Boundary work in the corporation: human resource professionals in mining capitalism
(University of Liège)
Paper short abstract:
Human resource professionals in Zambia's mines manage multiple interfaces, between management and employees and between foreign investors and government regulators. Their work reveals both the tensions created by mining corporations and the mediating work that makes mining capitalism possible.
Paper long abstract:
Anthropological scholarship on mining capitalism has moved beyond a singular representation of mining as enclaved production to examine the political and social entanglements of mining corporations in the communities and countries where their mines are found. However, this shift in scholarship remains partial. Except for staff of corporate social responsibility departments, the people responsible for managing mining company entanglements with the wider society are often overlooked. In this paper, I relate the experiences of Zambian human resource (HR) professionals working in industrial copper mines in Zambia, managers mediating between foreign corporations and the domestic labour market. HR managers in Zambia's mines work in a sector that has seen great change since the pre-1990s era of state-led industrial paternalism. Since the liberalisation of labour laws, weakening of trade unions and the sale of the mines to private investors, more precarious employment conditions predominate, with frequent retrenchments, reliance on subcontracting, and prevalence of fixed and short-term contracts. In this context, HR professionals straddle the line between mining corporation and society, acting as gatekeepers to opportunities, overseeing disciplinary procedures, and managing relations with trade unions, government regulators, and other political representatives. Mining corporations rely on the knowledge, social capital, and emotional labour of HR professionals to secure industrial peace and make mining capitalism work. The role of HR professionals highlights how mining corporations rely not just on their access to resources in the ground but their ability to embed their financial power within the fabric of the society in which they are investing.
Global capital as a local challenge: the anthropology of corporations