MAC: Mines and Communities

Is Rio Tinto Running Scared? (It ought to be)

Published by MAC on 2011-04-18
Source: Statement, Independent, Nostromo (2011-04-14)

Global activists call global miner to account

A Rio Tinto employee once commented that the company's top brass couldn't take a cup of tea without its detractors knowing about it.

Of course that's an exaggeration.

But there's little doubt that Britain's biggest mining company has been hammered more by its global critics than any other extractive enterprise on (or under) planet Earth.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the 1981 international launch of People Against Rio Tinto & Subsidiaries (Partizans).

Along with the London Mining Network, the group fielded an impressive roster of protestors at this year's Rio Tinto Annual Shareholders meeting (AGM).

They flew in from Indonesia, Utah and Michigan, to be joined by lobbyists from a variety of UK organisations who represented communities in Australia and Mongolia, and others impacted by the company's distinctly ambivalent stance on Indigenous Peoples' rights.

For almost two hours, Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis, and CEO Tom Albanese, tried responding to a plethora of accusations - and signally failed so to do.

These included allegations that:

* the company was responsible for egregious air and water contamination at its biggest mine in Salt Lake City;

* had been complicit in human rights and environmental destruction in West Papua and East Kalimantan;

* had betrayed its earlier undertaking not to profit from investment in Burma

Art or Artifice?

Rio Tinto's lack of corporate governance also came under fire from more "ordinary" shareholders - at a rate which had not been seen before at its AGMs.

Following the closure of the meeting, Mr du Plessis and Mr Albanese were seen attending a nearby public exhibition of exquisite botany art (Mr Albanese's wife reportedly had a painting on display).

It was a somewhat bizarre expedition, considering  the many instances of current, and anticipated, natural resource destruction that had been identified an hour or so earlier at the AGM itself.

But one thing Rio Tinto-watchers long ago learned not to expect of the company is consistency.

Especially when it comes to the board matching their performance with their promises; or implementing their pretended "principles".

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 16 April 2011].

See also accompanying news story on Rio Tinto's Jabiluka uranium

Activists from around the world attack British mining giant

London Mining Network press release

14 April 2011

On 14 April 2011, London-based Rio Tinto plc held its AGM (annual shareholders' meeting) in London.

14 April also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the first concerted intervention by "dissident shareholders" in what is now the world's third most powerful mining company.

Protest led by Utah Moms for Clean Air outside Rio Tinto’s AGM
Protest led by Utah Moms for Clean Air outside Rio Tinto's AGM
Photo: Sallie Dean Shatz

In 1981, these shareholders launched the "People against Rio Tinto" (Partizans) campaign. And some of them have attended every AGM since then, bringing with them community representatives and trade unionists from almost every country where the company operates. Collectively they constitute the most consistent corporate lobby of its kind, anywhere in the world. In 2007, Partizans was key to setting up London Mining Network, which co-ordinated activities around this year's Rio Tinto AGM.

As in previous years, the company's highly questionable environmental and social record came under concerted attack from campaigners around the world.

Chalid Muhammad, a prominent Green activist from Indonesia, demanded to know why the company had not fulfilled its undertakings to fully compensate local people for human rights abuses and loss of their land at Rio Tinto's now-closed Kelian gold mine in Kalimantan - all responsibility for which Rio Tinto will relinquish in 2013.

Meg Townsend, who works for a prominent New York law firm, declared the company had failed to observe the religious rights of Native Americans at one of its prospective mine sites in Michigan, USA.

Toxic impacts

Also from North America, Cherise Udell representing "Utah Moms for Clean Air" pointed out that residents of Salt Lake City, and in particular young children, were grievously suffering from toxic emissions at the company's massive Bingham Canyon copper mine.

Patricia Feeney, director of Oxford-based Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) raised urgent questions about the impacts on water quality of the company's proposed Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in Mongolia.

Other questions related to the company's position on the rights of Indigenous Peoples to withhold their consent for mining projects, including at the Pebble project in Alaska. The issue was also spotlighted in a letter by a leader of the Aboriginal Mirrar people in Australia, who fear for the consequences of the company's uranium extraction on their territory - extraction which, they believe, may have helped fuel the Fukushima disaster.

Rio's empty promises

The question and answer session lasted two hours - one of the longest since Rio Tinto first became a "battle ground" between communities and the company in 1981.

Asked for his assessment of who had "won", and who had "lost" at this year's AGM, co-founder of Partizans, Roger Moody, said:

"It's not a case of winning or losing. On the one hand, Rio Tinto has certainly made some concessions to its opponents - for example selling some of its more dubious coal mines.

"On the other hand, the gap between its promises and actual performance is as wide as ever.

"For example, the company says it's in contact with aggrieved Indonesian communities still suffering from lack of compensation for the impacts of its closed-down Kelian gold mine.

"But, as Chalid Muhammad pointed out today, their grievances have remained unaddressed for the past couple of years.

"The company says it's always ready to dialogue with its 'stakeholders'. And, one of these stakeholders, Cherise Udell, made a passionate plea on behalf of thousands of children affected by toxic emissions from the company's Salt Lake copper mine.

"But, when she simply asked for a citizens' round table meeting with Rio Tinto CEO, Tom Albanese, he ignored her plea."

"Will it take another thirty years before Rio Tinto is doing what it says it will do?"

Colourful protest

Outside the AGM, Utah Moms for Clean Air led protests against the company. Colourful balloons were burst, each representing a premature death because of air pollution caused by the company's operations at Salt Lake City. Air pollution in the area causes between 1000 and 2000 premature deaths per year, and Rio Tinto's Kennecott subsidiary is blamed for 30% of this pollution.

For photographs of the protests and the AGM, see http://londonminingnetwork.org/2011/03/london-events-around-the-rio-tinto-agm/.

London Mining Network is an alliance of solidarity, human rights, development and environmental groups which exists to call British-based and British-financed mining companies to account for their abuses around the world. See http://londonminingnetwork.


Indonesian Green Activist addresses Rio Tinto Shareholders  in London

Nostromo Research

14 April 2011 

LONDON -Chalid Muhammad, one of Indonesia’s leading Green activists, attended the Annual Shareholders Meeting of the Rio Tito mining corporation, held in London today (April 14 2011).

Chalid had flown from Jakarta especially to present the concerns of communities living around the Kelian gold mine, which the UK mining giant had owned and operated for over a decade until its closure in 2003.

Citing evidence he had recently collected from residents in Tutung, the village to which inhabitants of the mining area had been involuntarily moved by police, Chalid reminded shareholders of the egregious human rights abuses – including rape and other assaults – which local people had suffered .

He pointed out that, though many  claims had been settled, others were still outstanding; specifically those of a family who had occupied land, taken for resettlement of other villagers, but had never been admitted to the compensation process.  

Chalid described  Tutung as having the aspect of “a ghost town”, with many residents having left the area. Many shops had closed. Promises of a sustainable livelihood, made by Rio Tinto, had simply not been fulfilled, and those left “had difficulty in maintaining the land, because Rio Tinto / KEM has never given them the necessary legal documents”.

Mr Muhammad – one of the most experienced investigators of conditions at Kelian, from the outset of operations -  went on to convey the fears, now felt by hundreds of villagers, that one or more of the pits that Rio Tinto says it has made secure, might fail.

He said that the Namuk tailings dam had already overflowed on two occasions in 2009 and 2010, and asked what provisions the UK company had made, to prevent a worse event  happening in future. 

Corporate Responses

 In response, Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive Officer, Tom Albanese, acknowledged that there had been human rights abuses in the early years of the mine’s operation. Mr Albanese also claimed to be in continuing communication with several NGOs in dealing with compensation issues.

In response, Chalid Muhammad, presented a letter to Jan Du Plessis, Rio Tinto’s chairman, from Tutung’s head,  H Mochammad Ali, which outlined the community’s ongoing grievances.

A British shareholder told shareholders that he had also inspected the Kelian site last year, and asked whether the company would guarantee that,  after it finally quit the area in 2013, to maintain the Namuq tailings dam  “in pertuity”, considering  the long term danger of a collapse.

Mr Albanese responded that this would be a concern of the Indonesian authorities, with whom  Rio Tinto continued to be in discussions. However he did say that he would raise this matter during future talks.

Lasampala and Grasberg

As a native of Sulawesi, Chalid Muhammad also expressed deep concerns at the possible of widespread damage from Rio Tinto’s prospective nickel mine  at Lasampala.

He asked about the nature of the agreement  the company has  recently announced, which places responsibility for initial work at the site on Sherritt International, the Canadian nickel producer.

“If there’s environmental pollution or human rights abuses arising from this  work, will Rio Tinto claim it’s not responsible – just as it has done since it invested as a 40% partner with Freeport in West Papua?” asked Mr Muhammad.

To which Mr. Albanese made no response


Pollution row hits mining firm supplying Olympic medals

By Adam Sherwin

The Indpendent

15 April 2011

Pollution from the copper mine chosen to produce metal for the medals awarded at the 2012 London Olympics is responsible for up to 200 premature deaths each year, campaigners have claimed.

Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining giant, which made $14.3bn (£8.7bn) last year, will supply the metal ores for the medals from its Kennecott Utah Copper mine in Salt Lake City, Utah. But protesters, who travelled from Utah to attend Rio Tinto's AGM in London yesterday, blamed air pollution and toxic materials emitted from the plant for premature deaths and congenital defects in Salt Lake's children.

Under the deal agreed with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), Rio Tinto mines will provide metals for 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Gold Olympic medals are plated with about 6 grams of gold, while the runners-up medals are struck from pure silver. The Royal Mint will then craft the final product, which will be the most expensive medals in history due to soaring commodity prices. Chris Townsend, Locog's commercial director, said he hoped the medals, which will cost Rio Tinto about £10m to source, would be "spectacular and sustainable".

The Utah Bingham Canyon mine, the largest open pit mining operation in the world, generates nearly 25 per cent of the refined copper produced in the US and 7 per cent of all refined gold.

Forbes magazine has listed Salt Lake City as the 9th most toxic major metropolitan area in the US. The city also ranked worst in the country according to a Toxics Release Inventory tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency. Dr Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, told The Independent: "There is no other juxtaposition of such an enormous mine so close to this many people anywhere in the world. We are all suffering the health consequences.

"The research shows the impact of air pollution on disrupting the integrity of the embryo in pregnant women and congenital deformities. Air pollution is responsible for between 100 and 200 premature deaths every year in Salt Lake City."

Rio Tinto, whose profits soared by 200 per cent in 2010, this week announced plans to expand the Salt Lake plant, increasing the county's air pollution by an estimated 12 per cent. Dr Moench said: "The business model of Rio Tinto is the routine exploitation of local people to maximise profits. Rather than striking medals for the London Games we would much rather they took their £14 billion profit and used it to clean up our air and reinvest their funds into wind and solar power alternatives to coal and natural gas."

Rio Tinto said its Utah mine extension would reduce emissions by 9 per cent. A spokesman said: "It will have a net benefit to the emissions profile mainly due to the conversion of the existing power plant from coal to natural gas." The company had met environmental groups, including Utah Moms for Clean Air, to address the potential impact of the project.

A smaller amount of the Olympic medal ores will be produced at another controversial Rio Tinto plant, the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, the world's largest undeveloped source of copper and gold deposits. Mongolian-based environmental groups called for a delay in the project, citing concerns over scarcity of water, dust pollution and the impact on protected bird habitats in the Gobi Desert.

Rio Tinto has been forced to fend off a series of allegations of human rights abuses at its plants in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In 2008, Norway banned its sovereign wealth fund from investing in the company because of environmental concerns.

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