Rio Tinto confronts critics from across the world
No let-up for world's third biggest miner at London AGM
This year, for the first time, UK-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto broadcast live, proceedings at its Annual General Meeting, held in London on April 15th.
Reports of the event are published below, along with links to selections from the broadcast.
* Jessica Koski (member of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) speaks in opposition to Rio Tinto's proposed Eagle Mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWtNAg8VR5A
* Dave Irish, representing over 500 locked-out Borax workers, speaks at Rio Tinto's London meeting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpRYwCDneyI
Rio Tinto Questioned Over Reality of China Construction Boom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bGlAjI0718
* Rio Tinto Questioned About Lock-out of Borax Workers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q_jxO_hCFw
* Rio Tinto Tries Dodging Questions on Madagascar Mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHyoc6OI6uI
* Rio Tinto Questioned Over Worker Health Violations at Rossing Uranium Mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xGTEYXkLzw
* Rio Tinto Questioned on Association with Corrupt Indonesian Businessman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04t-ZpsDpaY
* Rio Tinto Questioned on Unethical Behavior in West Papua: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_nXZP-a09g
* Rio Tinto Shareholder Discusses Importance of 'Free, Prior and Informed Consent': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vCbk68CKB8
* Rio Tinto Questioned Over Human Rights Violations in Bougainville: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb8G-x_ioBk
A Background document, handed out to Rio Tinto shareholders can be viewed at: http://londonminingnetwork.org/2010/04/rio-tinto-a-shameful-history-of-human-and-labour-rights-abuses-and-environmental-degradation-around-the-globe/
Report of the London AGM of Rio Tinto, 15 April 2010
21 April 2010
This was Jan du Plessis' first AGM as Chairman, and he gave plenty of time for questions on the annual report. There were numerous questions on the convictions of Rio Tinto officials in China for bribery (see Rio accused of abandoning Stern Hu, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/16/2874320.htm), on the clash of timing of the Rio Tinto AGM with the BP AGM, on executive pay and on the proposed Joint Venture with BHP Billiton on iron ore in Western Australia. One question was asked about the nature of the housing construction market in China, so important to Rio Tinto's profits.
Du Plessis was asked to comment on the possibility of a UK Government Serious Fraud Office probe into Rio Tinto's practices. He declined, saying the company would never comment publicly on any conversations with regulators anywhere in the world but would co-operate if approached by regulatory bodies.
Three questions were asked about the company's commitment to aluminium smelting at Saguenay-Lac St Jean in Quebec, Canada. Du Plessis and Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese assured questioners of the company's commitment to aluminium production in Quebec but would not commit to ‘downstream processing' into engineered products, which questioners wanted. Tom Albanese said that such products are not part of Rio Tinto's business and that he hoped other businesses in Saguenay-Lac St Jean could provide what is necessary.
London Mining Network groups were well represented inside the AGM and worked closely with trade unions supporting locked out mine workers from Rio Tinto's Borax mine in Boron, California. Between them, they were able to raise a number of concerns, but not all those which they intended to raise, as the question period was brought to a halt after a marathon session of over one and a half hours and the whole business of the AGM was only concluded towards two o'clock, nearly an hour later than usual.
Jan du Plessis promised, as he brought the question and answer session on the annual report to a close in order to proceed with other business, that once all the other resolutions had been proposed and discussed he would give more time for questions on the annual report. He did not do so, however. As one shareholder was attempting to get the Chairman's attention in order to ask about radioactive spills at the Ranger Uranium Mine in Australia, the Chairman declared the meeting closed, despite his earlier assurance.
The following notes cover only those matters raised by the Borax workers, LMN guests from overseas, groups with which LMN is working, and others connected with LMN groups. A video of much of the meeting is available at http://www.thomson-webcast.net/uk/dispatching/?event_id=c25341fbb0ef9398a61e0922a83d00a7&portal_id=f826a5de35b59aa5342937a4348256d3.
Jessica Koski, from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, spoke about Rio Tinto subsidiary Kennecott's proposed Eagle Mine. She said that mine construction would involve destruction of Eagle Rock, which is a sacred site for her community. She said that the mine's design plan is unfeasible and could lead to collapse, and that because the material to be mined is a sulphide ore body, there is a high risk of acid mine drainage. Kennecott is asserting its ability to move ahead without approval under the Clean Water Act. Jessica said that her community is determined to defend Eagle Rock and asked for a commitment from Rio Tinto not to destroy the rock, so that her people could continue practising their religion.
Jan du Plessis said he respected Jessica's strong feelings. He said he was convinced that his colleagues take seriously their responsibility to respect local people's views. As Chairman, he was well aware of the issue which Jessica had raised. He wanted to assure her that the USA has some of the toughest environmental laws in the world, as does the State of Michigan, and the company would comply with them.
Tom Albanese said that he had visited the area. The Eagle Mine project is the first to be subjected to Michigan's new mining regulations. The company has taken each step complying with the regulations and engaging with stakeholders. They recognise that the rock outcrop which Jessica had referred to was important and so the company has moved the mine portal away from the rock. The company is required to allow safe access to the rock and will meet with the tribe to discuss how this can best be done. He said that he was aware of the litigation around the project and that the company respects the US legal process.
Jessica asked again whether the company would commit to not destroying the rock and the water.
Tom Albanese replied that a condition of the permit is to respect the air and the water and to move the mine portal. He did not explain, however, how mining operations would affect people using the sacred site - whether there would be noise, dust, blasting or visual disturbance affecting a place used for religious retreats needing silence and solitude.
In response to a question from a shareholder about the dispute with workers at the Borax mine in Boron, California, Tom Albanese claimed that the borates mine there had suffered progressive loss of market share to its Turkish competitor over the past ten years. It was a good business but had suffered progressively lower productivity and lower market share. The company must modernise all aspects of the business, including contracts, especially regarding seniority, to bring it into line with other Rio Tinto operations elsewhere in North America. He stated that lockouts are enshrined in US labour law. The company wants to talk about key issues, he said, especially seniority. They need to talk about this in the context of experience and qualifications. All other things being equal, seniority would still apply.
Dave Irish, a Borax worker, noted the company's stated commitment to safety, reminded the Board that over the past decade the Borax mine had twice won safety awards and pointed out that by locking out experienced workers and employing less experienced temporary workers the company was throwing safety out of the window. He said that the company was getting rid of permanent jobs and health benefits. He noted that although Tom Albanese had mentioned the global recession he had not mentioned the 15% unemployment rate in Kern County California, where the Borax mine is. Borax had been a good support to the community in the past, providing a number of community facilities. Now Tom Albanese was blaming the workers for the lockout. The company had not met with the workers since the lockout until now, when the workers had sent representatives to the AGM to find out why the company is behaving the way it is. Dave said that the workers want to work but cannot because of being locked out. On 31 January, when the lockout began, they were met by security company personnel who prevented them entering the mine. Sales of borates are increasing around the world but because of the lockout the Borax mine is only producing 35 - 50% of full production.
Jan du Plessis replied that safety is important to Rio Tinto and that he was content that no proposal being discussed would impact safety. The company will not increase temporary positions but wants flexibility.
Tom Albanese claimed to remember meeting Dave Irish when he visited the mine site two years previously (Dave later said that he certainly had no recollection of meeting Tom Albanese). He said that there was a lot to be proud of at Boron over recent years and that the person in charge at Boron had gone on to head Rio Tinto's global health and safety work. Albanese said he welcomed the fact that the union had come back to the bargaining table.
QMM Ilmenite Mine, Madagascar
Vola Parker from Madagascar noted that the Rio Tinto Review claims that the company's operations in Madagascar are exemplary and received an environmental award. She said that the company needs to pay attention to the report Madagascar: Voices of Change published last autumn (see http://www.andrewleestrust.org/hepa.htm and http://www.andrewleestrust.org/Reports/Voices%20of%20Change.pdf). She said that the people around the ilmenite mine in Madagascar had put their testimony into this report. She asked whether the 20/80 ownership agreement between the company and the Madagascan Government still stood or whether the company now owned 100% of the mine. She said that this is very important for the Madagascan Government. She said that she had received an email from a representative of the World Bank in Madagascar who is investigating an allegation of fraud around the transfer of land around the ilmenite mine. She asked if the Board was aware of this allegation. She also asked what was the growth outlook for mineral markets given that only 6% of the company's profits come from diamonds and minerals. Is there hope for this ilmenite venture in terms of tax revenue for the Madagascan Government and employment?
Jan du Plessis replied that he hoped to travel to Madagascar in the last quarter of the year. He thanked Vola for recognising the mine's environmental award. He confirmed that the ownership arrangement with the Madagascan Government is still 80/20.
Tom Albanese said that the World Bank is associated with the project through supporting the government's 20% interest and is part owner of the port facility. The port is shown on the cover of the 2009 Annual Review. There is a dispute resolution process regarding the land transfer to ensure that the land was properly priced. USAID is also involved in this. Regarding markets, 90% of titanium dioxide is used for whitening paint. This market is driven by new construction. With the coming of the summer repainting season in the Northern hemisphere and the continued growth of construction in China there should be strong growth in titanium dioxide sales.
Yvonne Orengo of the Andrew Lees Trust said that a company representative had stated that there were no outstanding issues on the land transfer. Testimonies in the report which Vola had mentioned speak of poor land compensation, lack of forest access and extreme poverty as a result of the mine. The company has made no response to the report even though it had been sent to them. Yvonne wanted to know whether the company would show enough respect to local people to answer the criticisms which they have made.
Tom Albanese said that he could not answer individual comments but would be happy to talk further. He said that poverty and deforestation in the area were extreme before the project began. With the presence of the mine, he claimed, communities are on the whole better off - an assertion contradicted by the testimony in the report, as Vola and Yvonne pointed out after the meeting to Tom Albanese and Harry Kenyon-Slaney (CEO, Diamonds and Minerals, in charge of the Madagascar mine).
Panguna Mine, Bougainville
Clive Porabou from Bougainville said that the company's BCL subsidiary had caused massive destruction to land in Bougainville and its operations had led to a war which had cost 20,000 lives. A court case had been brought against the company in the USA. Would the company compensate the people of Bougainville for the destruction it had caused? BCL was now trying to go back in and reopen the mine, which would repeat the whole process. Would Rio Tinto warn them of the dangers of doing so?
Jan du Plessis said that the company had not operated in Bougainville since 1989. When it did operate, it employed 2800 people and contributed 10% of Papua New Guinea's GDP. In 2001 a peace agreement was signed between the PNG Government and the separatists. The company understands that it cannot recommence operations without proper consultation with the stakeholders.
Tom Albanese said that the company respects the long-term peace process and the actions of the Government of Bougainville, the landholders and the Government of Papua New Guinea.
It is noteworthy that neither the Chairman nor the CEO commented on the lawsuit brought against the company in the USA.
Rossing Uranium, Namibia
Dr Natasha Posner of LMN member group Partizans asked about the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia. She asked whether Rio Tinto planned to increase production and if so, whether studies had been done on the impact on the environment and worker health. She asked whether the company could explain why workers cannot get access to their medical records.
Tom Albanese replied that the Rossing mine is important both to Rio Tinto and to Namibia. He said that the company could like to see increased production but need access to water, electricity and skilled labour. Most workers are Namibian and there are restrictions on foreign workers. It would take 5 to 10 years before expansion can take place. He said that Rossing has worked on biodiversity. He would get back to Dr Posner on the issue of employees' access to medical records.
Dr Posner reminded Tom Albanese that he had earlier spoken of ‘our goal of zero harm', and asked if the company would commit to that goal.
Tom Albanese replied that everyone was doing everything they could to reduce harm.
Coal and nickel mining in Indonesia
Andrew Hickman (of LMN member group Down to Earth) said that, in response to questions about the recent bribery case involving company officials, the Chairman had spoken about the importance of building relationships with China. Did the company also think about the importance of building relationships with producers, including workers and communities? According to colleagues in Indonesian environmental organisation JATAM, on Tuesday 13th April the Indonesian Attorney-General’s office had found substance in corruption allegations in the divestment of Rio Tinto from Kaltim Prima Coal in 2003. Andrew asked why Rio Tinto had sold its shares in Kaltim Prima Coal for half the price being offered by the Kalimantan Government. Why did it sell all its shares to Bumi Resources, controlled by Aburizal Bakri, the second richest man in Indonesia, who was a government minister at the time and has been accused of major tax evasion, corruption and business malpractice? One of his operations controls the Lepindo mud flow, which has made 100,000 people homeless. It is reputed that he tried to sell that operation to an offshore company for as little as $2 in order to avoid compensation obligations. [NB Aburizal Bakri has recently become head of the Golkar Party, one of the two biggest political parties in Indonesia and the party of former President Suharto.]
Jan du Plessis replied that the manner in which the company does its business is of great importance and that it has to be good or the company would not be in business. Four employees in China were accused of accepting bribes from local steel magnates who wanted to make sure they got hold of steel.
Tom Albanese said that Rio Tinto had been in a 50/50 Joint Venture with BP at Kaltim Prima until 2002-03. They had been faced by Indonesianisation requirements. They went through a process of examining not only the amount of money offered but the liquidity and experience of the bodies making the offers. Rio Tinto and BP concluded that the Bumi offer was overall the better offer. Rio Tinto is no longer in Kalimantan. The company made the disposal according to the law. There is a conflict between the Governments of Indonesia and Kalimantan but the decision was made on commercial grounds.
Andrew then said that in its relationships with local elites in Indonesia the company's operations there were all related. At present Rio Tinto is planning a nickel project in Sulawesi. Andrew said that Tom Albanese's answer led him to believe that Rio Tinto is complicit in the corruption of local elites.
Tom Albanese stated emphatically that Rio Tinto is opposed to corruption.
Grasberg Mine, West Papua
Benny Wenda, from West Papua, said that he represented 250 tribes from that country. He said that the company said all manner of good things but ignored his people in dealing with Indonesia. He said that Rio Tinto was dealing with an occupied country and supporting the occupying power, Indonesia, and in so doing was indirectly supporting the rape, torture and killing carried out by the Indonesian military. Benny asked what guarantee the company would give for his people's future, for the Ajkwa River which has been filled with mining waste and turned to copper, and to their scared mountain which had been dug up and turned into a lake.
Jan du Plessis said that Benny was discussing political differences which the company could not comment on.
Tom Albanese stated baldly that Papua is part of Indonesia. This, he stated, had been ratified by the United Nations in 1966. The Grasberg lease is 10km by 10km in an area the size of the UK. It makes an important contribution to jobs and taxes. Since 1995, when Rio Tinto became involved, the company had been involved in social and environmental programmes.
Roger Moody pointed out that the Norwegian Government had accused Rio Tinto of being responsible for abuses committed around the Grasberg mine. Why had the company not satisfied the Norwegian Government in its criticism of the mine?
Tom Albanese said that Rio Tinto had had discussions with the Norwegian Government about this issue and implied that the Norwegian Government now took a more positive view. Roger Moody replied that he knew from inside information that this was not the case.
Indigenous Peoples' right to Free Prior Informed Consent
Geoff Nettleton of LMN member group Indigenous Peoples' Links said that he had been a shareholder for more than twenty years and that at every AGM there were problems with Indigenous rights. He welcomed the statement in the Rio Tinto report that the company operates in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He said that the problem is that it is not true. He said that it is good as a statement of intent. But the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives the right to Free Prior Informed Consent and this is not being respected. It also gives protection to Indigenous Peoples' sacred sites. Without genuinely independent monitoring, respect for Indigenous Peoples' rights will not work. There are reputational advantages to doing this. It would avoid litigation and confrontation. He asked whether the company would work with Indigenous organisations like the UN Permament Forum on Indigenous Issues to arrange such independent monitoring.
Jan du Plessis replied that it is possible for the company to make mistakes (a welcome admission) but said that he visited many operations and was impressed by the commitment of Rio Tinto personnel to working with local people. He said that in Australia, Rio Tinto is the biggest employer of Aboriginal People, and that at every Rio Tinto mine in Australia he had met with Aboriginal People and listened to their concerns.
Geoff reiterated that an independent element was necessary. He said that he believed what the Chairman was saying about Australia but that an independent element was needed.
Tom Albanese said that he respected that and stated that the company was taking a lead in the International Council on Mining and Metals about this, to develop industry standards. He said that Rio Tinto has independent assurance of its systems, though it is not as crisp black and white as a financial statement.
Pay differentials within Rio Tinto
Albert Beale of LMN member group Partizans said that Conservative Party leader David Cameron had recently said that in public organisations the ratio between the top earner and the bottom should not be more than 20:1. Albert said that there was no moral reason why this should not apply to private practice as well. Why did Rio Tinto not publish the pay differential between its top and bottom earners?
The answer given by the Board was that this information would be meaningless. Albert responded that this was for shareholders to judge rather than for the Board, who are employees of the shareholders, and that the company should do so.
A personal reflection on the AGM by Richard Solly, London Mining Network Co-ordinator:
As usual, the company's responses to many of the concerns raised were vague or evasive. Rio Tinto continues to hold a high view of its own virtue, despite the Chairman's admission that sometimes it makes mistakes.
Jan du Plessis was more emollient than his predecessor. But the vision of the future set out by Tom Albanese in his presentation and in his answers to questions was the stuff of nightmares.
His belief that the number of new mines that will be necessary over the coming years in order to keep pace with minerals demand, replicating themselves at an ever increasing rate, suggests a future in which more and more of the planet's surface is scarred by this highly destructive activity, with consequent impacts on water quality and food production; and, in the case of Rio Tinto, with predictable impacts on human rights, rural and coastal livelihoods, traditional cultures and Indigenous control of land. It is a very bleak picture. Why should the world trust this company, of all companies, to make decisions on such expansion when it is clear that these decisions will influence numerous other companies and be to the detriment of so many people?
He spoke enthusiastically of the development of robotics in mining. So the increasing number of new mines would not necessarily lead to an increase in satisfying employment for mineworkers. Rather, there is the possibility that more and more jobs will be lost as robots take over from human beings in gouging more and more minerals from the earth without the inconvenience of health care costs, health and safety considerations or worker organisations demanding rights and dignity.
Albanese also spoke of hundreds of millions of rural Chinese people ‘needing' to be urbanised. He did not say why they ‘need' to be urbanised or whether they have expressed a wish to be moved into cities. He did not speak of the desperation that often forces people to migrate to cities even when they do not wish to do so. And the picture of future cities which he painted was horrifying. The cities of which he spoke will consist of enormous high-rise apartment blocks into which huge numbers of people can be crammed. This, he said, is ‘greener' than traditional low-rise housing, because it takes up less space and therefore lowers the total carbon footprint. He did not speak of the carbon footprint of the steel production necessary for the construction of such towers or the carbon emissions produced in heating and cooling them.
He also spoke of the company's desire to increase uranium production, with no mention of the legacy of deadly radioactive pollution which will be left for thousands of generations to come.
The company's past is one of repeated and serious abuses of human rights, Indigenous rights, worker rights and local and regional ecosystems. Its present is one of continued greenwashing of its unacceptable behaviour. And its vision for the future is one which many millions of people will surely hope never comes true.
Rio Tinto in a race to the bottom
ILWU members supported by other unions and NGOs protest against the lockout of Californian workers at Rio Tinto AGM in London.
USA/UK: Some 70 protestors from the UK, Netherlands, and Belgium demonstrated with locked-out members of the U.S. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in London at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Rio Tinto. The global mining company maliciously locked 560 members of ILWU Local 30 off their jobs on January 31, 2010 in Boron, California, before reaching an impasse in collective bargaining.
The manifestation at the AGM was organized by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), with support from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Union (ICEM) and the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF). Several NGOs, including the London Mining Network, joined the labour rally.
Inside the meeting, Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese fielded questions regarding the company's conduct for nearly two hours. Local 30 bargaining committee member Dave Irish queried why Rio Tinto was willing to take deep revenue drops through lost production brought on by the lockout, while at the same time imposing economic hardships on 560 working families.
Albanese's answer captured the general philosophy of corporations everywhere: prioritizing profits before people. He said Rio Tinto's rollbacks on working terms and conditions at Boron were necessary in order to bring ILWU Local 30's collective agreement more in line with other company enterprises in North America.
Despite massive profits driven mainly by iron ore, copper, and coal - and even by the relatively small Rio Tinto Minerals, which controls a 45 per cent market share of the global borates business - the London/Melbourne-based mining house subscribes to "the race to the bottom" philosophy of suppressing human and social benefits.
A day after the London AGM of April 15, the American union also did protest actions against Rio Tinto at British consulate offices in the U.S. cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and in Vancouver, Canada.
Rio Tinto Minerals and ILWU Local 30 did return to bargaining on April 14-15, the first set of talks since the lockout began. It was a fact noted by Albanese from the dais of the AGM, but clearly missing was any willingness by Rio Tinto to budge from its concessionary proposals. In California, the two sides adjourned late on April 15 without making any meaningful progress.
On April 19 the Rio Tinto European Works Council held a press conference in Paris in solidarity with the locked out U.S. miners. A copy of the press pack in French only is available on the IMF website here.
This week, on April 22, Rio Tinto is scheduled to replicate its AGM in Melbourne and the ILWU will be there. Shareholders will hear Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams and locked-out Local 30 activist Terri Judd tell of the anguish faced by Mojave Desert, California, families. They will have the support of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).
See a short video of the demo in London here.
The protest was also reported in Australian mainstream media here.
BOUGAINVILLE: Mekamui Message: No More Mining, No More Bloodshed.
19 April 2010
Clive Porabou took a strong message to London. When he attended the Rio Tinto Annual General Meeting on 15 April, he told them ‘no more mining' on Mekamui (Bougainville Island).
Bougainville Copper Limited's Panguna mine closed in 1989 after an armed struggle against the company and the government of Papua New Guinea. BCL is controlled by mining giant Rio Tinto.
Clive was a fighter for the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Locals claim that up to 20,000 people died during the secessionist struggle, many from health related problems. He is an independence activist, documentary maker, singer and writer. He blogs at http://mekamui.wordpress.com/.
In Mekamui Message, Clive talks about:
- the continuing struggle for independence
- demands that Rio Tinto redress past injustices and pay for environmental and other damage
- his journey to London: 'we don't want mining at the moment, because if they sign anything with the small group they are talking with ... there will be bloodshed. We don't want bloodshed on the island.'
- his hopes for his people
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville was given a measure of self-government in the 2000 after a peace accord. There are elections in progress for the Autonomous Bougainville Government. An independence referendum is planned for 2015, which is also the target year for the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Mekamui, the traditional name for Bougainville Island, means sacred-island. The islanders are not closely related either ethnically or culturally to the rest of PNG. They have much stronger ties to the nearby Solomon Islands. In fact Clive has lived there since being evacuated in 1993 after being wounded in action.
Mekamui has a population of approximately 200,000. Mekamui has a matrilineal system in which land and property are inherited through the female line. Hopefully, there will be more in a post next month when two of the leaders visit Melbourne to spread the women's message.
Rio Tinto's Melbourne media contact, David Luff, referred me to the recently released 2009 Annual Report which contains the following:
Mining has been suspended at the Panguna mine since 1989. Safe mine access by company employees has not been possible since that time and an accurate assessment of the condition of the assets cannot therefore be made. Considerable funding would be required to recommence operations to the level which applied at the time of the mine's closure in 1989. An ‘Order of Magnitude' study undertaken in 2008 indicates that costs in a range of US$2 billion to US$4 billion would be required to reopen the mine assuming all site infrastructure is replaced.
The Rio Tinto's website contains dozens of Policies, standards & guidance documents including Land Access and Communities Relations. Rio's Mekamui challenge is to make their actions match their words.
15 April 2010
International trade unions will protest against the unfair treatment of hundreds of Rio Tinto miners this morning at the company's annual general meeting in London.
Hundreds of miners and their families are being forced to survive on unemployment insurance and charitable donations since British-owned mining giant Rio Tinto locked the workers out of its Borax mine in Boron, California in January this year.
Rio Tinto retaliated when the miners refused to accept the company's concessionary contract ultimatum, which would give the company the right to convert good jobs into temporary, part-time or outsourced positions.
The skilled employees, many of whom are the second or third generation in their families to work at the mine, are disgusted by Rio's move to replace them with workers from its other facilities and with contract workers supplied by a notorious union-busting company.
Dave Irish, one of the locked out miners, said: "Rio is trying to starve us into submission when all we want is decent jobs to support our families. What happens to us in the United States could happen anywhere if we don't stand together, so we hope our fellow trade unionists will help us fight for justice."
Mr Irish is in London in April with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to urge shareholders at Rio's AGM to persuade the company to respect the law by ending the lock out and negotiating a fair contract with its employees.
This is not the first time that Rio Tinto has failed to live up to the values expressed in its global code of business conduct. Four Rio Tinto executives were found guilty of bribery and commercial espionage by a Chinese court at the end of March.
The company has long been criticised for abusing human rights and the environment across the globe, including a case against it by residents of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, accusing it of complicity in human rights abuses by the operation of its copper-gold mine.
Polly Jones, international officer at UNISON said: "I urge UNISON members to show their solidarity with the Rio Tinto mine workers and join the London demonstration.
"The strength of the international trade union movement is shown when we can take action here to defend workers in California."
UP mine threatens sacred tribal rights
Jessica L. Koski, Detroit Free Press
11 April 2010
For far too long, the voices of affected and concerned Ojibwa people have been ignored in the midst of Kennecott's proposed Eagle Mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
I am a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and we did not invite Kennecott, a subsidiary of multinational mining giant Rio Tinto, to come into our ceded homelands and reservation territory to explore for minerals, blast into our sacred site, and leave behind a dying legacy of colonialism.
Indigenous peoples throughout the world are on the front lines of similar pressures to develop resources within their homelands, with little regard for their aboriginal rights. There is little mainstream media attention bringing awareness to these issues, despite a global movement for indigenous rights and numerous case studies on the impacts of mining and other extractive industries on indigenous communities.
In addition to the proposed Eagle Mine, Rio Tinto's intentions to open up six additional mine sites, and increasing mineral exploration throughout the entire Lake Superior basin, are threatening Ojibwa treaty rights. Through treaties with the federal government, Ojibwa leaders ensured permanent reservations and retained rights to hunt, fish and gather on ceded lands. If the water and land are polluted from harmful mining, how will our treaty rights and cultural values be honored and continue into the future?
Under Michigan law, a mining permit applicant must demonstrate that a mine will not pollute, impair or destroy natural re-sources. Unfortunately, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality (now folded into the Department of Natural Resources and Environment) failed to place the burden of proof on Kennecott to prove that it can mine safely.
There is no example of a successful sulfide mine with similar design and location as Kennecott proposes. The potential for mine collapse and irreversible acid mine drainage makes the proposed Eagle Mine especially controversial due to its location within a delicate watershed and underneath the Salmon Trout River, which flows directly into Lake Superior.
A sacred site to the Ojibwa people, Eagle Rock, stands at the heart of resistance as Kennecott's proposed mine portal. On Aug. 19 last year, Administrative Law Judge Richard A. Patterson recommended that Eagle Rock be protected as a place of worship. However, Steven Chester, the previous director of the DEQ, ignored this recommendation and approved Kennecott's mining permit on Jan. 14. Chester alleged that Eagle Rock is not legally a place of worship because it does not consist of any built structures, which is rooted in his subjective understanding regarding a place of worship. This is ethnic discrimination in the enforcement of Michigan's environmental policies.
These issues demand national attention and the mobilization of citizens and leaders before Kennecott continues to assert its ability to move full force ahead despite an appeals process and without approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. The EPA should be obligated to protect sensitive areas of national significance like the Great Lakes.
The protection of Eagle Rock should also be enforced under the U.S. Constitution's Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. Furthermore, we need stronger laws specifically dedicated to the conservation of Native American sacred places. We cannot stand to lose the places that reinforce our relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth and our identity as a people.
Jessica L. Koski of Baraga is a graduate of Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and Michigan Technological University. She is currently working on a master's degree at Yale University.
Womens group oppose reopening of Bougainville mine
Liam Fox, PNG correspondent
8 April 2010
Women representing an indigenous landowner's group on the Papua New Guinean island of Bougainville say they're opposed to reopening the mine that was at the centre of a bloody civil war.
Local anger towards the Panguna copper mine was at the heart of the civil war that gripped Bougainville during the 1990s.
It's been closed ever since but the possibility of it reopening will be a big issue during next month's Autonomous Bougainville Government elections.
The incumbent president James Tanis is one candidate who wants to see it active again.
But Lynette Ona from the Bougainville Indigenous Women's Landowner Group doesn't.
"Because we sense that if mining comes on Bougainville it will spoil our land, spoil our environment and our culture as well," she said.
Ms Ona says many men support the mine's reopening but women are the traditional landowners on Bougainville.
US miners bring their fight to Britain
by Paul Haste
15 April 2010
Californian miners locked out by ruthless British mining company bosses have brought their fight to the London meeting of Rio Tinto's wealthy shareholders.
Six hundred workers were shut out of the international mining giant's site in Boron, in the Mojave desert near to Los Angeles, in January after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union members resisted management's attempt to impose new contracts and outsource the miners' jobs.
The firm, whose profits soared 33 per cent last year to a colossal £3 billion, then used a notorious union-busting firm to bus in scabs to mine borates, which are a crucial ingredient in chemicals and glass.
ILWU union rep David Irish, leading a lively demonstration at Rio Tinto's annual general meeting in the heart of Westminster, explained that the US miners had brought their picket line to London to protest at the British company's attempt "to starve us into submission."
"Rio Tinto wants to force us to accept a contract that we fear will destroy jobs and impose insecure and dangerous working conditions," he declared.
"Now we have been locked out of our jobs and replaced by union-busters, and forced to survive on unemployment insurance and handouts, but we are determined to continue to fight," Mr Irish asserted.
ILWU vice-president Ray Familathe emphasised that the British company's attack on the US miners was "not just a problem for the small Boron community in California - such an attack becomes a global threat when a giant corporation such as Rio Tinto gets away with riding roughshod over its employees."
International Transport Federation leader David Cockroft added that locking out workers was "the lowest reaction" of bosses faced with a union defending its members.
The company locked out the workers on January 31 when management attempt to force a new contract on them to replace one that expired in November.
At the time, the company was offering a 2 per cent pay rise and seeking changes in sick leave and seniority practices. Employees currently earn £11 to £19 an hour.
Kissinger helps Rio Tinto build bridges with China: report
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
1 April 2010
SYDNEY - Australian mining giant Rio Tinto turned to US elder statesman Henry Kissinger for help in building bridges with China following the jailing of four of its employees, it was reported Wednesday.
Former secretary of state Kissinger, 86, has been well connected in China since a secret 1971 visit that led to former president Richard Nixon's historic meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong.
The Sydney Morning Herald, without naming its sources, said Kissinger helped secure a meeting on Rio's behalf with Wang Qishan, a Politburo member and former banker who handles many of China's international financial affairs.
Australian businessman Stern Hu was Monday sentenced to 10 years in jail after being convicted of accepting bribes and stealing trade secrets following a three-day trial in Shanghai, much of it held behind closed doors.
Three of his Chinese colleagues at Rio Tinto were sentenced to between seven and 14 years.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday urged China to hold trials in public.
Rudd said there were always going to be "bumps in the road in our relationship with China", after Beijing expressed concerns about Australia's criticisms of the trial.
"I would say to our friends in Beijing, however, that the responsible course of action is to ensure that your judiciary process is transparent, that when people are brought before your courts, that those trials are held publicly," Rudd told reporters.
The Rio Tinto employees, who have now been sacked, were arrested last July during failed talks to set annual prices for iron ore, a core ingredient of the steel that is building the country's industrial revolution.
While only limited details of their crimes are known, media reports have revealed an environment where deals are smoothed with gifts and unscrupulous traders overcharge steel mills for ore, sharing the spoils with insiders.
Kissinger, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of US involvement in Vietnam, was earlier this month briefly admitted to hospital in Seoul with a minor stomach problem.
He was in the South Korean capital to speak at a security forum.