Free Case Study On Ethical Issues: China And The Mining Of Rare Metals

Type of paper: Case Study

Topic: Mining, China, Business, Company, Countries, Pollution, Government, Politics

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2021/01/10


The paper analyzes the ethical issues involved in China’s mining of rare metals. Over the years, China has significantly been reducing its export and supply of ‘green products.’ Such products include electric products that are energy efficient. The reason for this has greatly been influenced by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s policy of regulating the amount of certain rare metals that are exported. The government has further imposed complete bans on the export of other metals. China is rated as the world’s number one producer of rare metals and manufacture of products that use such materials. This fact makes China a significant influence of commodities manufactured using rare metals in the world market. China produces approximately ninety-five percent of the world’s rare metals (Weser, 2002 p. 23). Such metals include thulium and terbium, which are mainly used in the manufacture of wind turbines, petrol-electric cars, and energy saving light bulbs. The reduced global supply of the ‘green products’ and rare metals have resulted in the rise of their prices. There has been a 37 percent increase from the year 2010 to 2011 considering the prices of fluorescent bulbs. With the high population of China, it could be agreeable that the government’s decision to reduce exports of the rare metals was the right move since the available resource could not be sufficient for the country. However, the country’s need for rare metals has continuously been increasing, thus need to address ethical issues relating to the mining activities.

Environmental Pollution

The Government’s strategy to reduce the export of some rare earth products and complete ban of others could be seen as an ethical move towards regulating the pollution of the environment as a result of mining. Since the paper explains the ethical issues relating to mining of rare metals in China, it is important to define the word Ethics in order to understand the ethical issues covered in the scope of this paper. According to Humpries (2010 p. 152), Ethics is a branch of knowledge that studies the moral principles that govern an individual’s or group behavior. In this case study, ethical issues that have been established in the rare metals mining sector in China will be analyzed.
The major unethical practice in the mining industry in China is pollution of the environment. This includes air, water and soil pollution. Mining of rare metal can be either surface mining or subsurface mining. The primary pollutants from both types of operations are sediments, toxic substances, and acids. In the mining of rare metal using surface mining method, three procedures can be used. These methods include open pit, dredging, and strip. Strip mining involves the removal of large amounts of overlying material to expose the desired ore. On the other hand, the open pit procedure involves removal of the overlay from one ore to expose the ore, thus creating a pit. In both procedures of surface mining, top soil that is mainly used for farming is removed and eroded; making the land not fit for farming even after mining is done. However, open pit mining does not cause much displacement of top soil since mining is concentrated in one area, unlike strip mining where a large area is covered. Dredging is used in the mining of minerals from underwater mines.
These forms of mining also lead to varying amounts of nonpoint water source pollution. Siltation is another major problem in surface mining. Chemical pollution may also occur when surface mining results in accelerated pollution-forming chemical reactions.
The water pollution resulting from unethical mining can be controlled by changing the conditions responsible for the pollution. It includes changing the mining procedures and methods employed and using methods that ensure minimum pollution. The combination of several techniques is usually required to achieve adequate water pollution control. Subsurface mines are identified as nonpoint water source pollution. The cause for this is the water that runs out of mines openings is, in most cases, highly acidic and extremely saturated with metals that may be toxic to aquatic and human life. The source of the water in such mines is usually ground-water. This water seeps through the bore holes, porous structure, and fractures in the strata adjacent to the mine. The pollutants carried in the water are a result of ores that have been oxidized due to exposure to air. Therefore, pollution controls for subsurface mines are aimed at restricting water flows from the mines and maintaining an anaerobic atmosphere in the mine.

Resource Overexploitation

Another major ethical issue facing China in its mining of rare metal is overexploitation of its natural resources. Natural resources include materials and substances that are economically valuable in a natural form. Natural resources can be classified into two that is renewable and non-renewable resources. In this case study, the paper focuses on rare metals, which is a natural non-renewable resource. Therefore, overexploitation of resources in this context refers to the excessive mining of rare metals. Overexploitation of the resource may be caused by various factors such as the high Chinese population and the ever increasing demand for the resource and its products. Improvements of technology and mining procedures have also eased mining activities thus facilitating faster excavation. The improvements in technology have also facilitated mass consumption and creation of a variety of uses for the resources (Broekmans, 2012 p. 121-123).
Industrialization has also facilitated the increase of the demand for the resources with the increase in production of production thus increased need for the resources that are used in the manufacture of the products. Attracted by the ever increasing demand for the rare metals and the continuously increasing prices for the resources, China has been overexploiting its resources in a bid to profit from the high prices.

Mine Workers Working Conditions

Regardless of how much rare metal mining statistics is recorded in a year in China, there is no denying the extreme hazards related to mining in the country. Such risks are not emerging in the China’s mining industry but have been in existence ever since the country ventured into mass mining of rare metals. However, there is a need to comprehend why such circumstances persist to this day (Yao, 2014 p. 83).
China’s mines and working conditions sharply contrast with those of other countries around the world. It is because most of the miner’s working conditions are termed as poor with frequent and catastrophic accidents. It is that there has been a little improvement of the working conditions of miners working in the rare metal industry in China. Given China’s reliance on its rare metal and the continually growing economy, is evident that more workers will be obliged to work in the mines. It would mean more people being exposed to the poor working conditions hence more catastrophic mine accidents. Exploring the exclusive difficulties of China’s rare metals mining industry discloses its features as well as reasonable measures to amend its worst impact. The ethical issues of safety in Chinese rare metals mines replicate other socio-economic ills in the Chinese society. Therefore, a resolution must go beyond merely severer regulations of the mines. Such a solution would need a different procedure of rare metal mining in China as well as a development in the prestige of those who work in the mines (Hung, 2009 p. 201-201).
The various mining methods employed in the mining of rare metals in China also have a dramatic impact on the safety of miners. For example, open pit and subsurface mining are the most dangerous mining methods that have resulted in a most catastrophic mining accident in the past. Such catastrophic accidents are as a result of slope failures. The hazard associated with surface mines is much easier to control than underground mining dangers. Hazards associated with underground mining may include gas explosions, roof collapses, and flooding. It is therefore ethically advisable to use mining methods that ensure minimum risk to the miners. In case the only method that can be used in mining is dangerous methods such as underground mining, it would be ethical to supply minors with the appropriate mining gear.

Global Impact as a result of China’s Unethical Mining

China’s mining activities has not been restricted within its borders alone, but its mining companies have crossed borders to mine in other countries and continents. Globalization of China’s mining companies has resulted in some new challenges and opportunities. The greatest challenge globalization of the mining companies has caused mining in politically unstable countries, thus funding the conflicts. Chinese multinational mining companies have been accused of doing business in countries that are politically unstable. However, for such companies, they view such critics as business barriers that can just be ignored and continue doing business. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict can be seen as mainly funded by the Chinese mining corporations since they are the ones carrying out business in the conflict areas (Jepson, 2012 p. 231). Due to the high demand for the rare metals, Chinese mining corporations have chosen to ignore the ethical act of avoiding doing business with conflict-retaining countries.
Chinese mining corporations, through the backing of the Chinese government, have also continued to act unethically by doing business with countries that have economic sanctions imposed on them. By mining in mineral reach countries such as Zimbabwe, China has disregarded the international community’s plea to impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. In so doing, China has directly funded desolate governments and regimes that intimidate and bully their citizens (Burgess, 2010 p. 311-313).
Chinese mining corporations have also unethically exploited countries in which they carry out mining activities. The reason for this is because the companies over-exploit the countries resources with an aim of taking all the resources without giving back to the local communities. The companies also have exported the pollution problem that results from the mining activities in the countries in which they operate.

Government Regulation of Mining

The Chinese government has played a noteworthy role in trying to regulate the mining activities of the mining companies operating within the country. It has facilitated the implementation of ethics in mining activities within the state. For example, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s directive of placing limits on the amount of certain metals to be exported and a ban on other metals shows the government’s commitment to regulating rare metal mining activities in China. However, the government has done little in regards to regulating its mining companies’ activities operating outside the country. The Chinese government is said to play an import role in the facilitation of its mining companies to expand and operate in other countries across the world.
It can be established that the Chinese government can be facilitating its mining companies to business in conflict areas in Africa because of its high demand for the rare metals. The government has also penetrated into countries in Africa due to its high demand for resources in African countries. Chinese state-owned corporations are mostly perceived to be the new colonials in Africa. Such corporations have set-up shop in African countries with an aim of identifying new mining opportunities in the mineral-rich continent. Such corporations operating in the developing countries lack good corporate citizenship and transparency. The reason for this is because they are government supported; therefore, they can manipulate the local societies in which they operate. Corruption and overexploitation of resources in the areas where the corporations are based are also an ordinary occurrence. Africa’s mining industry is considered one of the largest recipients of foreign investment. In recent time, most of this investment has been coming from Chinese companies and the Chinese government. However, Chinese State-owned corporations remain to possess the worst governance and best practice due to lack of transparency (Jimenez, 2013 p.173-174).


Broekmans, M., 2012. Proceedings of the 10thWorldwide Congress for Applied Mineralogy
(ICAM).Berlin: Springer.
Burgess, S., 2010. Sustainability of Strategic Minerals in Southern Africa and Potential Conflicts
and Partnerships. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center.
Humpries, M., 2010. Rare Earth Elements the Global Supply Chain. Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Research Service.
Hung, H., 2009. Raising the Worker’s Flag: The Workers’ Unity League of Canada. Toronto:
Jimenez, J., 2013. Social Policy and Social Change: Towards the Creation of Social and
Economic Development. New York: Sage.
Jepson, N., 2012. A 21st Century Struggle South Africa, China and the Rare Earth Metals
Industry. Johannesburg: South Africa Institute of International Affairs.
Weser, I., 2002. Chinese Mining Activity in Latin America: AnEvaluation of Recent Findings.
New York: Sage.
Yao, S., 2014. China Mining Laws and Regulations Handbook. New York: Sage.

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