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A Human Rights Problem
(© Calvin Voxx)

Page 2

The mine headquarters building was at the top of a hill. As they drove up the long winding road, Alex could see the mine stretch out below them on the left off the edge of the hillside. Far below, heavy haul trucks and even larger excavation equipment moved to and fro, the signs of an active mine in the throes of the daily frenzy of activity. Like tiny ants, Alex could even make out people scurrying back and forth, a stream of workers departing from a bus, and another line of them waiting to refill the same bus. Shift change.

Alex tried to soak in every possible detail he could. He did not know in particular what he was looking for. In fact, he knew very little about mining operations. But he knew that the thing about human rights abuses was that when you looked, they generally were not that hard to find. The sweatshops, the unsafe labor conditions, the exposure to toxic chemicals – it was all there. Usually, it wasn't a lack of visibility that was the problem. It was that no one wanted to acknowledge what their eyes were seeing. His job was to be a clear set of eyes.

They parked and Liu ushered him inside. "Later," Liu said, "we will go down to the pit and talk to the miners and even walk through the mines, if you wish. Everything is open to you." This is a mantra Liu would repeat multiple times that morning. "We have nothing to hide. Ask and we will answer. Demand to see, and you will be shown." It was true, Xichou Enterprises, the Chinese umbrella contractor whom Liu was representing, had been aggressive in their assertions of transparency from day one. And the more they said it, the more Alex began to get the feeling that they had something to hide. Perhaps that was an unfair bias, but either way he planned to take them up on their offer.

The morning began with introductions, a slideshow presentation giving an overview of the mine and its supporting facilities, and a brief description of the basic functions of the mine. Alex paid special attention to the satellite overview of the mine, looking for any telltale signs of hidden facilities or off-grid production plants where abuses might be occurring. Buildings, for example, that were unlabeled or power lines running to facilities that were off the edge of the map. There was nothing so obvious, but that meant little, only that if they had something to hide they were at least making an effort in doing so. Images could be doctored, of course, with little difficulty. The overall theme of the presentation was that there were a host of precious rare minerals buried in Yunnan province in southern China, mining them was challenging work, and the workers here were well taken care of, paid more than adequate wages for their work, and were generally happy and loyal to the company. It was more propaganda than substance, but at least it was brief and then they were on their way. Xichou had clearly taken heed to Alex's pre-trip instructions to minimize the time spent sitting in briefings and to maximize seeing actual facilities in action, with briefings while they drove or walked. And so they plowed forward.

"You will see," Mr. Liu was saying as they strolled through the mine infirmary, "we have state-of-the-art medical facilities here on site. Accidents, while rare, do happen, and our workers will not suffer while they wait for medical evacuation to a city hospital. We have thirty first-rate care suites, as well as triage space to handle three hundred injured, which is the entire shift capacity at any one point in time. Of course, we do not anticipate ever needing to treat so many wounded, but as the saying goes, 'It is better to be prepared…'"

Alex nodded, unsure whether Liu was quoting a Chinese saying or an American one, but in any case the sentiment was indisputable. In one of the exam rooms, each of which was really just a gurney and monitoring equipment separated by hanging sheets, but in that respect no different from American emergency rooms, Alex saw a worker being examined by a doctor/nurse. Alex watched while the medical professional moved a light slowly across the field of vision of the patient, while the worker tracked with his eyes.

"All of our workers receive free semi-annual medical checkups," Liu said. "We see our workers as an investment. Their health is the health of the company. We have found, through a rigorous process of examination of our best miners, that experience matters, that a subset of our miners routinely collect more ore and more valuable ore than the other miners. Their productivity is not related to pay or age, but rather by the amount of years they have working at the mine. There is a skill – one that is hard to capture, mind you – to the mental process of looking through the rock and finding the best veins of ore. Anyone can be trained to do it within a few weeks. But like many things, to do it well takes thousands of hours of diligent practice. Here, we have tried to better quantify what makes that practice work. And I believe we are coming up with some answers."

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Genre:Living Dead
Type:Medium length story
Rating:8.37 / 10
Rated By:23 users
Comments: 4 users
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