rotation system. “After seven years lying fallow, we were about to prepare the fields again for farming. Almost everyone in the village had a plot there,” said a farmer from Hamdallaye, describing land that CBG expropriated for mining in 2015. “We asked the company to compensate us, but they refused. And it spoiled our whole rotation process.” CBG community relations staff told Human Rights Watch in October 2017 that CBG doesn’t compensate fallow land.
Finally, the ten percent added to the valuation of crops and trees to reflect the value of the land likely significantly underestimated the real value of land to rural farmers, particularly if outdated compensation matrices were used to calculate the value of crops and trees. CBG told Human Rights Watch that the market value of land in Sangaredi, where the company’s mines are located, is “difficult to ascertain,” because land in the area is often loaned or given from one community or family to another. Human rights standards, however, make clear that where land is expropriated, “the evicted [person] should be compensated with land commensurate in quality, size and value, or better,” suggesting that CBG should have found ways to provide communities with alternative land, such as by rehabilitating areas already exploited, or converting areas of unproductive land to farmland.
CBG told Human Rights Watch that it has rehabilitated almost 16 square kilometers of land, which are often planted with cashew trees. Analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch, however, suggests that there are at least 30 square kilometers of land that either remain under exploitation or have not been rehabilitated. Furthermore, where CBG does rehabilitate land after mining activities are completed, typically by replacing top soil and replanting trees, community leaders said that the land is not returned to the family or community that previously owned or exploited it. Indeed, villagers said CBG frequently returns to re-exploit rehabilitated land. “We asked the company, ‘why can’t you give [rehabilitated] land back to the family it belonged to,’” said a community leader from Kogon Lengué. “But they said, ‘we don’t do that because then the land will belong to the community, and perhaps we’ll need to mine it again in future.’”
At the root of CBG’s past failure to adequately compensate and restitute land was the company’s embrace of the lack of clear protection given to customary land rights under Guinean law. When asked in October 2017 by Human Rights Watch why CBG didn’t provide replacement land or pay farmers for the value of land, a CBG staff member said, “It’s not like the local people have legal title.” A community leader recalled that, when he complained in 2016 about land seizures, a senior CBG official said, “this land was given to us by the state in the 1970s [when CBG began mining].” The community leader replied, “No, we’ve been living here for more than a hundred years, since the 1800s, and this is our land.” A February 2018 environmental and social audit found that: “CBG has never directly compensated land users and occupiers for land on the basis that all land belongs to the state. Thus, no land user or occupier has a recognizable legal right of ‘ownership’ of the land used/occupied unless in possession of a land title issued by the appropriate level of government (that is, the state).”
CBG’s Updated Compensation Policy
In October 2015, CBG issued a new land policy (Resettlement and Livelihoods Restoration Policy Framework) that was supposed to establish a new approach–consistent with the IFC’s performance standards–to compensating land lost or damaged to mining. In line with IFC Performance Standard 5, which recognizes customary rights to land, the framework says the company should provide individuals with customary land tenure, with “land for land compensation where possible,” or “financial compensation for land where land for land compensation is not possible.” It also explicitly requires that fallow land and even uncultivable land be compensated.
Despite the adoption of the new policy in 2015, however, Human Rights Watch’s research suggests that CBG did not begin applying key parts of it until late 2017 or early 2018. As late as October 2017, CBG staff described a compensation approach that was not consistent with the 2015 policy framework: “CBG does not compensate land; it is land in CBG’s concession, so we just compensate plants. We do not compensate fallow land, or that was just cleared as is about to be farmed…We have no system of replacement land.” A February 2018 environmental and social audit stated that: “The Resettlement Policy Framework (RPF) states that cash compensation will be provided for land acquired by CBG. However, in practice CBG has not compensated for loss of land and there is a contradiction between stated CBG ‘policy’ commitments and actual practice.”
In early 2018, CBG announced that it would modify its compensation practices and that, where land is permanently acquired from communities or families with customary land tenure rights, replacement land will be provided from rehabilitated land reclaimed from past mining sites. “Agricultural lands are compensated with lands of similar or better type and potential,” CBG told Human Rights Watch. Only where this option is not possible will financial compensation will be paid for land. Both financial and land-for-land compensation will be accompanied by initiatives to help communities develop alternate livelihoods that improve the long-term wellbeing of affected persons or groups. While this approach could, if well implemented, be an improvement, Rio Tinto, Alcoa and Dadco–CBG’s private sector shareholders–presented it to Human Rights Watch as CBG’s settled land policy. In reality, however, CBG has only adopted this approach since early 2018 and the company has not yet demonstrated it can implement a workable land-for-land compensation program.
CBG’s lenders, including the IFC, told Human Rights Watch that the revised policy of land-for-land compensation should apply retrospectively to all land acquisitions that have occurred since the adoption of CBG’s Resettlement and Livelihoods Restoration Policy Framework in 2015. CBG’s leadership contends, however, that the only large land acquisition that has occurred since 2015 concerns agricultural land expropriated as part of the company’s expansion project, particularly on the ancestral lands of Hamdallaye village. A comparison of satellite images showing the Sangaredi region from December 2015 to April 2018 suggests, however, that CBG’s operations may have expanded significantly in several other areas (outside of Hamdallaye) since 2015. Human Rights Watch recommends that CBG and its lenders ensure that CBG’s revised compensation policy is applied to all areas where CBG permanently acquired land since its adoption in 2015.
CBG’s Response to the Impact of Its Past Land Acquisitions
As well as ensuring that its new compensation policies are correctly applied, CBG should address the decades-long legacy of its past land acquisitions and their potential impact on the livelihoods of villages around its mines in Sangaredi.
CBG has, as part of its commitments to the IFC, agreed to ensure that land expropriations from 2010 to 2015 are not associated with a reduction in living standards for the households and communities that lost land. IFC and CBG staff said that it was difficult to review land acquisitions prior to 2010 because neither CBG, local government officials, nor community leaders kept adequate records of whose land was seized and whether compensation was paid. CBG’s leadership also said that, for past land acquisitions, it was hard to consider the true impact of mining on livelihoods, particularly in view of demographic and other environmental changes in the area. CBG staff also expressed concern that any attempt to compensate a specific individual or community for land acquisitions before 2010 would mean that many other communities would also seek compensation or other assistance.
CBG’s leadership told Human Rights Watch that any complaint regarding past land acquisitions, even dating before 2010, would be considered by CBG’s grievance mechanism which, as discussed later in this report, has been considerably strengthened in recent years. CBG said that in 2015 seven complaints were filed for inadequate compensation for land acquisitions, and that they have all been dealt with. They said that no further complaints have been filed, although they said the complaints mechanism had been, “widely publicized in all the relevant communities.”
Given the number of families and communities who expressed dissatisfaction to Human Rights Watch regarding CBG’s past compensation processes, however, and the limited number of complaints filed so far, CBG should take additional steps to ensure that communities understand that the complaints mechanism can deal with historical land acquisitions. CBG should publish a policy describing how the company will resolve complaints over past land acquisitions, including the proof communities need to substantiate claims, how the claims will be adjudicated and what successful complainants will receive in compensation. Civil society organizations should provide assistance to communities to help them file complaints. CBG should resolve newly-filed grievances related to pre-2015 land acquisitions according to an updated compensation framework that respects farmers’ customary rights by providing land-for-land compensation or payments for the value of land.
In view of the large amounts of unrehabilitated land in CBG’s concession, CBG should also develop a program, in consultation with affected communities, for rehabilitating land and restituting it to affected communities. Communities or families receiving rehabilitated land, especially women, should receive documentation of their land tenure rights. Mining companies, including CBG, underscore that there are significant challenges with developing land restitution programs, including resolving overlapping claims to land, but CBG should partner with civil society and private sector organizations with expertise on this issue to develop a workable approach.
Finally, CBG told Human Rights Watch that the company is implementing a program, which costs $1.9 million annually, in 10 communes impacted by its operations to help develop new sources of income in mining-affected communities. CBG should consider expanding this program and focusing a significant part of it on communities that have lost significant amounts of land to mining.
SMB’s Land Policies
Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of residents, from 13 villages, who have lost land to ports, mines or mining roads as the SMB consortium’s operations have expanded rapidly since 2015. “It was land that my father had farmed, and that my father’s father had farmed,” said a community leader from Katougouma, where an SMB consortium port replaced dozens of hectares of highly fertile land on the banks of the Rio Nunez river.
Satellite imagery of the site of the consortium’s other port, Dapilon, shows how before the port was constructed land was cultivated in the wetlands close to the river, with paths leading from Dapilon village and also nearby Diakhabia. The port site had, as of May 2018, taken up approximately 2.25 square kilometers of this land and cut off villagers’ access to farmlands. “The land supported people from three villages–more than 200 families,” said a community leader, walking Human Rights Watch alongside a wall that marks the boundary of the port. “While we have other land left, the land taken by SMB for the port was our richest land, where we grew rice near the river, and cashew and mango trees near the village. We’re worried about what will happen to the rest of our land if the port expands.”
Financial Compensation Inadequate Replacement for Lost Land
The financial compensation that SMB has paid to rural farmers during its rapid expansion is often more generous than that of other mining companies, including CBG. SMB, for example, has paid farmers for the market value of their land as well as the crops and trees growing on it. But SMB’s cash-for-land approach, while central to the company’s ability to acquire land quickly, has left farmers without the resources, support or training needed to find new land or new livelihoods.
Community leaders said that the one-off payments farmers received from SMB was often a huge sum when compared to the typical income of rural communities who have lived for generations as subsistence farmers. “We thought we had become rich,” one farmer said, showing Human Rights Watch the new home that he had constructed with the compensation money he received. The stark contrast with his prior residence, a dilapidated structure only a few yards away, exemplified the fast money that mining has brought to some rural communities.
Dozens of farmers, however, said that one-off financial payments cannot replace the loss of land that was the foundation of communities’ way of life and livelihoods. Community leaders and officials said that, for the majority of villagers, it was hard to understand how to use compensation to develop new income sources. “People aren’t used to managing this amount of money and so it ends up being badly managed,” said Seydou Barry Sidibé, the Secretary General of Guinea’s environment ministry.
Civil society leaders said that farmers often shared money with family members, constructed new houses, bought material goods or even used the money to send children to Europe through the North African migration route. “Everyone who received financial compensation, they either sent their son to Europe…or constructed something, got married or bought scooters,” a civil society leader told consultants writing a report on compensation processes in the Boké region. A father whose land was taken for construction of an SMB mining road told Human Rights Watch that, having failed to find two of his sons employment with the consortium or its subcontractors, he had used his compensation money to send them to Europe through Libya:
I was hoping that my sons would be employed at the mine–they were on a list of about 25 people this village sent to SMB. But only one person was recruited, and so I used about 40,000,000 GF ($4,390) of the compensation to send my sons to Libya. They left about 10 months ago, and I would get news from them while they made their journey. But since they arrived in Libya I’ve not had any news for about two months. I’m worried they are in prison or dead.
None of the landowners or farmers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had received training from SMB or the Guinean government on how to effectively use the compensation they received to ensure long-term financial security.
Where compensation for land used by the entire community was paid by the SMB consortium to community leaders, in some cases it was used to construct infrastructure such as local roads, schools or mosques, while in others it was distributed among households in the community. Several villagers complained, however, that the money was not distributed equitably, or was wasted on projects that do not adequately replace the income or resources the community has lost to mining. “I was only given 250,000 Guinean Franc (GF) ($27), but I don’t know who the money was given to, nor how it was divided,” said one farmer. “It was all kept secret.” A 2018 German-government funded report on land expropriations in the bauxite sector found that:
When money is given (in check or cash) to a single representative of the community, it creates: significant tensions within the community; major risks of corruption; the loss of authority of local leaders when they try to resolve tensions; and ultimately not a productive use of the money received.
International standards are clear that cash compensation is not an adequate replacement for lost land. The UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement state that: “Cash compensation should under no circumstances replace real compensation in the form of land and common property resources..” The IFC’s guidance notes on Performance Standard 5 states that: “Short-term consumption of cash compensation can result in hardship for subsistence-based economies or poor households.” The SMB consortium itself told Human Rights Watch in September 2018 that:
We understand that the money [paid to individuals or communities] represents a very large amount of money that can suddenly destabilize the budget of some households and villages. Experience has taught us that people receiving these sums can spend them in a way that some people consider unreasonable (lack of budgetary vision in the medium and long term; lack of investment in potential revenue-creating activities.)
The SMB consortium did note that, although the majority of people use compensation money in a way that doesn’t tend to create new revenue sources, there is a “non-negligible” number of initiatives that do provide longer-term financial returns, such as the purchase of farming equipment.
Several community leaders said that they had asked SMB to landscape currently uncultivated areas of land to replace land lost to mining, but that the consortium had not done so. “We’ve asked the company to find a new location and landscape it so that we can farm there,” said a village elder from Dapilon. “But that was never done.” SMB has committed to rehabilitate land where mining has been completed, and has begun to do so in some areas, such as the now unused Kaboe mine. Residents are skeptical, however, that the replaced soil will be fertile enough to sustain the trees and worry that SMB has no system for returning the land to the individual or family who exploited it before mining began.
In September 2018, SMB sent Human Rights Watch a compensation framework that it said the consortium uses to “guarantee” respect for individual’s and communities’ customary land rights. The framework includes a commitment to provide farmers with customary land tenure rights with, “the replacement of agricultural land through land with an equal potential agricultural value situated an acceptable distance from the person’s residence.” The framework also states that farmers with customary land tenure rights, “will receive measures of accompaniment…such as training or capacity building, with a view to improving the lives of project-affected persons.”
At writing, however, Human Rights Watch is only aware of one location, Katougouma village, in which SMB has provided alternative farmland at the time a village lost land for mining operations. In that case, SMB could not reach agreement with the community on how the land should be used and the land remained, at writing, unoccupied. Human Rights Watch is also not aware of SMB systematically providing livelihood assistance support to communities who lose land to mining. SMB itself told Human Rights Watch that, “We are ready to provide technical assistance, and always indicate this, but so far all communities have refused our technical assistance in the creation of livelihood-generating activities.”
Notwithstanding the SMB consortium’s past practices, if the compensation framework shared in September 2018 represents a genuine commitment by the consortium to provide replacement land or other livelihood assistance where land is acquired for mining, Guinean civil society and community groups should consider engaging with SMB to find a workable model for implementing this policy. More broadly, the Guinean government, mining companies and civil society groups should devote significant resources to examining alternatives to financial compensation, including replacement land and land rehabilitation, including best practices from other countries, and to field-testing new approaches and sharing monitoring data on their strengths and weaknesses.
Damage to Remaining Land and Revenue Sources
Dozens of farmers said that, since the SMB consortium began operating in 2015, the impact of loss of land has been compounded by the damage caused by mining to remaining farmland, and other sources of food, like fishing. Community leaders said that the consortium does not consistently provide compensation for the reduced productivity of agricultural land or reduced income from fishing.
Communities frequently said that dust produced by SMB’s mining roads during the months-long dry season had a particular impact on plants’ productivity. Residents of several villages showed Human Rights Watch researchers cashew plantations growing near SMB’s mining road, in which almost every leaf was covered in reddish, brown dust. “All the fruit trees have been damaged by dust,” said a farmer from a roadside village, mirroring a complaint Human Rights Watch heard in at least 10 villages near to the SMB consortium’s roads, mines or ports. “This village has been here for two centuries, and we’ve never experienced anything like this.” Satellite imagery from February 2017, during the dry season, reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows a layer of dust on vegetation bordering SMB’s mining roads. Studies show that dust, where deposited on vegetation, can reduce productivity, including by denying light to the cells responsible for photosynthesis. SMB’s leadership said that, where land is acquired for mining roads, compensation is also paid for a portion of land either side of the road or mines, thereby providing compensation to farmers most directly impacted by dust. But community leaders said that the damage extends beyond the buffer zone and that they have not received compensation for this land.
Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch also shows that farmland and trees located close to the SMB consortium’s ports at Katougouma and Dapilon are covered with dust, and that each port contains large uncovered storage piles of bauxite. A community leader from Katougouma told a government inspection mission in February 2018 that: “This locality lives today with a level of pollution linked to the dust particles that are deposited on the leaves of plants. These impacts should have been explained to us before the launch of this company’s activities.” Dapilon residents said that, while they had received compensation for the land acquired for the port itself, they had received no compensation for what they see as the reduced productivity of the surrounding land.
Farmers from several other villages said that the construction of the SMB consortium’s infrastructure, including dredging of the Rio Nunez, had caused fields to be contaminated with mud, oil or gas. “At least six families’ plots have been flooded by mud carried from storm water runoff that flows through the pipes under the mining road,” said one farmer, from Katougouma. “My own field used to produce 50 bags of rice, but now I can’t even get a single one.” He said he had received no compensation from the consortium or the government.
Community leaders in villages bordering the Rio Nunez said that the SMB consortium’s activities had affected fishing, a vital supplement to the food and revenue obtained from farming. “There used to be dozens of fishermen around here, but now nobody wastes money on doing it,” said a community leader from Mamaya, a riverside village. “The noise of the barges has caused the fish to go into deeper water and the nets are damaged by the barges going back and forth. Our pirogues don’t have motors, so it’s difficult to navigate safely in the channel to avoid the barges.” A 2018 report on the social and environmental impact of Guinea’s mining sector, commissioned by the Guinean government estimated that, with SMB’s two riverside ports soon to be joined by that of another mining project, more than 50 barges, each of 8,000 tons, will be going back and forth on the Rio Nunez each day. The report continues: “The impacts on the area are both static (destruction of mangrove [trees growing on river banks] and dynamic (vibrations linked to the loading and moving of barges and tugboats). All that will probably influence the catches of fishermen on the Rio Nunez, who are already complaining about this.”
Several fishermen, including a port chief who represents local fishermen, said that the SMB consortium had not approached them to discuss the impact of mining on fishing. A fisherman said that SMB staff had come in 2016 to discuss the Dapilon port’s impacts on fishing, but hadn’t acted on communities’ concerns. “We’ve not had any follow up from SMB–no equipment, for example, to allow us to fish further away.” Another youth leader said both his village’s rice fields and the local fishing industry had been affected by the consortium’s arrival. “We’ve met several times with representatives of the company,” he said. “And they’ll make promises–for example to help us get motors so our fishing boats can go into deeper waters–but they’re never kept.” SMB said that two fishermen had been compensated for the impact of mining on fishing, between them receiving 20 million GF ($2,220) and that four motorized barges had been given to help fishermen reach deeper water. Hundreds of local fishermen are potentially affected by SMB’s project in the Boké region.
Impact of Land Dispossession on Women
The UN Basic Principles on Evictions recognize that loss of land might have a distinctive impact on women, underscoring the importance of ensuring that women have access to land titles and security of tenure. When land is expropriated, the UN Basic Principles state that, “Women and men must be co-beneficiaries of all compensation packages. Single women and widows should be entitled to their own compensation.”
Although women regularly work alongside men to farm their family’s or community’s land, the patriarchal nature of communities in the Boké region, as elsewhere in Guinea, means that women rarely hold any form of title to land (customary or otherwise) and usually access land through husbands or male relatives. In cases, however, where women farmed their own distinct portions of land, such as gardens with vegetables to sell at local markets, women often said they received compensation directly from mining companies, even if they were not satisfied with the amount they were given.
Where compensation is paid for land farmed by and benefitting a whole linage or household, however, women said that the compensation was typically paid to male heads of linage or household. A communal or family asset is therefore replaced by financial compensation utilized at the discretion of the male leader. “The products that came from this land were used by all of us, but the company gave the money to our husbands,” said a woman from a village near an SMB mine. “It’s only the men who are compensated,” said another woman. “Even our own husbands said that we shouldn’t participate in the compensation process.”
For many women, the loss of access to land deprived them of an independent source of revenue, making them wholly dependent on their husband and extended family. “If I’m getting by now, it’s because some of my grandchildren, who are security guards in the mine, give me a little bit of money,” said a woman whose land was taken for the construction of an SMB consortium port.
A widow said compensation for her household’s land was awarded to her husband’s family, denying her the revenue she used to support her children. “I used to grow rice and maize in the land where the port is now,” she explained. “Because the compensation was paid after my husband died, it was his family who participated in the census that SMB conducted, and they are the ones who received the money from the company. I know who’s got the money, but I can’t go and claim it.” Female elders said this had happened to several other widows in the same village.
Women also complained that they had been denied equal access to compensation where money was paid to community leaders to reflect land that was owned and used by the whole community. “Women hardly got any of the compensation–our local leaders offered me 10,000 GF ($1.11) but that was so little that I refused to accept that,” said a woman whose village received a lump sum payment from SMB for land used for a mining road. “When the time came to decide how to use the money, the men in the village divided it all up among themselves, and we didn’t even have a say.”
Many women said that they were excluded from meetings on land acquisitions between the company and community leaders, and that they have to rely on male local leaders to relay information. “The whole process was decided by the men of the area,” said a woman where the village’s communal land was taken by SMB for a new quarry. “As [women], we didn’t have any information about how much compensation the village got from the company.”
Many women also noted that, while at least a handful of men in each village can get employment with mining companies to replace lost land, there are very few such jobs open to women. In May 2018, only 10 percent of the people employed directly by CBG were women. Of the more than 7,600 people employed directly by SMB in September 2018, only 274 were women.
CBG told Human Rights Watch that the company, “ensures that compensation is paid for the right person regardless of their gender.” CBG staff acknowledged that the patriarchal structure of rural communities means that compensation for land belonging to households or linages is often paid to male leaders, but said it was difficult for mining companies to bypass existing traditional structures. The company said that its concession-wide community development programs focus on women and young people, and said that future livelihood assistance programs for communities who lose land to mining would also target women.
The SMB consortium told Human Rights Watch that compensation is paid to the actual user of land, whether a man or a woman. The consortium also underscored that the consortium’s foundation is very active in implementing projects to ensure that women can actively participate in economic activities in the Boké region.
Reduced Access to Water
Community leaders from 19 villages said that bauxite mining had reduced water levels and quality in the local rivers, streams and wells that people rely on for washing, cooking and drinking, threatening access to water for thousands of people. Residents said that the construction of mining roads and other infrastructure had obstructed rivers and streams while run-off from the exposed earth on open-sky mines and on dirt roads had brought sediment into waterways. Villagers also told Human Rights Watch that the expropriation of land by mining companies had prevented communities from accessing streams and natural springs where they previously found water, while an influx of people seeking jobs in mines increased local populations and put pressure on remaining water resources.
Water scarcity means that women and girls, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are forced to walk longer distances than they would ordinarily, or wait longer to use overburdened remaining sources. A woman from a village near the SMB consortium’s Dapilon port said she wakes up at 4 or 5 a.m. to get in line for water. “I take my children with me so that by the time we’re finished they can go to school,” she said.
Mining companies underscore that there are multiple reasons for inadequate access to water in the Boké region, including population migration, climate change-related factors, and the aridity of the area, particularly in the dry season. They also highlight their work to build boreholes and wells in mining-affected communities. The absence of public government or company data regarding the impact of mining on water levels and quality, however, makes it extremely difficult for communities and civil society groups to assess the adequacy of companies’ mitigation measures. Despite operating for decades in the Boké region, CBG only developed an effective mechanism for monitoring the impact of mining on water in 2017. SMB conducted little or no monitoring of water quality or availability for several years, although it began a limited monitoring program in 2018. The Guinean government in 2017 commissioned a yet-to-be-published study into the cumulative impacts of bauxite mining in the Boké region, which should provide useful information on the impacts of mining on water levels, availability and quality.
Risk of Damage to Water Sources from Bauxite Mining
Unless managed appropriately, studies show that bauxite mining can produce significant impacts on the hydrology of the surrounding landscape, threatening access to water. The construction of mines and mining roads can alter the routes of rivers and streams. Surface mining, by clearing vegetation and earth to reach deposits, can increase the volume and speed of surface water drainage, which can reduce the amount of water percolating down to groundwater aquifers. These factors can, in turn, aggravate soil erosion, sending sediment into nearby rivers and streams, rendering them turbid (murky) and gradually blocking or obstructing their flow. Although bauxite mining does not involve the use of toxic chemicals or metals, the flow of sediment into rivers can also bring with it aluminum and iron compounds and naturally occurring heavy metals that can be dangerous at high concentrations.
Mining companies also frequently require water for their own use, such as to water mining roads to reduce dust levels. Guinea’s water code grants people an inalienable right to access to water and to use it for domestic purposes, which include water for drinking and cooking, for hygiene, for laundry and for subsistence farming. While under the water code mining companies can apply for a permit from the government to utilize local water resources, a company’s use of water cannot deny local communities access to water for domestic use. Guinea’s mining code also requires companies to take steps to avoid “the pollution of water…and the degradation of ecosystems.” The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation has also noted that violations of the right to water can come from government’s failures, “to regulate excessive exploitation of water resources by third parties [such as businesses] that leads to deprivation of water necessary for personal and domestic uses and failure to develop and enforce regulation to protect water resources from contamination.”
Best Practices for Preventing or Mitigating Impact on Water Resources
The Guinean government’s 2014 regulation on environmental and social impacts assessments requires mining companies requesting permission to begin mining to map out surface and underground water sources and take baseline measures of flow rates, sediment and water quality. The regulation also states that companies should study the current availability of water for domestic use and its existing users. This information should be used to evaluate the likely impact of mining on access to water and to propose methods for addressing it.
Industry best practices, including the World Bank Group Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines for Mining, also suggest measures that companies should use to prevent and mitigate damage to water sources. Prior to beginning construction, for example, the Guidelines state that mining companies should establish a water balance for the mine, which describes how mining will occur without altering the overall water levels and quality in the region. Environmental scientists told Human Rights Watch that establishing a water balance requires companies to create a model showing the rivers, streams and groundwater channels that flow into the local area and the likely impact of mining on those inputs and outputs.
Once companies have developed an understanding of local water resources, and the proposed water balance for the mine, they should use this information to inform the design of infrastructure (e.g. route taken by mining roads) to minimize impacts on surface and ground water. The World Bank Group Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines for Mining also recommend that where mining infrastructure will cross streams or waterways, procedures should be established to minimize impacts on surface water, including by reducing erosion and sediment flows into waterways. Any use of water by the company–for example for dust suppression–should consider the impact on water availability.
Once mining begins, and to minimize run-off from open mines and mining roads, the World Bank Guidelines state that mining companies should create a system of canals and drains to ensure rainwater carrying sediment or pollutants does not flow into nearby rivers and streams. Settlement ponds, where rainwater is directed and stored to remove sediment, should be used to prevent contamination of rivers and streams. Both the World Bank’s Guidelines, and Guinean regulations on environmental and social impact assessments, state that companies should, throughout the life of a mining project, monitor mining’s impact on water quality and availability.
SMB’s Water Management
Interviews with community members, review of government inspection reports and audits, and interviews with environment ministry officials suggest that the SMB consortium has taken inadequate measures to mitigate the impact of mining on waterways, potentially affecting thousands of rural villagers’ access to and use of water.
Dozens of people across more than 13 villages said that the water sources they rely on for drinking, washing and cooking had been negatively impacted by the arrival of SMB’s mining operations. In several villages, residents said that the routes chosen for mining roads have blocked or obstructed waterways, or that sediment from rain-water run-off has flowed into rivers streams, discoloring water and gradually filling the riverbed with sediment. “The company cut across the rivers where we get water when they dug their mining road, without giving any warning,” said a community leader from Djoumayah, a village near SMB’s Malapouya mine. “And now there’s sediments and rocks that are washed down from the road into the water source.” He said that it took SMB almost a year to build the village a borehole, which then broke down. Community leaders said that, although they were worried about the health impacts of drinking water containing runoff from mines and mining roads, they were not aware of the SMB consortium conducting any monitoring of water quality.
Residents also said that, while the SMB consortium had installed pipes, tunnels, and bridges to allow waterways to pass underneath its mining road, these are at times too poorly constructed to allow water to flow freely. “SMB has tried to put some pipes in so the river can flow across, but it doesn’t pass properly through them,” said one farmer from Kakoumba. “The river serves land farmed by more than 300 people.”
The SMB consortium’s environmental and social impact assessments and management plan should have been the mechanisms through which the consortium assessed the likely impact of its operations on water resources and sets out a plan to address them. However, as discussed elsewhere in this report, satellite imagery shows that the Guinean government permitted the consortium to begin the construction of its first major port and mining roads months before the government had verified that the ESIAs and ESMP set out adequate steps to prevent damage to water resources.
Even once finalized in April 2015, the impact assessment for SMB’s first mine, at Kaboe, offered few details as to how the consortium planned to mitigate the impact of mining on surface water or groundwater. A 10-page ESMP acknowledged the potential for, “sedimentation of waterways,” but provided little detail on how SMB would prevent or mitigate this risk. The document instead stated that, “SMB will compile additional specific management plans before the preparation of the site”–although the preparation of the site was already well underway when the ESIA was finalized–and noted that, “one of the most important plans concerns the management of water.”
The next round of ESIAs conducted for the SMB project, completed in May 2016 for an expansion of mining to Malapouya and the opening of a port in Dapilon, contained more detail on how the consortium would mitigate potential impacts on surface and groundwater. The ESIA for SMB’s Malapouya mine acknowledged that water quality could be impacted by, “the dispersion of sediments from areas disturbed by mining…the interruption or modification of the hydrological profile,” and the “flow of contaminated rainwater into rivers.” To mitigate these impacts, the ESMP states that, “surface water [i.e. rivers and streams] will be deviated from mining areas in order to reduce the amount of water affected by the project” and that rainwater will be treated to remove sediment. It also promises water quality monitoring to verify the effectiveness of mitigation measures. The ESMP for SMB’s Malapouya to Dapilon road network states that the consortium will create a drainage network for rainwater.
Despite these commitments, however, inspections by the BGEEE in October 2016 and April 2017, and an audit of social and environmental practices commissioned by the Ministry of Mines in 2017 and finalized in 2018, found that the SMB consortium was still failing to take the steps necessary to avoid or mitigate the impact of mining on water sources. The BGEEE reports, for example, found that at several locations SMB had failed to construct reservoirs to collect muddy rainwater and remove sediment. The April 2017 BGEEE inspection report concluded that, “SMB has not taken any effective measure to reduce pollution of surface water by the transport of sediments into waterways that renders them murky and further contaminates them.” A BGEEE staff member who has visited SMB’s concession told Human Rights Watch, “There’s very little sediment control along the roads, rainwater just flows straight into local waterways, and that’s true at the mines as well.” The 2018 mining ministry-commissioned audit found that, “[SMB’s] mining roads demonstrate some important environmental limitations,” including several technical deficiencies that could result in sediment flowing into rivers and streams.
The SMB consortium’s director-general, Fréderic Bouzigues, told Human Rights Watch that he was only aware of one example, at the consortium’s Malapouya mine, where sediment run off from the mine had damaged water sources and that the consortium had acted quickly to ensure rainwater did not flow into rivers. In its September 2018 response to Human Rights Watch’s research, the SMB consortium told Human Rights Watch that it already has, or is constructing, mechanisms for intercepting rainwater run-off from its mines, mining roads and ports. Indeed, several of the measures that SMB said it is implementing to address weaknesses in its first round of ESIAs include those that can reduce sediment run-off, such as reinforcing the banks of mining roads, constructing decantation basins to collect sediment, and planting trees along mining roads.
The SMB consortium has not, however, conducted the necessary monitoring of water levels and quality to provide evidence that mining has not had a more widespread impact on local water resources. In the first several years of its operations, the SMB consortium conducted little or no monitoring of water quality and levels in the area. The 2018 government audit stated that: “No environmental monitoring is currently conducted by SMB. The HSSE [Health, Safety, Security and Environment] teams do not have the equipment necessary to monitor…water quality.” Furthermore, prior to beginning its operations SMB did not conduct the baseline monitoring of water levels and quality, including groundwater, needed to subsequently understand how mining has affected local water sources. SMB said in April 2018 that it had commissioned a consultancy to investigate the impact of mining on, among other issues, access to water and water quality in villages around one of its major mining sites. This has included monthly monitoring of water quality of the water sources used by the population. An interim report is expected in October 2018 and an annual report in April 2019. SMB said there is no existing information available regarding groundwater flows in the region, and time and cost constraints meant that it wasn’t possible to include analysis of groundwater in the environmental and social impact assessments.
CBG’s Water Management
CBG has for decades built, operated and maintained a water treatment system and pipe network that provides running water to large areas of Sangaredi town and the neighborhoods where its workers live in the port town of Kamsar. But in the communities that surround CBG’s mines in Sangaredi, residents from half a dozen villages said that, since CBG began operating in 1973, mining has damaged the rivers, streams and wells they rely on for water. A CBG-commissioned 2014 social impact assessment noted the risk that mining will damage water sources and identified two villages as possible examples of areas where mining has already impacted access to water:
Given that most households use wells, natural springs, streams and rivers as sources of water for drinking and daily living activities, mining operations could well have a very high negative impact on access to water. The villages of Boundou Wandé and Hamdallaye are typical of the villages that have seen their springs and streams extensively affected by mining operations. When new pits are opened, it is likely that there will be a deterioration in access to water…in the vicinity of the pits.
Human Rights Watch visited Boundou Waadé and Hamdallaye on several occasions during research for this report. “Our village shares the name of the river that runs through this area,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé. “We used the river for drinking water, for washing and fishing–it was clean water. But CBG has exploited near the source of the river, reducing its flow, and red mud from the mines flows into it during the rainy season.” Villagers from Hamdallaye, as well as describing the historical impact of mining on rivers and streams, said that damage to rivers and streams caused by mining had occurred as recently as 2016 or 2017.
As well as Boundou Waadé and Hamdallaye, four other villages surrounding CBG’s mines in Sangaredi complained about the impact of mining on access to natural water sources. “Since the mine arrived, we’ve seen the river gradually filling with red mud and sediment that flows off the mine,” said a community leader from Kalinkolé, a village near CBG’s railway line. “There are several large pipes that flow under the railway bringing water down off the hills where CBG’s mines are. It’s that water which flows into our river and which, we think, brings sediment down from the mines.”
In responding to communities’ concerns, CBG staff said that the company follows best practices in attempting to limit the impact of mining on surface and ground water, although they acknowledged that mining will always have some impact on local waterways. CBG said that the degradation of water sources in the Boké region, and particularly around the Sangaredi mine, has multiple causes, man-made and otherwise. “The whole of the Boké area has been getting dryer and dryer in the last 10 years or so, so it’s difficult to say whether it’s due to the mine,” a member of CBG’s health, safety and environment official told Human Rights Watch. Halco (Mining) Inc., the holding company that comprises CBG’s private-sector shareholders, told Human Rights Watch that: “CBG is unable to address claims of an unsubstantiated nature dating back as far as 1973.”
The responsibility for monitoring the impact of mining on local water sources, however, belongs to mining companies and the Guinean government, not local communities. Until 2017, CBG did not deploy the necessary tools–such as a model tracking the impact of mining on the flow of local rivers, streams and groundwater–to adequately monitor whether its mitigation measures were effective in preventing damage to water resources. The absence of historical data makes it difficult for communities to substantiate their claims that mining has affected access to water. CBG told Human Rights Watch in July 2018 that, “there is no long-term study that so far permits the specific identification of the cause of a potential degradation of the quality and quantity of water in the region.”
As part of the company’s efforts to comply with the IFC’s performance standards, CBG in 2015 developed a new water management policy that requires the company to implement the tools necessary to track the impact of mining on water sources. CBG staff told Human Rights Watch in July 2018 that: “As concerns the quality of available water [in CBG’s concession], a follow up program is in place, since 2017, to measure, on a monthly basis, the flow and levels of water in multiple locations in CBG’s concession as well as around mining activities.” CBG staff told Human Rights Watch that this improved monitoring now allows CBG to initiate or improve mitigation measures in a particular site where monitoring data suggests mining activities are impacting a water source.
CBG is also now developing a hydrological model that, in future years, will allow the company to understand the impact of mining on local water sources. CBG told Human Rights Watch in July 2018 that: “A model permitting the evaluation of the evolution of the groundwater table and surface water following mining activities has also been developed and at this point allows a conclusion that the impacts [on mining on water sources] are relatively limited, provided that the planned mitigation measures are put in place, which is what CBG is working on now.”
CBG staff also told Human Rights Watch that the company had in the past monitored whether water in villages was safe for drinking, both in rivers and streams, wells and boreholes and underground water. CBG’s 2014 ESIA, however, makes no reference to past water quality monitoring data other than baseline readings taken in 2011 and 2014. Many residents and local officials said that CBG never made available to them water testing results. CBG staff told Human Rights Watch that the company is in the process of strengthening its water quality monitoring, and had installed 36 water-testing wells for groundwater, but that updated results were not yet publicly available. CBG told Human Rights Watch that, “the first qualitative results from a laboratory do not indicate any significant physical-chemical impact on water quality.” They said that CBG’s amended environmental and social management plan, which CBG is in the process of finalizing, will describe if and when data will be made public. Halco (Mining) Inc. told Human Rights Watch on August 1, 2018, that, “Halco is committed to supporting government-led initiatives by which evidence/science-based environmental monitoring information could be made accessible to local communities and stakeholders.”
Responses to the Impact of Mining on Access to Water
The Guinean government bears the primary responsibility for fulfilling its citizens’ right to water and protecting against interference with access to water by third parties. However, where mining companies own activities threaten access to water (or any other right), the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that companies should provide for, or cooperate, in their remediation. Guinea’s mining code also requires that, when seeking government approval for their project, mining companies submit, as part of a broader plan to further community development, details on how the company will develop local communities’ water supply. Companies should account for that fact that population migration to mining sites, often because of a perceived increase in employment opportunities, can increase demand for water.
Residents of more than a dozen villages, however, said that the government and mining companies either failed to provide adequate alternative water sources, or only did so months after water sources had been affected, putting pressure on remaining water sources. One woman from Tintima, a village near the SMB consortium’s Dapilon port, described how an increased local population in surrounding villages, combined with the port blocking areas where people used to find water, increased demand on the village’s few water sources. “With so many people dipping their buckets in, the water changed color,” she said. “And the level was a lot lower than it would usually be.” Community leaders said that the SMB consortium constructed a new borehole in Tintima in late 2017, well over a year after Dapilon port began operating.
Communities also said that they have been forced to develop coping mechanisms to adapt to reduced access to water. Several villages that said they previously had access to natural water sources said that they now rely on the SMB consortium to bring them water in tankers, forcing them to ration water or look for supplementary and more distant water sources. “SMB sends us water in tankers every two or three days, but it’s not enough,” said a community leader from Kandouga. “So our young people are forced to drive motorbikes or scooters 2 kilometers to where there is borehole. And the villagers there charge people a small fee for each 20-liter container we fill.”
Women and girls, who are often primarily responsible for getting water for the family, said they bore the largest burden in finding alternative water sources. “It’s the women of the village who bear the brunt of work needed to get water,” said one woman from a village near Sangaredi. “We have to get water for our families to drink, but also so the men can wash themselves before they pray.” Several women said that the scarcity of water challenged social cohesion. “With the number of women who are at the well, there’s often arguments as to who should go first,” said one villager. A woman described a fight that broke out at the village well. “I’m on my feet from 4 a.m. looking for water in the village,” she said. “One woman asked another to at least leave one bucket of water for her to take. When she refused, they threw themselves on each other. This type of thing happens pretty regularly–the lack of water puts us all on edge.”
CBG told Human Rights Watch that the company has commissioned an independent impact assessment to evaluate the impact of mining on access to drinking water. The company said that only two villages had been identified as potentially impacted, and they had since been provided with boreholes. In view of the absence of historical data on the impact of mining on water levels and quality, however, Human Rights Watch is not sure what methodology was used to conduct this assessment. CBG also said that it has financed the construction of 36 wells and boreholes since 2015 as part of its community development efforts. CBG should ensure that, if its improved monitoring of water levels and quality identifies threats to access to water, it promptly provides alternative safe water sources. Civil society organizations should work with communities who say that they do not have adequate access to drinking water to file complaints to CBG’s grievance mechanism.
The SMB consortium said that it has provided 80 boreholes and 8 wells to local communities and has repaired 40 more boreholes. The absence of monitoring data on the impact of mining on water sources, however, makes it difficult to assess the adequacy of SMB’s response. Many residents told Human Rights Watch that SMB had not constructed enough alternative sources and that alternatives were only constructed months after natural sources are affected. “Our access to the places we used to draw water has been cut off by the port and the mining road,” said a community leader in Dapilon, a village close to an SMB consortium port. “It took the company more than a year to construct boreholes for each village in this area, but it’s still not enough–particularly because there’s so many people who have moved here.” Several villages also questioned the quality of the water that the SMB consortium has provided and said that SMB has either not conducted water testing or not shared the results.
Threats to Health from Reduced Air Quality
Scores of residents living adjacent to open-pit mines and mining roads in the Boké region described how their lives had been blighted by the dust produced by the mining and transport of bauxite, with dust entering villages and homes and covering crops in a layer of red dirt during the months-long dry season. “It gets everywhere, even into our food when we’re cooking,” said one woman from a village near SMB’s Malapouya mine. Villagers, many of whom said they believe mining is already contributing to respiratory illnesses, worry about longer-term health impacts. “When you come back from your fields dirty, and covered in dust, even if an illness doesn’t show straight away, it can certainly appear later,” said one community leader. Limited government monitoring and the almost complete absence of public data from mining companies on air quality means that communities have no way to verify if their fears are well founded.
Doctors and health workers said that the lack of reliable local health statistics makes it impossible to draw conclusions on associations between mining and respiratory illnesses. They underscored, however, the risk that reduced air quality linked to mining could contribute to negative health outcomes. “When you look at the level of dust and pollution that is produced by mining, we will see an increase in respiratory illnesses,” said Dr. Soumah N’Fansoumane, Deputy Director of Boké’s regional hospital. Although the dust blown from open-sky bauxite mines and from transport roads is not typically more toxic than other forms of dust, the World Health Organization says that exposure to any fine particle dust can cause, trigger, or exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Vehicle exhaust emissions are also a proven cause of respiratory illness.
The villages and homes located along the SMB consortium’s unpaved mining roads, on which hundreds of trucks transporting bauxite travel every day, are the most acutely impacted by dust and vehicle emissions. A 2018 mining ministry-commissioned audit estimated the truck traffic on SMB’s roads “as many as 4,0oo or 5,000 vehicles per day.” SMB told Human Rights Watch that, “the dust created by mining roads is one of our biggest concerns.” After initially operating with far from adequate mitigation measures for limiting dust emissions, SMB significantly reduced dust levels ahead of the 2018 dry season by more frequently watering its mining roads. Communities remain concerned, however, about the impact on air quality of both exhaust emissions and dust and say that the watering is only partially effective.
CBG transports ore for export by train, but community leaders said that poor air quality also remains a source of concern for villagers located close to active mines operated by CBG and in residential neighborhoods close to a CBG processing plant where bauxite is stored, crushed and dried. CBG staff told Human Rights Watch in July 2018 that air quality in its concession is currently within the highest target established by the WHO, although it only began comprehensive air quality monitoring in 2017 and has not yet released updated public data. CBG aims to ensure that air quality reaches the WHO’s lowest guideline level by 2024.
Impact of Dust on Daily Life
Villages living alongside the SMB consortium’s road network described how the constant passage of heavy-duty trucks along unpaved roads had displaced dust into their communities. “There [were] four or five days in 2016 when the school was closed because of the amount of dust getting into it,” said a parent from Kounissa, where the village school is some 200 meters from the mining road. “The mining road cut our village into two.” A community leader from Djoumayah, a village in a valley close to SMB’s mining road, said in 2017 that the constant truck traffic disturbed his families’ sleep: “The trucks pass all day and night. It’s been like since the mining route was installed, and it’s only when there’s a strike, or an event like that, when it stops.”
Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that there are 40 settlements (which includes villages with dozens of households and hamlets with only a few) within 500 meters of SMB’s Dapilon to Malapouya mining road, and 28 within 250 meters. There are another 12 settlements within 250 meters of the Katougouma to Dabis road, and 17 within 500 meters. When Human Rights Watch first drove on SMB’s Dapilon to Malapouya mining road in March 2017, passing trucks kicked up so much dust that researchers struggled to see more than a few hundred yards ahead. Satellite imagery from February 2017, during the dry season, clearly shows dust displaced from the road onto surrounding trees, crops and homes, with a red shadow extending between 800 meters to 900 meters from the road. Although SMB has since taken measures to reduce dust, Human Rights Watch observed that trees and crops alongside large stretches of road remained, in April 2018 (the end of the dry season), coated in a thick layer of red dust.
Residents of several villages surrounding SMB’s mining sites also complained about the amount of dust produced when the mines are active. Human Rights Watch researchers in March 2017 observed large quantities of dust blowing from SMB’s Malapouya mine toward dozens of houses nearby, particularly from uncovered storage piles where large mounds of bauxite are stored. Because bauxite mining in Guinea occurs at a surface level, both the blasting of rock through dynamite and the use of surface miners, machines which cut out the ore without the need for blasting, can produce large amount of dust.
Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch also revealed large, uncovered piles of bauxite ore inside the SMB consortium’s two ports, at Dapilon and Katougouma, and showed evidence that wind is blowing dust as far as two kilometers from the ports, reaching five villages close to Dapilon port and four close to Katougouma. “You can run your finger down the wall of any of the houses here, and there’ll be dust,” said a community leader from Katougouma. “You clean it off, and it just comes straight back.” Another community leader from Katougouma told a government inspection mission in February 2018 that: “The dust here has created coughs among the inhabitants of Katougouma, especially for older people and newborns….help us to reduce the dust because the company itself doesn’t want to do anything about it.” The BGEEE in April 2017 stated that at Katougouma port: “The unloading of trucks, the loading of barges, the mineral stocks and port activities don’t show any real measures to fight against the control of dust.” The report does commend the SMB consortium for continually watering areas at Dapilon port where trucks and other vehicles are passing.
Dozens of community members said that they believed that the dust produced by the SMB consortium’s activities had already impacted their families’ health or would do so in future. “My three children often have coughing fits at night, so much so that they cough until they throw up,” said a woman from Lansanayah, a village close to an SMB mine. “When the company mines here, it sends lots of dust in our direction.”
Worried about the potential health impacts of mining, families, especially women, at times use part of their already meager resources on hospital fees and medicines. “We’re the ones–the women–who have to take our children to [the] hospital,” said a village elder from Lansanayah. “We’ve asked numerous times that the company give us the materials to better equip the local health center, but they’ve never given us anything,” said a woman from a neighboring village. “So we have to go to Boké to buy medicines or for tests, which is more than 40 kilometers away and costs 20,000 GF ($2.20) each way.” The SMB consortium established a health center in Katougouma in 2015, although the Guinean government only provided the medical staff needed to open it in July 2017.
While communities in CBG’s concession, which transports bauxite by train, complained much less frequently about dust levels than those living near SMB’s mining roads, poor air quality remains a source of serious concern for villages located close to active CBG mines. “During the dry season, we suffer a lot from the dust, which comes from the roads inside the mining site, dynamiting at the mines and dust blown down from the exposed rock,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé. “It deposits itself on all the trees here, and on some days you’ll struggle to see any real distance in the village.” A 2014 CBG-commissioned socioeconomic impact assessment stated that:
Mine machinery that is on the move day and night in the pits constitutes a health nuisance where mining areas are located near inhabited areas. This machinery exposes the local population to high dust levels (outside the wet season) because the roads are neither sufficiently paved nor sufficiently watered.
Community leaders in Kamsar, where CBG’s port is located, also remain concerned about the effect on air quality of CBG’s port and bauxite processing plant, although they said that CBG’s air quality management had improved in the last two decades. CBG said that in 2005 it spent $17 million on an upgrade to its Kamsar plant that the company said reduced emissions by 80 percent. “When CBG first arrived here, there was a lot of dust in Kamsar, at times enough to turn the sky murky and red,” said Hadja Keita, the president of a women’s microcredit cooperative in Kamsar. “In the 2000s, CBG began to reduce dust and emissions to reduce the impact on local people, but we still worry about the factory’s health implications.”
Health Risks from Reduced Air Quality
Bauxite dust is not toxic in itself. However, exposure to any type of fine particle dust, known as particulates, has been proven to cause, trigger, or exacerbate the occurrence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Particulates of 10 micrometers or less (PM1o) can penetrate the lungs or enter the bloodstream, and can lead to heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections. PM2.5 are smaller fine particles, with diameters that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller, that are inhaled deeper into the lungs and so create additional health risks. Both PM10 and PM2.5 particles can be transported in the air, with PM2.5 potentially remaining airborne for long periods and PM10 particles, which do not carry as far, often deposited downwind of emissions sources. The WHO has issued guidelines setting out target levels to protect public health for both PM10 and PM2.5. In 2015, the Guinean government adopted national standards for atmospheric pollution that included standards on air quality. The standards include air quality targets for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers and smaller (PM10).
Globally, there is a dearth of data on the impact of bauxite mining or the transport of bauxite on the air quality and health of nearby communities. Studies have shown, however, that surface mining produces large quantities of particulate matter, both because of the dust produced during mining itself and the loading and road transport of raw material, although most (but not all) of the dust is larger than the dangerous PM10 size and below. Furthermore, several studies show that, during the transport of raw material from mines, haul roads in particular are a major source of airborne particulate matter due to the interaction between roads and tires, including particles (PM10 and under) small enough to damage human health.
Exhaust emissions from diesel and gas-powered vehicles used on mining roads can also cause adverse impacts on respiratory health. Diesel powered-vehicles, which make up the majority of the SMB consortium’s road truck fleet, emit both sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which have been linked to a range of negative respiratory and cardiac illnesses and overall increased mortality. Vehicle emissions are also an additional source of PM2.5 and PM10 particles. Studies have indicated links between exposure to traffic-related air pollution, which covers both particulate matter and other exhaust emissions, and negative health outcomes, including asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Studies have shown stronger statistical associations between negative health impacts and truck traffic than with automobiles.
Local Health Workers’ Observations
Human Rights Watch spoke to local health workers about the risks of dust and other pollutants produced by the mining and transport of bauxite, including at three clinics in villages near the SMB consortium’s operations, as well as with senior staff at the regional hospital in Boké and at the medical center in Sangaredi, where CBG’s mines are located.
Several health workers from rural clinics who serve communities near SMB’s operations on a daily basis stated that they believed that reduced air quality due to the dust and emissions produced by mining and mining roads had contributed to an increase in respiratory illnesses. “The dust leads to lots of illnesses–eye irritations, coughs and other respiratory issues,” said a health worker from Djoumayah, a village near SMB’s Malapouya mine. “We don’t keep statistics on bronchitis, but I think we get more cases than we did before.”
Health workers are particularly concerned about the potential risk from reduced air quality to children, who are more susceptible to respiratory illness from exposure to particulate matter. “Since the arrival of the mine, I think bronchitis for children has been a problem,” said a health worker from Diakhabia, a village near the SMB consortium’s Dapilon port. “But as we send children with serious illnesses for treatment in Kamsar or Boké, I don’t have records or statistics as to what children are diagnosed with.” Environmental factors, including air pollution, are a key cause of childhood disease and mortality worldwide. Lower respiratory infections are among the largest causes of mortality in children globally.
The World Bank Group’s Environmental, Health, and Safety Guidelines (EHS Guidelines) state that companies should estimate the likely impact of their activities on air quality prior to beginning a project. This requires companies to conduct “baseline quality assessments”–which measure air quality before mining operations begin–and to use “atmospheric dispersion models to assess potential ground level concentrations”–models that use the baseline data to quantitatively estimate how emissions from mining operations will change air quality in populated areas.
The Guinean government’s 2014 regulations on environmental and social impact assessments in the mining sector recommends that companies, “used recognized models” as the basis for their evaluation of likely environmental impacts, including as regards air quality. International environmental scientists and respiratory health experts told Human Rights Watch that, once the likely impact of mining on air quality is known, companies should conduct health risks assessments, which use statistical models to estimate the consequences of a change in air quality on the health of the local population.
Because of the potential effect of mining on air quality and health, companies should devise mitigation measures to ensure that they will meet air quality standards and protect the health of local populations. The EHS guidelines note that particulate matter can be released during, “the transport and open storage of solid materials, and from exposed soil surfaces, including unpaved roads,” and so recommend the use of dust control measures such as spraying water on roads. The guidelines recognize, however, that the effectiveness of watering is variable, and can reduce particulate matter by as much as 98 percent to as little as 12 percent. They underscore the need to ensure that, “emissions and air quality monitoring programs provide information that can be used to assess the effectiveness of emissions management strategies.” Monitoring data should be used to make corrective actions to ensure that mitigation measures are effective.
SMB’s Management of Air Quality
Interviews with government officials, review of government inspection reports, and analysis of the SMB consortium’s environmental and social impact assessments suggest that SMB did not properly anticipate the impact of its operations on air quality, nor implement adequate mitigation measures and monitor their effectiveness.
The ESIAs commissioned by the SMB consortium did not follow international best practices by modeling the quantitative change in air quality that SMB’s operations, including mining and road transport, would produce. Several of the impact assessments did conduct a very limited amount of baseline air quality monitoring but did not estimate the impact of SMB’s operations on the baseline readings. This meant that, when the project began, neither SMB nor the Guinean government knew the extent of the consequences for air quality and public health.
The SMB consortium was, however, in general aware that its project posed a risk to local air quality. The ESIA for SMB’s Dapilon to Malapouya mining road stated: “The construction work of the mining road already foretells the problems that it could cause to people living along the route, notably the overloading of the route, the increase in risk of traffic accidents, altered air quality (dust, smoke)….This situation is made more worrying by the fact that all along the road there are a certain number of plantations, schools, lodgings, water sources etc.” Addressing air quality specifically, the ESIA states: “In total, all the emissions and pollutants in the air lead de facto to pollution of the air and the risk of eye and lung illness in the population and workforce situated in the immediate environment.”
Despite this warning, however, SMB began its operations with far from adequate mitigation measures. In the first two years of SMB’s operations, from 2015 to at least April 2017, SMB’s watering of its mining roads fell far short of that needed to reduce dust levels. “They water the part of the road that’s close to their base, but it has such an ephemeral effect,” said one farmer in April 2017. “An hour later it’s dried up and you’re back where you started.” The BGEEE in April 2017 concluded that the, “low frequency of watering of the road [from SMB’s mine in Malapouya to its port in Dapilon–about 40 kilometers] means that this section is less wet and as a result is a source of dust emissions.” The report did commend SMB on frequent watering of its other principal mining road, from Katougouma to Dabis, although it noted that SMB failed to adequately limit the speed of its trucks and cover the cargo containers in which bauxite is transported, both of which contribute to increased dust levels.
Despite communities’ beliefs that mining companies’ operations are impacting their health, the SMB consortium until 2018 conducted little or no air quality monitoring, including in residential areas. A mining ministry-commissioned audit undertaken in 2017 concluded that SMB then conducted no monitoring of air quality and that the company didn’t at the time have the equipment necessary to do so.
Fréderic Bouzigues, SMB’s Director-General, acknowledged that it had taken SMB one or two years to integrate what he called “an effective anti-dust program.” Bouzigues said that the consortium had in the second half of 2017 increased the frequency of watering of roads, and the consortium in 2017 purchased a fleet of water tankers to conduct this watering. Bouzigues also said that, as of 2017, the consortium more successfully enforced speed limits for truck drivers and paved limited sections of the mining road, including the approaches to the consortium’s ports at Katougouma and Dapilon. The consortium in 2017 also paved a 15 kilometer stretch of public road linking the town of Boké to Katougouma port, after complaints that company-related traffic had increased dust emissions on the road. Bouzigues told Human Rights Watch that SMB did not pave the rest of its mining roads because of the cost involved and the likelihood that, with such frequent traffic from mining trucks, the road would deteriorate rapidly.
However, while residents acknowledged that SMB’s mitigation measures had, since mid-2017, reduced dust levels, dozens of residents said that the consortium has still not done enough to address poor air quality. Several communities showed Human Rights Watch researchers how vegetation on the sides of mining roads remained totally coated in red dust during the dry season, with even trees one or two hundred meters away clearly reddened. “It’s true that there’s much more watering now, and that’s helped reduce dust levels,” a health worker from Djoumayah told Human Rights Watch in January 2018. “But the watering doesn’t follow a strict program and we’re still seeing the same respiratory problems.” Another community leader from Kakoumba, a roadside village, also acknowledged limited improvement: “The watering that they’ve done so far has helped, but it’s not enough. We want the road to be paved, or for SMB to transport material by train. Our health should be the most important thing here.”
To assess SMB’s progress in mitigating dust and other emissions, the mining ministry and environment ministry in February 2018 jointly conducted a mission to the areas where the SMB consortium operates. A report issued after the mission stated: “The joint inspection team found proven cases of dust pollution generated by the exploitation, transport and shipping of the bauxite mineral from this company on neighboring communities in their agricultural activities and in their daily lives.” Nine of the ten air quality measures conducted during the 2018 inspection exceeded the WHO’s highest target level (i.e. the most generous to companies) for PM10 particles for a 24-hour period, in four cases several times over. Four of the ten measurements were conducted in residential areas, and in each case the WHO’s highest target level was exceeded.
The results of the February 2018 mission mirrored those of earlier government inspections of SMB conducted by the BGEEE in October 2016 and April 2017. Seven of nine air quality measurements conducted in 2016 and 2017 exceeded the WHO’s highest target level for a 24-hour period for PM10, although none were conducted in residential areas. Four of the measurements would have exceeded the target many times over.
Environmental scientists who reviewed the government inspection data for Human Rights Watch noted that there were significant limitations with the monitoring methodology employed. Dust levels were only recorded once at each testing location, and for a short space of time, often a matter of minutes, meaning that they offer no indication of how dust levels would fluctuate over the course of a day, let alone a longer period.
Fredéric Bouzigues, SMB’s Director-General, told Human Rights Watch that he questioned the rigor and reliability of the BGEEE’s air quality measurements. BGEEE staff, while acknowledging that their methods have limitations, said that their role is only to identify areas of potential concern, and it is ultimately for mining companies to conduct continuous or regular monitoring of air quality.
Bouzigues said that the consortium is in the process of developing an air quality monitoring system as part of a strengthened environmental and social management program. The SMB consortium told Human Rights Watch in September 2018 that in villages who complain about dust levels, the consortium now takes monthly measurements of particulate levels. This monitoring began in December 2017, but SMB said initial results would be made public in an annual report at the end of 2018.
An effective monitoring program would require frequent measurements in residential areas and other public locations in proximity to the SMB consortium’s mines, roads and ports, as well as consideration of seasonal variations and prevailing wind directions. Environmental scientists said monitoring should not be limited to particulate matter, but should include other potentially harmful substances, such as nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide. Air quality testing should also be conducted in accordance with a monitoring methodology that meets international standards. SMB should also make public the results of air quality monitoring.
CBG’s Management of Air Quality
As discussed above, although CBG transports bauxite by train, communities remain concerned over air quality where they are located close to active CBG mines, storage areas or the mining roads that link mines to the company’s railway, as well as in households closest to CBG’s processing plants in Kamsar.
The environmental and social impact assessments completed in 2014 for CBG’s ongoing expansion project provided some evidence of existing air quality in areas where CBG operates, as well as potential future impacts as mining activities intensify. Consultants in 2014 conducted limited baseline monitoring of air quality at sites located close to residential dwellings near CBG’s operations in Kamsar and at two active mines (Hamdallaye and Petoun Boundou Waadé). Consistent with international best practices, CBG also commissioned a scientific model of the likely particulate matter and other emissions produced by CBG’s operations, including in residential areas, both at current production levels and as production increases during the expansion project.
The baseline readings recorded during the 2014 ESIA in residential areas around the Kamsar plant found that the area is “already burdened with fine particulates,” with average PM10 levels above the WHO’s guideline level and maximum daily concentrations significantly higher. Satellite imagery from March 2018 reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that dust from the plant, and from open-air areas where bauxite is stored, has been blown into Kamsar town, particularly neighborhoods adjacent to storage and processing areas.
A 2014 CBG health assessment, although arguing that the company contributes only a fraction of the particulate matter found in Kamsar, with the rest coming from other human sources, concluded:
CBG’s estimated contribution to all the particulate matter collected, while moderate, is significant in light of WHO guidelines. The air quality we observed in Kamsar does not meet WHO guidelines and could increase the risk of health effects on the respiratory system, for example. These would be accentuated in more vulnerable individuals, such as infants or [older people].
Baseline readings in villages around the Sangaredi mine similarly showed that the area has high levels of particulate matter, although the study, again, partly attributed this to sources unrelated to CBG. CBG’s modeling of future air quality levels showed that, as CBG’s mining operations expand, air quality might exceed safe levels in at least two villages near Sangaredi, as well as in residential areas close to mining roads.
In view of the existing levels of particulates in Kamsar and Sangaredi, and potential for increases in some areas as mining expands, CBG’s 2014 draft environmental and social management program recommended that the company implement a series of mitigation measures to reduce dust. This includes watering the mining roads that carry bauxite from mines to storage areas and the railway, limiting vehicle speeds and paving roads in the vicinity of high-risk villages. CBG and IFC staff acknowledge that the Kamsar plant requires further upgrading of its emissions controls, and CBG has committed to introduce the necessary changes by 2024. CBG’s 2014 health impact assessment states that, if the necessary improvements to the Kamsar plant are made, air quality modeling suggests that the Kamsar operations will meet WHO guideline levels once production expands.
Evaluating the effectiveness of these mitigation measures, however, requires monitoring of air quality data. Despite communities’ longstanding concerns over air quality, CBG only began conducting systematic and rigorous air quality monitoring in 2017. CBG had previously only conducted limited monitoring of air quality, and IFC staff said that, when CBG accepted IFC financing in 2016, the company’s air quality monitoring “required strengthening.”
CBG staff said the company in 2017 installed a station that measures air quality 24 hours per day, including in locations close to residential areas in Kamsar. CBG staff also said the company is now conducting more regular monitoring of particulate levels in residential areas near mines in Sangaredi. CBG’s leadership in April 2018 told Human Rights Watch that the air quality data resulting from this monitoring shows that the company is “compliant” with industry standards. Local residents, however, said that, while they had seen CBG employees conduct sampling of air quality in recent years, they’d never been informed of the results. “They’ll put machines up to measure the dust for two or three days, but we’re never told of the results,” one community leader told Human Rights Watch. Doctor Theodore Monimo, the head of the medical center in Sangaredi, told Human Rights Watch that he believed that the absence of public information regarding air quality in the Sangaredi region contributed to fears over health impacts. A 2014 ESIA commissioned by CBG stated that communities’ concerns over the health impact of emissions from the Kamsar plant are, “are fueled by recurring symptoms and diseases and a set of fears that have never been challenged owing to a dearth of information.”
Human Rights Watch asked CBG to share the preliminary results of its improved air quality testing, but the company said it was unable to do so because it is still in the process of determining a methodology for analyzing CBG’s contribution to air pollution. CBG’s amended environmental and social action plan, which CBG is in the process of finalizing, will describe if and when data will be made public.
Access to Remedies from Companies
Residents of mining-affected communities said that, where they complain about the impacts of mining on their livelihoods, access to water, and health, too often companies fail to promptly respond to and remediate their concerns. “I’m fed up with meeting with the company representatives,” said a community leader from a village near an SMB mining road. “We always have meetings with them, and nothing changes.”
When communities asked local government officials, such as prefects or subprefects, to intervene to resolve disputes, many residents said that this often did not lead to an issue being resolved. “Each time it’s the same speeches that are made,” said one community leader from a village near an SMB mine. “The government asks us to show the company respect, and then our own concerns will be considered. But there’s no follow up, so we think it’s all for show. We don’t think the authorities are really fighting our side in all this.”
Women face distinctive barriers in lodging complaints over the impacts of mining, often due to strong social norms that discourage women from participation in village governance. “It’s rare for women to lodge complaints against the company,” said a local official. “I think there is a social barrier, particularly the supremacy of men in the conduct of activities in the area.” Mining companies said that they make sure to include women in community meetings, and to ask them for their views, but women said that it is difficult to speak frankly in the presence of their husbands or male elders and that the solutions agreed on rarely address women’s needs. “We often don’t even know a meeting with the company is happening, let alone have the chance to get our views across,” said one woman.
SMB’s Grievance Mechanism
SMB told Human Rights Watch that the consortium has a Stakeholders Consultation and Dialogue Plan through which the company conducts, “an uninterrupted process between the consortium stakeholders (local government, communities, traditional leaders) that involves a large range of activities from the sharing of information and consultation to participation, negotiation, and partnership.” The consortium said that SMB’s community development staff visits each community at least once a week. Human Rights Watch asked SMB for a copy of the consortium’s grievance policy or process but the consortium did not provide one and no reference was made to a grievance policy in correspondence with Human Rights Watch.
Community leaders acknowledged that SMB’s community relations team frequently visits villages to listen to communities’ concerns. They said, however, that SMB staff rarely follow up on complaints and that SMB frequently makes promises that are not met. As discussed elsewhere in this report, the SMB consortium’s failure to address the impacts of its activities on livelihoods, including fishing and farming, water resources and health, were a key theme of the conversations Human Rights Watch had with community members.
The SMB consortium told Human Rights Watch that nine complaints had been filed by communities or individuals in 2017, concerning issues like the degradation of non-mining roads, the pollution of a water source, and employment issues. None of the complaints had been filed by women. SMB said six complaints had been resolved. In view of the limited number of complaints filed, and the widespread frustration communities expressed with the consortium’s failure to resolve complaints, SMB should immediately develop and publish an effective grievance process and ensure that it is widely understood and utilized by communities.
CBG’s Grievance Mechanism
Community leaders said that, until about 2015, CBG did little to consult with them about the impacts of mining and remedy negative consequences. “We didn’t really have any relations with CBG, they’d only come here if there was a problem,” said a community leader. A CBG-commissioned stakeholder analysis, published in December 2014, found that:
Many [community members] testified to the fact that all complaints addressed directly or indirectly to CBG went astray and did not result in any remedial action. When asked how they channeled their requests and complaints to CBG, those consulted confessed that they did not know to whom they could turn. A mechanism is supposed to work at the level of the communes where authorities are to submit to CBG complaint forms available for the public to complete. This mechanism is poorly understood, if even known, and does not work.
In 2015, as part of its efforts to strengthen its environmental and social management and meet the IFC’s standards, CBG published a new grievance procedure, in which minor complaints are dealt with by community relations staff but serious or persistent problems are elevated to senior management. If a complaint still remains unresolved, the grievance procedure states that complainants could take the matter to court, where they can request access to a lawyer, “to continue the procedures for the settlement of the complaint.” The grievance policy gives complainants the right to choose a lawyer, “from a selection of 10 lawyers duly recognized and accredited by the Minister of Justice and an independent accredited support NGO by the stakeholders during the formulation of the Project.” CBG staff told Human Rights Watch that this mechanism for providing legal assistance does not exist in practice, but that, “CBG’s grievance mechanism must be effective because all complaints received so far have been resolved amicably.”
Local officials said that, where a complaint is sent to CBG, they believed that the new complaints mechanism is working relatively effectively. “CBG doesn’t resolve complaints quickly, but I do think it’s at least trying to respond to them,” said a representative of Sangaredi’s communal authorities. At least one local official in Sangaredi directly attributed CBG’s increased responsiveness to their connections to the IFC. “CBG is an old company,” he said. “But it’s in the process of changing its practices because there’s external pressure to do so from the IFC.”
Although CBG’s grievance policy requires the company to communicate extensively with affected communities about its new complaints mechanism, local officials interviewed in Sangaredi in July 2017 expressed doubts about how well known the mechanism is. CBG told Human Rights Watch that it had received 26 complaints from communities in 2016 and 2017, relating to both environmental problems (e.g. rehabilitation of quarries) and economic (e.g. destruction of crops or lack of jobs). The company said 23 of these complaints had been resolved.
Protests Due to Lack of Adequate Remedy
Many villagers said that, in the absence of an effective remedy from companies or local government, they were forced to stage protests to air their frustrations. Residents, often young men from the villages in question, said they used large stones, tires, or wood to block mining roads or access to ports or mines. One local official said in April 2017 that there had been more than 30 demonstrations in his subprefecture since SMB’s arrival in 2015: “In the past, we would be able to calm things down. But as the project has progressed, and as the demonstrations have multiplied, we found it hard to keep a lid on things.” Some protests dissipate within a few hours, while others–such as those in Boké in April 2017 and September 2017–last for days.
Community leaders said that, in organizing protests and stopping mining companies’ work, they usually forced local officials and mining companies to send a delegation to listen to their demands. “When the only borehole we have broke down, we asked SMB to fix it,” said one community elder from Djoumayah, explaining that the village’s alternative water sources had been damaged by mining. “But we didn’t get any response to our complaint and so we decided to block the mining route. That at least led SMB’s leadership and the authorities to come to meet with us, although the borehole still hasn’t been fixed.”
In some cases, protests led to some action from the company or government to address communities’ concerns. In most cases, however, villagers said that once the demonstration was over the underlying grievance remained unresolved. “We organized a demonstration in 2015 to stop CBG destroying one of the sources of the river we use for water,” said a youth leader from Hamdallaye. “But the local authorities said that, if we continued, we’d be arrested. Of course, once we left, CBG continued their work regardless.” Several villages described interventions by the security forces to pressure protesters to stand down. “We’ve blocked CBG’s railway twice, once in 2013 and again in 2014,” explained an elder from a village bordering CBG’s railways. “The first time, once it was clear we weren’t backing down, the military and police came, fired warning shots in the air, and arrested about five people. They were detained for 15 days, and we had to pool the village’s money to pay to get them out. The second time, in 2014, it was a similar story, with 20 people arrested but released after a day.”
The SMB consortium has operated a system for rewarding communities who do not disrupt their activities, where communities received “a bonus for harmonious development” if they avoided strikes or demonstrations for a three-month period. The explanatory note that one community received along with the bonus read:
There has been no negative event like a strike or barricade of the road in [this] village from April 1 to June 30 . According to the rules of a bonus for harmonious development, SMB will give this bonus to villages in which there has been no negative event. Our village is approved. We will distribute the bonus on July 5, 2017. This will be 16 bags of rice for the whole population of our village.
Several residents told Human Rights Watch that they see such measures as efforts to “buy” peaceful coexistence without addressing more fundamental problems. A ministry of mines-commissioned audit in May 2018 stated that: “SMB’s practice of ‘a bonus for harmonious development’ is…emblematic of the buying of social peace.”
When, in July 2017, SMB sought to give 30 bags of rice to Dapilon, a village next to an SMB consortium port, village elders initially refused. “We don’t need their rice,” one villager said. “They just need to face up to the things that we’ve asked them to fix. They refuse to resolve our problems and instead give us rice? They’re coming to insult us.” Residents from two villages told Human Rights Watch that they had been denied this bonus having participated in demonstrations against SMB.
Government Regulation of the Mining Sector
The widespread perception among residents of mining-affected communities interviewed by Human Rights Watch is that they have been abandoned by the state to resolve problems with mining companies on their own, with national and local authorities rarely willing to force companies to take remedial action for bad practices. “We know that the mining project is backed by the president himself,” said one resident. “So how can we be expected to challenge it?”
Environment and mining ministry officials said that the capacity and resources of the government agencies that oversee the mining industry have improved significantly in recent years. Guinea’s Office of Environmental Studies and Evaluation (BGEEE), for example, began conducting annual inspections of mining operations in 2015, and in 2017 conducted inspections of six companies, including CBG and SMB. Government institutions, however, still have nowhere near the personnel and resources to effectively oversee an ever-expanding list of projects.
The government’s focus on growing the bauxite sector has also at times appeared to take priority over social and environmental protections. While the government is empowered to fine companies in breach of environmental obligations and can suspend or close a project in case of serious violations, the importance of mining to the Guinean economy protects companies from government sanctions. “We’ve got to be careful,” one senior Ministry of Mines official told Human Rights Watch. “We’ve signed up to this whole concept of ‘responsible mining,’ but we need to be careful not just to be happy only with words on the page.”
Shortcuts in Approvals Process
Environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs), which the mining code requires companies to conduct to obtain approval for a project, are the foundation on which respect for the environment and the rights of local communities is built. By consulting with communities about the likely impacts of mining, and drawing up a plan to address them, ESIAs provide a roadmap for companies to manage the social and environmental consequences of mining. Environment ministry officials and international donors told Human Rights Watch that the BGEEE has, since 2016, improved its capacity to analyze and evaluate the quality of ESIAs, including through training from international donors.
Despite improved capacity among technical staff, however, Human Rights Watch’s research suggests that the Guinean government’s push to attract investment into the mining sector has led it to approve ESIAs that fall short of industry best practices. In the SMB project’s case, for example, three government officials told Human Rights Watch that despite concerns over the quality of the consortium’s first ESIAs (for the Kaboe mine, port in Katougouma and a mining road to connect them), Guinea’s desire for investment in the bauxite sector meant they were approved when submitted in April 2015. “For me, what SMB submitted was just a pre-feasibility study, the environmental and social study was discussed but not with sufficient accuracy,” said a mining ministry official. “But at that time a number of mining projects had broken down, and we had Ebola, the IMF was predicting negative economic growth, and with the exports bans in Malaysia and Indonesia the government saw an opportunity.” A senior environment ministry official acknowledged that the environment ministry was, at the time, under pressure from other parts of the Guinean government to “speed up” the project.
The government also allowed the SMB consortium to circumvent the typical approval process by starting construction of major infrastructure, including its two ports and related mining roads, before the applicable ESIAs were complete and several months before they were reviewed and approved by the government. “It’s true that the construction of a project shouldn’t begin until ESIAs are complete, but for SMB there was a particular political environment at the time in which we needed the project’s investment,” said a senior environment ministry official. This meant that, even before the government had fully evaluated the social and environmental consequences of SMB’s operating model, the project was well underway. The Guinean government’s 2014 regulation on environmental and social impacts assessments in the mining sector states that: “The realization of a good environmental evaluation requires the examination of all possible variations. Taking into account the different variations can mean that certain parts of the project are reconsidered in order to improve them.” A senior mining ministry official told Human Rights Watch:
The ESIAs, if they had been done properly, should have set out the different alternatives in terms of how material would be transported, how construction would occur, to allow the government to properly reflect on that. If the road transport method used by SMB was for a small export company, limited in time, it’s not surprising that they’d choose this method. But if it’s more than that, or if other companies start to shift towards using the road, then it starts to be more of a problem. You can do that for a few years, but for more than that, that shouldn’t be the case.
The Guinean government, in a letter to Human Rights Watch, explained the decision to allow the SMB project to begin construction before completing its ESIAs:
For the development of our country and the well-being of the Guinean people, the sovereign government can take exceptional measures to begin a project while staying in the spirit and principles of its international engagements and the applicable laws in Guinea. In this case, given that [the SMB project] concerned areas already known and studied, the environmental aspects that could constitute a prerequisite for development of a mining project were known in advance and were effectively taken into account.
Saadou Nimaga, Secretary-General of the mining ministry, told Human Rights Watch: “We had a decision to make. If we had to wait for all these studies, the market wasn’t going to wait. We already knew broadly what the impacts of mining would be.”
SMB told Human Rights Watch that the consortium, “is always looking for ways to improve its environmental and social impact, taking into account the problems that arise during the project…and is currently implementing various actions to address weaknesses in its initial set of ESIAs and ESMPs.” SMB in February 2018 commissioned an international consultancy to update its impact assessments and revise its management plan, a process that it says will finish in February 2019. Environment ministry officials, however, said it was difficult for a mining company to remedy problems when it began a project without adequate environmental and social management practices. “Instead of planning in advance, SMB is now trying to catch up,” said one official. “It should have been the other way around.”
In responding to the concerns that the government has approved poor quality ESIAs, government officials also told Human Rights Watch that the final version of ESIAs are discussed in a public meeting that gives affected communities the opportunity to comment on the report’s contents. The outcome document from that meeting is signed by the relevant participants, which include officials from the affected areas, NGOs, representatives of women, young people, village elders and religious leaders are invited.
However, Mamady Koivogui, Executive Director of Mines Without Poverty, a Guinean NGO which conducted a study in 2017 on community participation in ESIAs, said that it is very difficult for affected communities to participate in meetings to review ESIAs–which often run to hundreds of pages–without external support and preparation. “You can’t expect rural villages to discuss complex environmental and social questions without adequate preparation,” he said. He noted that participants in the review meeting may not even have seen a copy of the ESIA before the meeting begins. None of the community leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had received independent advice, training or other forms of support during the ESIA processes conducted by CBG or SMB.
Government officials also pointed out that civil society organizations do participate in the government committee that reviews ESIAs and so have the power to influence the government’s approval of new projects. Civil society activists said, however, while they make recommendations during these meetings, they struggled to follow whether the ESIA or ESMP was amended to reflect their recommendations. “It’s ultimately for the government to decide whether to approve an ESIA,” said one civil society leader. “We make our points during the committee meeting, and ask that the company make certain changes, but we don’t have much ability to see if they have been implemented.” The Guinean government said that it forms a seven-person committee, under coordination of the BGEEE, to review whether adequate corrections have been made to the ESIA to allow for the granting of a certificate of environmental conformity. Civil society organizations said that they rarely participate in this committee, as the government usually chooses its members from relevant government ministries.
Inadequate Resources to Oversee Mining Operations
Despite recent efforts to strengthen the capacity of the mining and environment ministries to oversee mining, national and local-level officials in both ministries told Human Rights Watch that resource constraints remain a major obstacle to effective government oversight. They described a shortage of well-qualified personnel, insufficient vehicles and money for gas and lodging, and a lack of monitoring equipment. “Our means are limited given how many mining companies we cover,” said a senior staff member at the BGEEE.
The BGEEE is supposed to conduct an annual on-site inspection of companies, reviewing the entirety of a company’s compliance with its ESMP. The BGEEE’s inspectors lack sufficient personnel and resources to conduct inspections of every mining company, but they visited six in 2016 and 2017, largely through financial support from the World Bank. Visits typically last less than a week for each company, NS include consultations with affected communities, meetings with company officials, and tests of noise levels and air and water quality. A report is produced after the mission, summarizing the findings, and, though a BGEEE staff member shared examples of inspections reports with Human Rights Watch, they are not currently widely publicized. Fréderic Bouzigues, SMB’s Director-General, told Human Rights Watch that he believes that, in view of the short missions conducted by the BGEEE, it is difficult for the agency to adequately monitor large-scale mining projects. “On a site as large as ours, how can two days of monitoring be effective?” he said. BGEEE staff said that the goal of these inspection is not to replace monitoring that should be conducted by mining companies, but to identify key areas of concern. “We’re aiming to verify whether the company is broadly following its environmental and social management plan, and to get a snapshot of conditions on the ground,” said one BGEEE staff member. “But ultimately the company should be doing its own monitoring.” BGEEE staff also said that, as part of their environmental and social management plan, mining companies should provide financial support for the training and equipment of the BGEEE and local environment ministry staff.
Although the mining ministry has no formal role in the renewal of a company’s environmental certificate, it provides additional oversight of companies’ environmental and social management practices. In 2017, the ministry commissioned an external consulting service to conduct an audit of companies’ compliance with their environmental and social management plans. Although the report has not yet been made public, the Minister of Mines, Abdoulaye Magassouba, said that his ministry was working with companies to identify remedial actions to address problems identified in the report.
Oversight by the central authorities in Conakry is in principle complemented by that of local environment, mining, and agriculture ministry officials at the prefectural and sub-prefectural level, but these officials also often lack the resources and capacity to conduct meaningful oversight. “It’s true that local level officials need more support,” said a senior mining ministry official. “Much of the recent training and strengthening supported by international donors has been focused on the national level.” The environment ministry in 2012 enacted regulations creating prefectural-level committees (Prefectural Committees for Environmental and Social Monitoring, Comités Préfectoraux de Suivi Environnemental et Social (CPSES)) to monitor the social and environmental impacts of mining projects. The mining ministry has also installed local consultation committees (Comité de Concertation dans les Localités Minières (CCLM)) in more than 100 subprefectures in Guinea, which are designed to nurture dialogue between communities and mining companies and, together with local officials, contribute to the resolution of conflicts.
Civil society organizations, however, said that many CPSES and CCLM lack the resources, such as vehicles and money for gas, to provide regular and effective oversight of mining companies. “The authorities in Conakry say they have delegated the authority for overseeing environmental and social impact to the CPSES,” one official in Sangaredi explained. “But, the CPSES in Boké doesn’t function. They say that they’ve not been given the necessary resources. I have been here since 2015 and they have never done a mission here.” Many of the CCLM are similarly inactive. “The CCLM here works a little bit, but not completely,” said a CCLM member in Sangaredi.”
A senior environment ministry official acknowledged that some of the CPSES function “in a very mediocre manner,” noting that companies are supposed to provide financial support to the committees operating in their locality, but rarely do so. “Because the companies aren’t giving them any funds, the CPSES can only really do field visits when there’s a real catastrophe,” said another environment ministry official. Néné Moussa Camara, a mining ministry official responsible for the CCLM, said that with support from international donors, the ministry is planning to better equip CCLMs to travel within their locality. The ministry is also installing additional CCLM in the Boké region, one for each of the region’s eight subprefectures.
Lack of Transparency and Access to Information in the Mining Sector
Civil society activists and community leaders said the lack of transparency in the mining sector, exemplified by the difficulty they face in accessing ESIAs, ESMPs, government and company inspection reports, audits and monitoring data, made it hard to hold companies accountable to environmental and social standards.
Although ESIAs should in principle be public documents, companies often fail to disclose them, instead saying they are available at the environment ministry, and the BGEEE specifically. While the BGEEE should provide members of the public with copies of ESIAs and ESMPs on request, civil society activists said that it often does not do so, or that obtaining the necessary documents requires a modest payment to cover for printing costs. Neither SMB nor the BGEEE shared copies of the consortium’s ESIAs or ESMP with Human Rights Watch, although Human Rights Watch was ultimately able to obtain copies of most of the SMB consortium’s ESIAs from civil society activists. SMB said that it plans to put its ESIAs on its website once they have been revised and updated. CBG’s 2014 ESIA and a draft ESMP is available in English, but not in French, on its website.
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has interpreted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect the right of access to environmental information, and imposes obligations on states to publicize environmental and social impact studies prior to any major industrial development; to provide information to communities that were exposed to hazardous materials and activities; and to provide meaningful opportunities for individuals to be heard and to participate in development decisions affecting their communities.
Environment ministry officials told Human Rights Watch that the government was planning to make ESIAs and the BGEEE’s annual inspections reports more easily accessible to the public. The Guinean government said that, as of April 2018, a server is in the process of being installed at the BGEEE to store ESIA reports and environmental inspections, including readings on air and water quality and noise levels. The government also said that the BGEEE is looking for financial support to create an internet site in order to store all these documents publicly. The government also said that the BGEEE does make an effort to communicate the results of ESIAs and social and environmental inspection reports to affected communities.
Civil society organizations said that, as well as disclosing its own inspection reports, the government should require mining companies to publicly disclose their own reports on compliance with environmental and social standards. IFC standards encourage companies to make public periodic reports on their environmental and social sustainability. The Guidelines for Social Responsibility in Outbound Mining Investments issued by the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters also state that companies are encouraged to “disclose environmental information regularly, publicize environmental protection systems and plans, and publicize what measures have been taken and what results have been achieved.
Lack of Accountability
Local environment officials and civil society organizations pointed to the lack of consequences for mining companies where their practices violate the rights of local residents as the most significant factor in allowing harmful conduct to continue.
Community leaders, civil society activists, and local government officials noted that, in other industries, the government has suspended or fined companies that consistently breach their environmental and social obligations. In the bauxite sector, however, mining and environment ministry officials consistently said that the government’s approach is to work in private with companies to improve their practices. “We’ve opted for the principle of conciliation,” said a senior Ministry of Environment official.“
The primary mechanism for holding a company accountable is to refuse to renew a company’s certificate of environmental conformity, which is, in theory, required for a company to continue operating. “If the certificate isn’t renewed, the company is then in a position of illegality in relation to Guinea’s environmental laws,” said Seydou Barry Sidibé, the Secretary General of Guinea’s environment ministry. But the government’s reluctance to suspend or close profitable projects means that the threat of a closure or suspension carries little weight. “We are a poor country, a country still developing, and so we need jobs for our young people, schools for our children,” said Sidibé. “So while some mining companies do not respect environmental and social norms, it’s not easy for us to suddenly close these companies down.”
An environment ministry official pointed out that, short of closing a project, the environment code gives the government a range of powers where a company isn’t meeting its environmental obligations, including financial penalties. He noted, however, that many of the fines currently provided for in the 1989 environment code are outdated and derisory. Environment ministry officials said that the environment code and implementing legislation need amending to make it clearer what ministry or agencies have the power to fine or suspend mining companies, and in what circumstances sanctions will be imposed.
Several national and local officials also said that in practice, the tax revenue generated by mining companies, as well as their perceived wider contribution to the Guinean economy, appears to protect companies from government sanctions over environmental or social practices. “It’s really in Conakry where the problems come,” said a local environment official. “You can have a technician who says something at the prefectural level, but if you have a politician who says something different, it’s difficult to get anything done.” A senior mining ministry official said:
To be honest, I think criticizing SMB has become taboo inside the government. There’s a political pressure that the project goes fast, because they are getting things done, and their revenue is benefitting the government and the state. It’s left little chance for the Guinean government to control what’s happening on the ground.
Officials from the mining and environment ministries told Human Rights Watch that Guinea was still trying to “find the middle ground” between nurturing mining investment and protecting the environment. “We don’t want mining to destroy the environment, but at the same time, we don’t want the environment to mean that we don’t do any exploitation,” said Saadou Nimaga, the Ministry of Mines’ Secretary-General.
Any effort to strengthen the laws and regulations setting out sanctions for companies who infringe on the rights of community members should include a clear set of criteria detailing when these sanctions will be applied, including financial penalties and suspension of operations. This will make it more difficult for other considerations, such as the need to attract or preserve mining investments, to trump environmental and social protection. If a company is seriously interfering with the rights of community members, a project should be suspended and, if the situation persists, closed. Anyone whose rights have been violated should have access to a remedy in court.
National Assembly Oversight
The current members of Guinea’s National Assembly have been in office since 2013, with legislative elections scheduled for 2019. President Condé’s party won 53 of 114 parliamentary seats in the 2013 elections, with an alliance with seven other deputies giving the ruling coalition a parliamentary majority.
Guinea’s mining code requires the National Assembly to ratify all mining agreements between the government and mining companies. However, negotiating a mining agreement with the government is not always a prerequisite to begin mining in Guinea, with the mining code also giving the government the option to grant companies operating permits that do not require National Assembly approval. Opposition parliamentarians told Human Rights Watch that this empowers the government to authorize large-scale mining exploitation without adequate National Assembly oversight. As discussed above, for example, the SMB consortium operates through a series of operating permits that do not require National Assembly approval. SMB’s leadership and mining ministry officials point out that the SMB project remains subject to all the provisions of the 2011 mining code, including its environmental and social protections. They also underscored that mining companies who negotiate mining agreements typically ask for reduced tax rates.
Once mining begins, the National Assembly provides oversight of the mining sector through two parliamentary commissions, one on mining and another on natural resources, the environment and rural development. Both commissions conduct visits to mining-affected areas and compile reports and recommendations for consideration by relevant government ministries.
Members of the Commission on Natural Resources, the Environment and Rural Development told Human Rights Watch that their ability to draw public attention to the environmental and human rights impacts of mining was hampered by the National Assembly’s political composition, with the ruling coalition reluctant to sanction debates or actions that are critical of Condé’s government.
In July 2016, for example, the Commission on Natural Resources, the Environment and Rural Development visited the Boké region, including CBG and SMB’s operations. Nine months before the April 2017 Boké riots, the commission’s report, seen by Human Rights Watch, expressed serious concerns about the SMB consortium’s environmental and social management:
All our interlocutors, men, women, young people, thought leaders, local officials denounced the lack of collaboration, the closed attitude of SMB officials, who don’t seem concerned with their immediate environment…People say that they suffer enormously from pollution (from dust from mining roads in the dry season), cashew plantations, invaded [by] dust, that don’t produce anymore, grazing and agricultural fields inaccessible and degraded, and fishing has become unproductive because the area of the Rio Nunez river is heavily degraded.
After the mission, opposition politicians said that the National Assembly had prevented them from debating the resulting report in a plenary session of the assembly, or establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate in more detail the conduct of mining companies in Guinea’s bauxite belt. “We wanted to denounce what we saw on our mission,” said Dr. Alpha Mamadou Baldé, an opposition parliamentarian. “But we’re a bit limited in what we can do because we’re not in the majority.”
Several parliamentarians said that, by failing to take further action on the basis of the commission’s reporting, the National Assembly was not fulfilling its role as a check on the government’s actions in the mining sector. “If we, in the National Assembly, don’t do anything about this kind of issue, we can’t say that we’re complicit in what’s happening, but it’s something like that,” said, Ibrahima Diallo, an opposition legislator and member of the commission.
This report was researched and written by Jim Wormington, researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
Corinne Dufka, West Africa director in the Africa Division, reviewed the report. Janet Walsh, deputy director, Women’s Rights Division; Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher on women and land, Women’s Rights Division; Arvind Ganesan, director, Business and Human Rights Division; Komala Ramachandra, senior researcher, Business and Human Rights Division; Marcos Orellana, director, Environment and Human Rights Division; Katharina Rall, researcher, Environment and Human Rights Division; Juliane Kippenberg, associate director, Children’s Rights Division; and Diederik Lohman, director, Health and Human Rights Division provided specialist reviews. Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director provided legal and program reviews. Gavin Millar QC, of Matrix Chambers, also reviewed the report.
Josh Lyons, satellite imagery analyst, produced satellite images and analysis for the report. Morgan Hollie, associate in the Africa Division, provided additional research and administrative assistance. Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, provided production assistance and support.
We are grateful for the guidance and support provided by L’Association Mines Sans Pauvrété (AMSP), le Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement (CECIDE), Mines et Développement Communautaire (MDC) and other Guinean NGOs. Mamady Koivogui, Mariama Barry, Aboubacarr Diallo and Fatoumata Kanté deserve particular thanks for their participation in research missions and support and guidance throughout our research.
We also thank representatives of the Guinean government, the International Finance Corporation, La Société Minière de Boké (SMB) and La Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) for their willingness to discuss this report and its findings.
Finally, we thank the residents of the Boké region who shared their time and stories with us.