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28 Apr 2016

Die Zeit, Stefan Buchen, Translation (Original in German): Simon Philips

The Platinum Complex: How far should the German chemical company BASF be held responsible for the massacre of miners in South Africa?

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...Does this mean that BASF has any particular responsibility regarding Lonmin? BASF’s chair, Kurt Bock, thinks that it does. At a press conference in late February, Bock confirmed ‘We are a huge customer for Lonmin.’ As such, BASF cared about what happened at the firm; after all, BASF and Lonmin had been working together for 30 years. Bock continued by arguing ‘We see it as our duty to help them improve’. Every year, BASF buys platinum from Lonmin worth around EUR 450 million. If we compare this figure to information provided by Lonmin in its previous annual reports, it becomes clear that BASF is Lonmin’s largest single customer and that the German chemical company purchases more than 50 per cent of Lonmin’s annual platinum production. Bock’s portrayal of the friendly face of capitalism does not entirely reflect the steps he has taken in the past. Until BASF and Lonmin’s relationship became the focus of media attention, Bock saw no reason to accept any responsibility for the working conditions and the massacre in Marikana. A year ago, Bock was publicly questioned about this matter for the first time when the chair of the South African Episcopal Council, Jo Seoka, attended BASF’s AGM in Frankfurt. Seoka spoke about the massacre in Marikana and how the bereaved and injured were still suffering. Bock’s response was dismissive: as South Africa was far away from Ludwigshafen, it was hard to judge what was happening there...