MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto's "Great Olympic Greenwash"

Published by MAC on 2012-06-26
Source: Al Jazeera, Telegraph, statements

Rio Tinto has been the sole provider of metals for the awards that will be presented to athletes at next month's London Olympic games.

Mining campaigners react angrily to LOCOG's Rio Tinto ‘exception'
Mining campaigners react angrily to LOCOG's Rio Tinto ‘exception'
Photo: Greenwash Gold

And it's done so for nothing - except, of  course, the enormous kudos it hopes to gain as a result.

Over past months the Games' organising  committee (L0COG) has been strongly criticised for admitting the company as a sponsor.

Last week, it was discovered that LOCOG had accepted Rio Tinto's gifts without performing a basic audit of the company's operations.

This was despite many accusations of pollution and human rights' abuses being made against Rio Tinto by some who attended its April 2012 Annual General Meeting.

These delegates included residents suffering from the health impacts of Rio Tinto's vast Kennecott copper-gold operations in Utah, which supplied most of the metals for the medals. See: Rio Tinto gets no Medals from its critics

More recently, a coalition of trade unions, representing millions of mineworkers around the world, has added its weight to calls for LOCOG - even at this late stage - to throw Rio Tinto "Off the Podium".

However, the Olympic organising committee continues refusing to entertain any criticisms of the company - despite its claiming that this year's games will be the "most sustainable" ever.

The Great Olympic Greenwash

By Mei-Ling McNamara, People and Power

Al Jazeera

21 June 2012

We investigate alleged violations of environmental standards by a key sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic

London will soon play host to the 2012 Olympics, which organisers boast will be the most environmentally friendly Games ever.

But with the metal for all competitor medals coming from one huge polluting hole in the ground in Utah *, could London's 2012 legacy be more greenwash than green?

In April of this year, while the 2012 Olympics test events were continuing apace in the pools and stadiums of London, I was with a documentary film crew in Salt Lake City, Utah - driving up, and into, one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. With the mercury rising to record levels in this arid corner of the western US, a trip to the Kennecott Copper Mine was less a visitor's tour than it was a fact-finding mission.

This year's medals, the largest and heaviest in Olympic history, will be made almost entirely from the raw materials extracted and smelted at the Kennecott Copper Mine, owned by Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.

But now this mine is also at the centre of a federal lawsuit in the Utah courts, where Rio Tinto Kennecott stands accused of violating the US Clean Air Act for over five years.

Stretching 3.22km wide and 1.2km deep, the Kennecott mining operation, generating one quarter of all US copper, as well as a portion of its gold, silver and molybdenum, has never been too far from controversy.

Its size has much to do with it: producing more copper than any other mine in history, it is said to be the largest man-made hole on the planet.

But the vast amount of waste generated as a result of the mine has made it the single largest industrial polluter in the Salt Lake City basin, contributing a hefty amount to the region's total overall pollution.

Now a coalition of environmental, health and advocacy groups have said Rio Tinto are endangering the health of Salt Lake City citizens by flouting emission standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The coalition alleges that the totality of Rio Tinto's operations in Utah are contributing to making Salt Lake City one of the worst cities in the country for acute air pollution. Rio Tinto maintains it has received permission to expand its operations with all the necessary approvals from the state of Utah.

As the official mining and metals provider for the games, sponsor Rio Tinto is contractually bound to the London Organising Committee's Sustainable Sourcing Code, a set of guidelines that hold suppliers to rigorous environmental and ethical standards.

This code essentially contains the blueprint for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to make good on its promise to deliver the "greenest games ever". It says that, should any legitimate grievance come to the attention of LOCOG, it will make every effort to investigate claims made about its sponsors.

The plaintiffs allege that while Olympians compete in stadiums throughout the city of London, Utah's children are struggling to breathe under the intensely polluted air in Salt Lake City. According to Dr Brian Moench, a physician involved in the lawsuit, getting Rio Tinto to reduce their emissions is one way to ameliorate health problems linked to excessive pollution in the valley.

"It is hard to identify any particular disease as being unequivocally related to air pollution," Moench says. "But the medical data suggests that air pollution affects the heart, the lungs, the brain, the placenta, virtually every organ system in your body. So it can have a potential role in either triggering or exacerbating a whole multitude of chronic diseases."

Rio Tinto Kennecott declined to meet us in Utah to discuss the lawsuit, but provided a statement which said:

"Kennecott continues to operate within the parameters of its air permits and is consistently in compliance with the US, EPA and Utah Division of Air Quality regulations, which are based on strict standards for protecting human health."

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games has admitted to Al Jazeera English that they are aware of the federal lawsuit being levelled at Rio Tinto in Utah, but are planning to take no further steps towards questioning the sustainability credentials of the company.

They told Al Jazeera: "We have received no complaints and no representation has been made to us, so there is nothing to investigate. We are completely satisfied with Rio Tinto."

In April, Cherise Udell, a Utah mother who is also on the lawsuit against Rio Tinto, came to London to address the company's CEO and shareholders directly at their annual general meeting. She also met with Olympic officials looking after the event's green pledges to report on the problems in Salt Lake City.

"I think the best part was our request that they [Sustainable Commission 2012] then pass on to the larger Olympic committee that they really set up a set of standards, a set of criteria, on which they are judged before they become endorsers," she said.

The Rio Tinto Kennecott mine will be providing 99 per cent of all the metal ores for every gold, silver and bronze Olympian in this year's Games. The 2012 London 'One Planet' Olympics won its billion-pound bid off the back of its sustainability promises for a carbon-neutral, low impact event.

With a little over one month to go until the London 2012 Olympics, criticisms of the Games' sponsors are reaching a crescendo.

The concept of 'sustainability' will need to stand up to scrutiny if London is to truly achieve its vision of "the greenest games ever". How that can happen before any contrarian voices are drowned out by the cheers of Olympic crowds, however, is up to us.

* MAC editorial note: A small proportion of the metals supplied by Rio Tinto for the Olympic medals has come from its majority-owned Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia (see below), although that mine still has no governmen authority to operate.

Mining campaigners react angrily to LOCOG's Rio Tinto ‘exception'

London Mining Network

19 June 2012

2012 medals mine linked to premature deaths in Utah

London Mining Network, an extractive industry watchdog, has reacted angrily to news that mining giant has been allowed to supply metals for the Olympics without having an agreed audit in place.

Speaking in an interview published on the Daily Telegraph website today, Sean McCarthy, the chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 said, "Locog's procedures say there has to be an audit but they allowed this company to slip through the net, they don't have an audit they haven't been certified and yet the metals have been supplied."

The metal being supplied from the Kennecott mine in Utah has been a source of controversial pollution for many local inhabitants. In 2011, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed a lawsuit accusing Rio Tinto, a sponsor of the Games, of violating environmental protection agency limits on emissions.

Richard Solly of London Mining Network said:

"It's shameful that the medals that will be worn by athletes are tainted by the misery of respiratory diseases and even premature deaths of those communities in Utah who have to endure the pollution caused by Rio Tinto's mines. It makes a mockery of these being the ‘greenest games ever' when Locog hasn't carried out basic checking procedures on an incredibly controversial mining company like Rio Tinto."

Cherise Udell, Utah Moms for Clean Air said:

"Rio Tinto is responsible for so much air pollution in Salt Lake City where the Olympic medal metals are coming from that children are statistically much more likely to end up with impaired lung function. While Rio Tinto is rewarding sporting excellence in London, in my community it is destroying the chances of our children being able to breathe properly, let alone being able to take part in international athletics."

Rio Tinto were one of three controversial companies (as well as Dow Chemical and BP) that have been the subject of the Greenwash Gold campaign which is encouraging people to watch short animations and vote for the "worst" Olympic sponsor. The result will be announced just before the start of the games.

For more information or comment,

Richard Solly, London Mining Network, 07929 023 214

*** ENDS ***


The article in the Telegraph can be read at

To see the Rio Tinto Greenwash Gold animation on youtube -

Rio Tinto

The metal for the 2012 Olympics medals has been provided by Rio Tinto, a massive British mining company. Metal for the medals will come from the company's Kennecott Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA, and its Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia.

Groups in Utah are protesting about air pollution from Rio Tinto's Bingham Canyon operations, which contributes to hundreds of premature deaths each year in the Salt Lake City area. Planned expansion would make the situation worse.

The Oyu Tolgoi mine will use enormous quantities of water in a desert region, and campaigners there accuse the company of poor planning and failure to share information with the public.

But these are not the only concerns about Rio Tinto. The company's Ranger Uranium Mine in Australia routinely spills radioactive water into the surrounding area and is opposed by Aboriginal communities. Rio Tinto is associated with human rights abuses around its now-closed Kelian Gold Mine in Indonesia and the Grasberg copper and gold mine in West Papua. In Bougainville, in the Pacific, it hopes to reopen a copper mine which caused such catastrophic pollution that it sparked a war.

In the USA, it is accused of violation of Indigenous treaty rights in Michigan, a legacy of pollution in Wisconsin, and planning destructive projects in Alaska and Arizona. And it has a history of appalling labour relations - currently workers at its aluminium smelter in Quebec, Canada, are locked out because the company refuses equal pay for equal work.

No Audit, No Certification - Throw Rio Tinto Off the Olympic Podium

Steelworkers Outraged by Lack of Ethics in London Olympics

USW press release

20 June 2012

LONDON, U.K. - International outrage is growing over Rio Tinto's involvement in the London Olympics following the shocking revelation the mining giant has been allowed to "slip through" auditing and certification requirements.

Rio Tinto is the only Olympic supplier that was able to start production without having an audit in place, the watchdog Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 says. Rio Tinto is supplying the metal from which the Olympic medals are cast.

"It is shocking that Rio Tinto was not audited by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), despite numerous red flags," said Ken Neumann, Canadian Director of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

"For years, credible organizations have reported environmental damage and human rights violations by Rio Tinto in its operations around the world," Neumann noted.

"Rio Tinto's Olympic presence and the lack of an audit clearly undermine the legitimacy of the process adopted by LOCOG and the intent to make the London Games the most sustainable ever."

USW filed its own formal complaint against Rio Tinto with LOCOG, which was denied. The complaint cited a lockout of 780 USW members by Rio Tinto in Alma, Quebec, as a violation of the Ethical Trading Initiative.

USW members in Utah who produced the metal for the Olympic medals have also called for Rio Tinto to be thrown off the Olympic podium.

Twenty-five trade unions throughout the world have contacted their national Olympic committees protesting Rio Tinto's involvement and requesting the company's removal from the Games.

The USW is escalating its "Off The Podium" campaign and has been joined by IndustriALL, a global union federation whose affiliates represent 50 million workers throughout the world.

For more information on the campaign to take Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium, see:

- 30 -

Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, 416-434-7907
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221

ICEM: Vote to Condemn Rio Tinto as Olympics Medals Provider

Press Release

14 June 2012

Affiliates of the ICEM, IMF, and ITGLWF * are uniting in action around the world in support of the United Steelworkers (USW) campaign to push Rio Tinto "Off the Podium".

Scores of affiliates are writing to and taking action at the national representatives of the International Olympics Committee in their home countries...

As has been widely reported, the metal used for medals at the upcoming London Olympics comes from Rio Tinto's Kennecott Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA, and its Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia.

A great advert for the mining conglomerate, scandalously linking Rio Tinto to the high ideals of the Olympic games.

The multinational has a record of catastrophic pollution, and violation of human rights and public health. But the lockout of 780 workers at the aluminium smelter in Alma, Quebec has particularly angered the international trade union movement, as workers there are being punished for rejecting management attempts to halve salaries and outsource the workforce.

The Kennecott union, USW Local 392, whose members mined the metal for the majority of the 4,700 medals also want the company "Off the Podium" because of the labour violations in Alma.

Vote now on the London Mining Network's campaign and ensure Rio Tinto is properly portrayed as a company not deserving of a relationship with the Olympics.

* ICEM - International Federation of Chemical, Energy,  Mining and General Workers

IMF - International Metalworkers Federation

ITGLWF - International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation


London 2012 Olympics: Rio Tinto allowed to start production of Games medals without audit

The gold, silver and bronze metal in the London 2012 Olympic Games medals was mined after London Olympic Games organisers allowed its supplier Rio Tinto "to slip through the net", an Olympic watchdog has found.

By Jacquelin Magnay, Olympics Editor

Daily Telegraph (UK)

19 June 2012

Sean McCarthy, the chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 said Rio Tinto was the only Olympic supplier he was aware of that was able to start production without having an agreed audit in place.

"Locog's procedures say there has to be an audit but they allowed this company to slip through the net, they don't have an audit they haven't been certified and yet the metals have been supplied," he said.

Locog had also refused the commission's request for an independent investigation of the claims of Utah Moms For Clear Air, which regularly protests against the Rio Tinto mine pollution in Kennecott Utah. The Kennecott mine produced the majority of the metal for the 470 gold, silver and bronze medals of the London Olympics.

McCarthy said Locog had ensured Rio Tinto had environmental approvals for the primary mining operation and a supply chain transparency from mine to medal which was an Olympic first but it was the third party certified evaluation that covered a range of sustainability issues that was missing.

Locog said on Monday night that the required certification was on its way.

A London 2012 spokesperson said: "Rio Tinto has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and this is a key part of their work with us.

"They have informed us that certification from the Responsible Jewellery Council Standard (RJC) is imminent."

Rio Tinto says on its website: "In Salt Lake City (Utah), we operate strictly within the parameters of air permits and complies with federal and state air quality regulations, which are based on rigorous standards for protecting human health."

The commission also found that the 77 days of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games will use the energy equivalent of powering 20,000 homes for a year.

Greenwash Gold protest takes our message direct to LOCOG's Head Offices

Bhopal Medical Appeal

18 June 2012

This morning, protestors from the London Mining Network, UK Tar Sands Network and the Bhopal Medical Appeal, the campaign groups behind the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign, protested outside LOCOG headquarters.

After LOCOG's constant refusal to meet any of the groups involved in the Greenwash Gold campaign about the London Olympics' controversial corporate sponsors, we thought we should take our message right to their front door. We took giant dummy megaphones to project our message to the LOCOG offices.

We asked LOCOG to send down a representative to meet us, but once again LOCOG refused to engage. This is in spite of the fact that, following Drop Dow Now's demonstration in March, Lord Coe himself said that he would be happy to meet those demonstrating to discuss the serious issue of toxic corporate sponsorship.

Emily Coats from the UK Tar Sands Network said: "We've been trying since February to arrange a meeting with LOCOG to discuss the inappropriateness of fossil-fuel giant BP being Sustainability Partner. LOCOG's refusal to meet us confirms that they are more concerned about greenwashing their corporate clients than about real green issues."

Colin Toogood from the Bhopal Medical Appeal said: "LOCOG and Lord Coe have been ignoring the Bhopal Medical Appeal's request for a meeting since last August when the The Dow Chemical Company's sponsorship of the stadium wrap was announced. The truth is that Lord Coe knows that Dow are shielding Union Carbide from criminal charges, relating to the Bhopal disaster, and there is simply no way they can have a public conversation about this matter and maintain a position in support of the Dow Chemical sponsorship deal."

The Greenwash Gold campaign has produced animations targeting the controversial environmental and human rights records of three Olympic sponsors, Dow, BP and Rio Tinto, and is encouraging viewers to vote for the ‘worst' company that will be awarded the Greenwash Gold medal at the start of the games.

Richard Solly of the London Mining Network said: "LOCOG isn't just ignoring us, it's also ignoring those communities from all over the world that have had their lives devastated by the operations of Rio Tinto, Dow and BP. It's disgraceful that the London Olympics are being used to ‘greenwash' the reputations of some of the most controversial companies in existence."

Meredith Alexander, the ex Olympics ‘ethics tsar' who resigned over controversies surrounding Olympic sponsorship said: "The London Olympics belongs to all of us; athletes, spectators and Londoners alike. That's why it is so disappointing that Lord Coe is ignoring people's concerns about unethical sponsors. He does not want to hear about BP's investment in the most polluting form of oil, the environmental problems that come with Rio Tinto's medals or the fact that Dow Chemical is the company now responsible for the Bhopal tragedy.

"Lord Coe's refusal to listen to the public is frustrating, but not particularly surprising. He would not listen to me when I was part of an official watchdog body. He has proved time and again that he certainly doesn't care what the victims of the Olympic sponsors think. I'm left wondering who he is listening to."

Amnesty International said: "On day one of the (recent Amnesty supporters) campaign, just a few hours after he received the first messages, Lord Coe's reaction was apparently to block all emails sent via our website, and disengage from any conversation about Dow's involvement in the Olympics. This does not reassure us that the Olympic Committee is committed to ethical, responsible investment.

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