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Swiss minister criticised for copper mine comments

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Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis is coming under renewed pressure over his visit to a Glencore-run copper mine in Zambia earlier this month. Local NGOs have criticised comments by Cassis that gave the mine a glowing reference.

Last weekend Cassis said in a radio interview that he had spoken to local NGOs about environmental standards at the plant and that they had told him things had improved over the past 15 years.

But Swiss public radio, SRF,external link found that these NGOs were located in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, and not in the vicinity of the Mopani Copper mine, which is majority owned by the Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore.

SRF spoke to a person living nearby who complained of pollutants being released by the mine that affected her health. Local NGOs also complained that they were not given the opportunity to talk to Cassis about sulphur emissions.

Critics have also pointed to information on the Swiss foreign affairs ministry websiteexternal link relating to the Mopani mine, which they say gives a false impression about safety and environmental standards at the mine.

Human rights guidelines

In November, the Swiss government published human rights guidelines for firms operating in the commodity sector. Separately, it issued a report looking at the ongoing challenges and emerging trends in this sector of strategic importance for Switzerland.

Glencore, the world’s biggest mining company with headquarters in the Swiss canton of Zug, comes under regular criticism from Swiss watchdog groups over environmental and human rights issues linked to copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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