MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto Takes its Divide-and-rule Strategy to the Heart of London NGO's

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

ome funny things happened on the way to the forum

Rio Tinto takes its divide-and-rule strategy to the heart of London NGO's.

Statement from PARTiZANS, London July 16 1998

Rio Tinto held its second "forum" for NGO's on July 20th in London. Its first - highly selective - forum, with only a few privileged NGO's invited - had been in May, when the company's business policy document "The Way We Work" was first circulated for comment. Ostensibly held under the auspices of the Green Alliance, the second forum was much better attended, but - according to reports from some who were there - equally shallow and even more "loaded" with company personnel. Any pretence at a thorough, objective, appraisal of the company's operations and intentions went out the window from the start.

Partizans was not invited to the Forum. Indeed, we were the only group specifically excluded - not by the supposed organisers, but by the company itself, which declared it could not have "constructive engagement" with us. This decision meant that at least one NGO - the World Development Movement - refused to attend in solidarity with ourselves. Others - Friends of the Earth, Minewatch, the Women's Environmental Network - agreed with at least some of Partizans views and boycotted the event. Survival International and Down to Earth were among those who, while expressing reservations, decided to attend. Bewilderingly, Oxfam which had decided not to go, because of the failure to involve partner organisations in the exercise, turned up after all.

Partizans' London-based collective was unanimous in calling for a boycott of the Forum: our reasons are outlined in the letter (shortened, below) which was circulated to a large number of the forty groups and individuals invited to the meeting. Given the way the Forum was pre-arranged by the company, and its multiple failures to confront and answer its critics, we are now even more convinced we were right in our boycott call. We had predicted that Rio Tinto would try to divide its critics into the "acceptable" and the "unacceptable" - and this was confirmed.

The ICEM and CFMEU - our partners in the network which produced this year's alternative report ("Tainted Titan") - have called on the company to agree to an open forum, at which Rio Tinto's operations can receive the scrutiny they deserve. So far the company has rejected the request (one almost identical to the demand Partizans has been making since 1986).

It would be both saddening and extremely worrying if those who attended the July forum with Rio Tinto did not now support this demand as a minimum precondition for any further meetings with the company.


A Message from Partizans (People against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries)

Why attending next Monday's Rio Tinto Forum may not be such a good idea!

Dear Friend,

For twenty years, Partizans (People against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries) has consistently monitored the activities and policies of the world's most powerful mining conglomerate, Rio Tinto (formerly RTZ and RTZ-CRA). In the process, we have established excellent working relationships with literally dozens of communities, local, national and international NGO's, concerned about the impacts of mining and Rio Tinto in particular.

...Rio Tinto chair, Robert Wilson - in an interview with the Financial Times, published just before this year's Rio Tinto AGM - sought to suggest that there were NGO's with which the company could have a constructive relationship and others more or less "beyond the pale". Although Partizans was not mentioned by name, at least two of the latter have often called on us for advice within the past few years.

...Partizans has played a unique and responsible role as a research organisation. We have contributed to numerous national and international forums...Many "stakeholders", with whom we have worked, currently believe that forums, such as that planned for next week, are either irrelevant or may be counter-productive, in light of how they experience the company's operations on the ground.

We have attempted to secure an even-handed and open relationship with Rio Tinto, but the company reneged on previous undertakings and we do not trust it to keep its promises. We therefore unequivocally oppose the meeting with Rio Tinto planned for July 21st...Partizans believes that the company's annual general meeting is the appropriate forum for the hearing of grievances against the company's operations, although we recognise that many communities feel compelled to talk with the company in their own regions. We also recognise that, of their nature, such meetings cannot be open-ended, and need careful preparation (including a wide variety of documentation). Nonetheless, we ask who else the company should be held responsible to, unless it be its "stakeholders" and its shareholders, meeting on the one occasion when corporate policy, the appointment of directors, and company rules are supposed to be debated and made legally binding? Of particular concern is the fact that, at this year's AGM, three leading Trade Unionists from Australia, Brussels and Britain, tried to address what they believe to be Rio Tinto's concerted policy to de-unionise all its sites worldwide. Not only were they insulted by Mr Wilson, but he refused to grant them any kind of follow-up meeting.

Partizans' Experience of"Dialogue" with Rio Tinto

In May 1985, we were one of the first British NGO's to accept an invitation to meet with the company, after we published an alternative annual report called "RTZ Uncovered". The meeting was cordial and we were encouraged by then-chair Alistair Frame's commitment to have further meetings with us...However, when we supplied a comprehensive and well-referenced rejoinder, Rio Tinto told us that, since we were not providng any "new" information, a further meeting would not be productive.

This we considered a breach of trust by Rio Tinto. We decided that we would only participate in future meetings with the company, if they were completely transparent. They should be on neutral ground, under a neutral chair, with open access for the public and journalists and - most important - for those who have direct grievances with Rio Tinto across the world. On several occasions since 1986, we have reiterated this request, only for it to be rejected out of hand by the company. Nonetheless, we have sought open debate with Rio Tinto under our own auspices (such as in the alternative AGM organised jointly with Trade Unions after this year's AGM) but Rio Tinto has refused to participate...

We are aware that, at root, it is not simply the operations of Rio Tinto which need to be addressed, but a raft of pretended "development" agendas promoted by other British companies too, and with which many NGO's are now rightly concerned. Nonetheless Rio Tinto has carved out for itself a leading part in trying to determine those agendas...It is, we believe, highly dangerous for any independent NGO to be going into meetings, purportedly to help the company determine its policies (however benign they may appear or sincere the company presents itself) when these agendas have not been exposed to considered debate by ALL affected by them. Surely it is a betrayal of the many communities fighting the company in "the South" for such meetings to occur, without their knowledge, participation, carefully considered input - or without even soliciting their opinion as to whether they should take place at all.

We are also deeply disturbed that, given Rio Tinto's explicit strategy to divide its critics into "acceptable" and "unacceptable" partner organisations, all those in Britain with knolwedge or concerns about the company have not had the opportunity to meet together, before being inveigled into such forums...We ask that you now put effort - if not money - into ensuring that the relatively impoverished, and often disempowered, communities who feel threatened by the company, can express directly to YOU what they want from Rio Tinto, before you presume to speak, or make any agreements, on their behalf.

Email: partizans@gn.apc.org

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