GLENCORE yesterday defended itself against allegations it profited from child labour at a copper-cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The firm was responding to a BBC Panorama programme, due to air tonight, which claims children are working at the Tilwezembe open-pit mine.
The Tilwezembe concession is owned by Toronto-listed Katanga, in which Glencore has a 75.15 per cent stake.
London-listed Glencore said in a statement that it stopped operations in 2008, and that any child workers seen at the mine are independent “artisanal miners” that unlawfully moved onto the site in 2010.
“We definitely do not profit from child labour in any part of the world. This is adhered to strictly,” chief executive Ivan Glasenberg told the programme. “We are pleading with the government to remove the artisanal miners from our concession.”
The firm said Katanga plans to resume mining operations at the site “at some point in the future”.
Glencore also denied that it indirectly buys copper produced at the mine. It said it has “not been shown any evidence… that this is taking place”.
Panorama also contends that Glencore’s operations in the Congo have made “significant environmental damage” including releasing acid into a river near its Luilu refinery, turning it brown.
Glasenberg responded: “I have been to that river. That is what people have dumped into the river for 50 years. Not correct. Terrible. That’s why Glencore has spent vast amounts of money to get rid of this problem, to ensure clean water in two weeks’ time will be discharged into that river.”
He added that the Congolese government insists that his firm keep the refinery open, making it “impossible to remedy faster”.
Glencore, which last week pushed back the expected completion of its Xstrata merger to July, said it invited the BBC to visit its operations in the DRC, but was turned down.