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Phosphate Mining in Gafsa, Tunisia


Tunisia’s main export commodity, phosphate, comes from mines in the Gafsa region, south-west of Tunisia, and is one of the main sources of state income (1, 2). However much damage is caused locally by poor infrastructure and working conditions, with a high level of illnesses and pollution.

In 2008, locals organised a big protest over poor working conditions and unemployment, however the peaceful movement had been brutally suppressed by the government (3). Local protests have resumed again after the 2011 revolution for a few years, mainly demanding employment in a highly profitable phosphate mine, in a region ironically struck by high employment rates and lack of development. There are also alarming environmental concerns regarding the mine’s operation affecting health of residents and polluting water resources. The region also lacks sewage, sanitation, electrical and potable water services (4). Sit-ins by unemployed youth as well as mine employees under strike, starting in January 2015 and intensifying in May, blocked the coal transport railway and mines. The protest succeeded in the temporary closure of the Metaloui phosphate plant, which operates under Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsa (CPG), the state-owned monopolising company producing most of the country’s’ phosphate (3, 5). Metaloui produces 60% of Tunisia’s phosphate output and is highly profitable, thus the blockage paralysed production and served as a major blow for the company’s revenues and state exports (2, 6, 7). In May 2015, it resumed operations after the protests temporarily stopped, with hopes of negotiation between the state and the youth groups (6). However, protests are still appearing and

continue to raise similar concerns about employment, working conditions,

environmental and social improvements. As an example, from the 12th

of December to the 23rd of March 2018, more than 25 mobilizations

taking various forms have been counted. [9; pp. 28 - 30]. New negotiations between youth and

the company and between trade union and state representatives happened but

without any outcome to be celebrated. [9; pp. 28 - 30]

In 2015, the CEO of CPG was reported to have said that the state is the one responsible for enhancing the wellbeing of the people and the region (3). The region is suffering from a high rate of pollution, diseases and water contamination related to mining. Cancer, asthma and infertility rates are unusually high in this region, as waterways are contaminated by industrial waste, and workers and residents constantly inhale toxic fumes (3, 8). While the mobilisation was mainly against economic and social marginalization, protesters also spoke out against pollution and unsafe working conditions (1, 6). Social and environmental injustice is evident, where locals are the ones harmed by environmental hazards and pollution while not benefiting from any employment. Locals are not demanding the closure or relocation of the industry provided they are employed through it. Nevertheless, they are subject to clear environmental hazards and health effects directly related to the phosphate industry.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Phosphate Mining in Gafsa, Tunisia
State or province:Gafsa
Location of conflict:Gafsa
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Phosphate

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Phosphate production before 2011 revolution: 8 million tonnes/year

2014: 4 million tonnes

2015 (first quarter) 650,000 tonnes (50% decline from 2014)

Added value from the phosphate sector in Gafsa (Gouvernorat de) represents 70% of the value generated by the regional economic activities according to the Compagnie de Phosphates de Gafsa . [10]

1 million tons of merchantable phosphate consume approximately 2 million m³ of water in laundries, which comes largely from the non-renewable fossil layer of the continental shelf. [10]

It is recognized that the current mining sector in Tunisia significantly contributes to the water, air and soil pollution. For example, the first separation of phosphates is carried out by dry crushing, causing dust and polluting the surrounding plantations and population. [10]

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:30,000 - 70,000
Start of the conflict:2008
Company names or state enterprises:Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) from Tunisia - Operator of numerous mines around the region, main cause of pollution
Relevant government actors:Ministère de l’Industrie, de l’Energie et des Mines, Direction générale des mines
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local residents
Amnesty International

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Social movements
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Land occupation
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Hunger strikes and self immolation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths
Other Health impactsDiseases from water contamination
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Under negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Migration out of the country, adding to mass arrivals to Europe
Development of alternatives:Proposed negotiations between local youth groups in Gafsa and the government
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:While the protests and blockades have succeeded in temporarily shutting down the mine, it is less certain that the new proposition of negotiation between the locals and the government will be fruitful in employing enough locals and raising the safety and environmental standards of the sector. Whether working conditions will be improved and proper infrastructure built to avoid spread of pollution and health risks remains unknown.
Protests are still raising, and demands from civil actors whether for better working and employment conditions, or for social and environmental improvements have not led to related decision nor implementation. Negotiations and attempts to create a social dialogue have failed.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(9)La responsabilité sociale de l’entreprise entre la bipolarité les protestations sociales de la société locale et le pouvoir de l’Etat : Visions, enjeux et perspectives. Cas de la Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsa CPG, Tunisie.

(4) Nawaat: Behind Tunisia’s ‘Economic Miracle': Inequality and criminalization of protest

(1) The Economist: Dirty Business: Locals complain about the phosphate industry

(2) Alaraby: Tunisia’s phosphate is in danger (Arabic)

(5) albawaba: Disruption in Tunisia’s phosphate production (Arabic)

(6) Reuters: Tunisia's phosphate production to resume after protests end

(7) Alarab: Strikes and social anxiety hits the phosphate sector in Tunisia (Arabic)

(8) al-Araby al-Jadeed: Special documentary - Tunisia: The phosphate curse

(3) AlJazeera: Phosphate Fantasies

(10) La Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) : État des lieux de la gouvernance et recommandations

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documentary: Phosphate fantasies

Documentary: Phosphate curse

Short story: AlJazeera

Meta information

Contributor:EJAtlas affiliated researcher updated by ATUJUCLIS (end of 2018)
Last update18/08/2019



Protesters in front of the CPG company


Women protesting at barricade on road connecting Gafsa with mines