Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg, 22 January 2014 – Today marks the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where corporates and government officials globally – such as the seven South African cabinet ministers – get to “reshape the world” [1], while in the meantime the majority are unjustly treated by them, socially, economically or environmentally.

At the Public Eye Awards ceremony [2], held parallel to the WEF Greenpeace Switzerland and the Berne Declaration, the truth about some these corporates is exposed. While not winning the award, Eskom, its bad reputation preceding it, was shortlisted among seven other notoriously unjust corporations.

Enshrined in Section 24 of the South African Constitution (1994), people are given the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. The three environmental justice organisations nominated the company on the basis that while many of its 18 coal-fired power stations are in areas already out of compliance with South Africa’s air quality standards, Eskom applied to the government to gain exemption and/or postpone the timeframes for 14 of these power stations from complying with stricter minimum emission standards that will be put in place from 2015 to protect people’s health and their environments.

In the year ending March 2013, the company made 128.8 billion South African rands, however, according to Bobby Peek, Director at groundWork [3]:

“Eskom is destroying South Africa. The uncontrolled pollution from its burning of coal makes people sick resulting in the having to pay for this health cost, and their reliance on coal is bankrupting the country due to this issue and its servicing US dollar loans such as that paid to the World Bank for the Medupi coal-fired power station as the rand grows weaker by the year.”

The company holds a 95% monopoly of energy production in the country and about 45% on the continent. Approximately, 90% of the country’s electricity is generated through coal-fired power stations, an energy source whose entire life-cycle has serious impacts on people’s health and is known as one of the largest contributors to climate change.

While Eskom reports that coal-fired power stations do not affect people’s health, it admits to likely being the biggest emitter of pollutants in the country but due to this monopoly it gets away with blatantly disregarding legislation put in place to protect people. Its blinkered approach to coal means Eskom fails to see an alternative energy future and its latest application to maneuver around critical air legislation, it is neglecting its social and environmental responsibilities, trying to cut costs and fuel this dirty energy addiction.

The organisations, however, are not despondent about Eskom not winning the award. Makoma Lekalakala, Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Project Manager at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg [4]:

“For Eskom to be shortlisted amongst global multinational corporations in the Public Eye Awards illustrates the extent that despite being a parastatal company owned by government, Eskom’s activities cause it to fall under the same category as privately-owned corporations. While winning would have been good, we recognise it as a success nonetheless, as Eskom was placed on an international stage for its environmentally unsound practices.”


[1] The theme for this year’s World Economic Forum is “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” and will take place from 22 – 25 January
[2] The Public Eye Awards mark a critical counterpoint to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Organised since 2000 by Berne Declaration and Friends of the Earth (in 2009 replaced by Greepeace), Public Eye reminds the corporate world that social and environmental misdeeds have consequences – for the affected people and territory, but also for the reputation of the offender
[3] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International
[4] Earthlife Africa seeks a better life for all people without exploiting other people or degrading their environment. Our aim is to encourage and support individuals, businesses and industries to reduce pollution, minimise waste and protect our natural resources


Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Makoma Lekalakala
Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Project Manager
(W): 011 339 3662
(M): 082 682 9177
(E): or

Megan Lewis
Media and Communications Campaign Manager
(W): 033 342 5662
(M): 083 450 5541

Bobby Peek
(W): 033 342 5662
(M): 082 464 1383

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)