This is how ‘development’ works – from a low-impact perspective & as reported in the corporate press

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Posted Dec 6 2013 by Dave Darby of

This is how ‘development’ works. NB: you can substitute any rich country for Germany, and any poor country for Zambia. In the boardroom of a global corporation in Germany, the following conversation takes place:

‘We have to maximise returns to our shareholders, and wages in Germany are too high to do that. We should relocate our mining / foundry operations to Zambia, where we can pay much, much lower wages.’

‘Yes, and we don’t have to bother with unions, health and safety or environmental regulations in Zambia either.’

‘And we have friends in government who will allocate a foreign aid loan to the Zambian government to appropriate and clear land for a mine and smelting plant.’

And so Zambia receives a loan, land is compulsorily purchased, and a mining and smelting operation is set up, along with roads and other infrastructure. Similar infrastructure in Germany is abandoned.

There are several thousand people living in smallholdings on the land, but they are removed – a couple of hundred of them are offered employment in the mine or smelting plant, but most of them leave to try to set up home in Lusaka.

The plant starts operating, without unions, paying one or two dollars a day to part-time or casual workers who have no job security. The lack of environmental regulations means that toxic waste is dumped onto the land and into the rivers, and pollutants are released into the atmosphere.

The result, from a low-impact perspective:

  1. the livelihoods of several thousand Zambian smallholders, whose families have lived on the same land for generations, have been destroyed
  2. the local environment in Zambia is heavily contaminated
  3. the metals produced are transported back to Europe, causing more pollution
  4. the health of thousands of Zambians living close to the plant is damaged
  5. the slums around Lusaka increase in size
  6. a couple of hundred people lose their land and have to work in dangerous, unhealthy conditions for pitifully low wages, without unions or health and safety regulations
  7. Zambia has to pay debt and interest that it can ill-afford to an already rich country
  8. more wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few who already have it
  9. hundreds of skilled workers in Germany now unemployed, working in call centres or re-training to work in marketing

The result, as reported in the corporate press:

  1. hundreds of jobs created in Zambia
  2. generous foreign aid provided to a poor country to help it to develop
  3. lower prices for metals in Western countries
  4. economic growth stimulated
  5. good news for investors as profits increase
  6. cleaner environment in Germany – because as we know, as a country becomes richer, the environment becomes cleaner