Our Corporate Communications staff spend time getting to know Sumitomo Corporation's different business sites around the world, reporting on how the people at those sites work. We will keep you up to date with the world of Sumitomo Corporation, which extends to every corner of the globe.
External Affairs and Strategic Planning Team and Mass Media Relations Team, Corporate Communications Department
Since joining the company, Ken Okazaki was involved in sales in the Chemical Business Unit, based in Pakistan from 1994 to 1998 and Vietnam from 2005 to 2009. Upon returning to Japan in 2009, he was assigned to the Corporate Communications Department to serve as the head of the Public Relations and Planning Team in charge of planning mid- to long-term publicity strategies and Sumitomo Group public affairs. He concurrently is responsible for media relations of the Transportation & Construction Systems Business Unit and the Mineral Resources, Energy, Chemical & Electronics Business Unit. In his personal life, he is a good father to a son and a daughter, and enjoys karate and playing golf with his wife in his spare time.
Bolivia is located in the centeral part of South America. On a high plateau at an altitude of 4,000 meters, surrounded by the Andes Mountains, is the site of the mine operated by Minera San Cristobal S.A. (MSC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation. One of the largest operating mines in the world, it boasts the world's sixth largest production of zinc and the third largest of silver. What follows is my firsthand report of my visit there.
At the border between Bolivia and Chile (the building at the center is the customs office)
After landing at the airport in Calama, a provincial city in Chile, it was a five-hour drive by 4WD through the desert and across the border to Bolivia and MSC, where I was met by Japanese and local staff.
One of the very first things I was told was to drink four liters of water every day to prevent altitude sickness. High altitudes, they told me, dehydrate the body but at the same time disrupt our sense of thirst. To cope with this, they keep bottles of water within easy reach all over the office for people to drink anytime.
During the first meeting, I polished off two 500-ml bottles of water. Afterwards, I trundled off to the MSC guesthouse where I was to stay. MSC provides guesthouses for visitors as there are no hotels in the area. It is a standalone building with a few bedrooms and a kitchen and is furnished with a dining table and a sofa. There is also a huge parabolic satellite antenna that receives not only Bolivian but also international television stations. I could watch more TV channels there than at my house in Japan, which made me forget for a while that I was actually high up in Bolivia.
Llamas roaming and grazing on the premises of MSC
The next morning, however, I got an unmistakable reminder of exactly where I was when looked out the window upon waking and saw llamas! Llamas, which belong to the camelid family, are kept as domestic animals in the Andes. People take good care of their llamas as they use llama fur and leather for clothing and eat the meat. Llamas are grazed in the areas surrounding MSC.
Taking videos of blasting and raw stone mining
The objective of my visit this time was, in cooperation with the Communications Department of MSC, to take videos for use in introductory presentations by Sumitomo Corporation and external newsletters. Javier Prado, an MSC staff member in charge of public relations, guided me through the mine site to help me shoot various scenes, including the blasting and mining of raw stones, conveying mined stones to an adjacent plant, crushing and separating them to recover the component zinc, copper and silver, and shipping them out by train. Thanks to Mr. Prado, I was able to complete my mission without any problems. Between shooting, I was also given an opportunity to interview local staff and Japanese expats at the mine office.
Through these interviews, one of the things that struck me was the strong will expressed by all the staff to achieve meaningful coexistence with local communities, along with mutual benefits. Bolivia had a cruel and sad period in its colonial history in relation to the Potosi Silver Mine. The crown jewel of the former Spanish empire, this mine was developed by local people working under harsh conditions. The people of Bolivia, however, enjoyed none of the wealth produced by the mine, even after it was stripped of all of its silver.
To avoid a repeat of this tragedy, while still prioritizing the current operations of the mine, MSC focuses part of its energies on creating an environment in which its employees and other members of the local communities can maintain independent lives after the San Cristobal mine closes in the future. In the impressive words of one of the Bolivian executives: "We don't give them a fish, we teach them how to catch fish together."
MSC staff providing training on techniques at the technical training center
As he noted, MSC places importance on contributing to local communities. It is a well-known fact that the company relocated an entire village that was situated at the site of the mine, including a 16th century church and monuments, to a place 10 km to the southeast. The company also built a technical training center in the village to provide training and help local people become independent. Its programs are designed to allow students to acquire not only the knowledge and skills that are needed to work for MSC as, for example, a welder or electrician, but also computer and secretarial skills and other general, transferable skills.
In 2010, MSC was certified as meeting ISO and other international standards, proving that its management of quality, the environment, and occupational health and safety are world-class. Its employees formed a trade union in June 2009, and in 2010 the company became the first Bolivian mining company to enter into a trade union agreement. In a wage negotiation conducted this year in accordance with the agreement, the company and the trade union were able to reach a consensus. I was told that it is progressive and forward-thinking for a Bolivian company to enter into a trade agreement and engage in related negotiations. This approach clearly shows the importance with which MSC regards its employees.
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