BELGRADE — Since China’s Zijin Mining Group bought Serbia’s only copper mining complex in 2018, the company has been involved in protests over its poor environmental record and opaque commercial deals in the Balkans. face accusations of being
In the face of heightened scrutiny, Chinese mining companies have engaged disgruntled communities. Funding and rewarding local sports teams Activists and watchdog groups say they are trying to repair its tarnished image.
Zijin’s latest contribution is Donation of €300,000 ($295,000) was awarded to the Serbian women’s volleyball team that won the gold medal at the World Championships in the Netherlands on October 15th.
“They are trying to show that they are socially responsible companies,” Mirko Popovic, program director of the Serbian environmental NGO Renewable Energy and Environmental Regulation Institute (RERI), told RFE/RL. rice field. “[But] Past research into Zijin’s work in Serbia shows that Zijin is not a responsible company. ”
Zijin has been repeatedly fined by Serbian authorities for pollution violations over the years. In April 2021, the company was temporarily ordered Quit the job At a copper mine after not adhering to environmental standards and building a wastewater treatment plant nearby.
The recent donation to the volleyball team is not the first time Zijin has pledged money to fund a sports team amid growing environmental concerns and growing local backlash.
Earlier this month, the company donated €2,500 ($2,465) to a local table tennis club. Last year, he signed a €17,000 ($16,765) sponsorship deal with the official football club of Majdanpek, a town in the Bor district of eastern Serbia, home to Zijin’s copper mining operations. That same year, Zijin donated his €153,000 ($150,000) to the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Serbia.
“China and Serbia are iron friends, and our bilateral relationship has stood the test of turbulent times,” Zijin said in a statement on Oct. 17. accompanied by the statement. “Volleyball, especially women’s volleyball, is also one of China’s most popular sports.”
Snezana Todorovic, a local environmental activist, told RFE/RL that recent donations “leave a bitter taste” in her mouth. It’s been less than a month since authorities demolished a camp built by Maidanpek activists to stop the expansion of her Zijin mines. within the area.
“I think this money is for washing up [people’s] conscience, so they [turn a blind eye]’ said Todorovic.
Zijin and the Serbian Volleyball Federation did not respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment regarding the donation.
look to sports
Serbia and China have rapidly strengthened their economic and political ties in recent years, with Beijing viewing the Balkans as a representative model for its larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Growing influence in Europe.
China’s state-owned banks have provided Serbia with billions of dollars in loans, mostly for construction projects carried out by Chinese workers. Serbia has become an export market for China’s drones, military equipment and surveillance technology. Chinese companies are also expanding their presence in Serbia, buying mines and steelworks and building roads, factories and railways.
Zijin, China’s largest gold mining company and one of the country’s top copper producers, acquired a Serbian mining operation in 2018, in a $1.26 billion deal to help Bolu’s debt-ridden copper mining and Acquired a smelting complex. The deal followed his 2016 deal in which China’s Hesteel bought a large steel plant in the town of Smederevo in eastern Serbia.
Zijin is not the only Chinese company looking to strengthen its brand in Serbian sports.
As one of China’s leading sportswear and footwear brands, the Peak logo appears on the Serbian volleyball and basketball team’s national jerseys. Linglong, a Chinese company building a nearly $1 billion tire plant in Serbia, is a major sponsor of the country’s top soccer league, renamed Linglong Tire Superliga.
Like Zijin, Linglong has also been embroiled in scandal over the years due to its spotty environmental record and poor labor practices. In 2020, a Serbian NGO announced that part of the construction work around a tire factory in the town of Zrenjanin done without a permit or environmental impact studyleading to protests and backlash.
Nationwide scandal unfolds poor labor standards Hundreds of Vietnamese workers hired by subcontractors were found at the factory with their passports confiscated, living in makeshift accommodation without electricity, heating or running water.
Environmental problems in Serbia
Despite donations to local sports teams in the area, activists say Zijin’s alleged efforts to repair its reputation have failed.
Ljubica Vukcevic, lead attorney for the environmental NGO RERI, told RFE/RL that anger and frustration with Zijin is deep-rooted in the region, especially as pollution and environmental problems rise.
It’s not just Chinese mining companies that are causing controversy.
widespread protest Serbia erupted in late 2021 over plans to build a large lithium mine to be developed by British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. After protests, the Serbian government withdrew plans for the venture.
Activists and watchdogs say the Serbian government’s legal and regulatory system is weak, allowing companies to circumvent environmental protections and due diligence.According to the international watchdog group Global Alliance for Health and Pollution, Serbia has most polluted country in Europe.
However, in Serbia, additional concerns have been raised about the practices of Chinese companies with poor environmental records around the world. There are also concerns that Chinese companies will try to take advantage of Serbia’s weak legal protections.
In a recent report, the European Parliament express concern He said the lack of transparency on impact assessments could lead to increased environmental problems.purple gold in it remarks of the pastclaims to comply with Serbian law.
Dutch advocacy group Just Finance has expressed similar concerns. In May Investigationsaid Zijin’s investment in Serbia was made “without the necessary environmental and social due diligence”, leading to people abandoning villages near mining operations.
Since Zijin’s acquisition of the Bor copper mining and smelting complex, “the lives of citizens in at least five villages in this part of Serbia have been transformed,” the group said.