London Calling - August 25 2002Published by MAC on 2002-08-25
London Calling - August 25 2002
Special Johannesburg WSSD edition
As the 70-strong British government delegation to WSSD sets down in Johannesburg, directors of mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American will prepare to march onto the tarmac, shoulder-to-shoulder with Clare Short, secretary of state for development.
Also in the delegation will be Dr Chris Fay who, for three years, has chaired the British government's Advisory committee on business and the environment. Fay is a non-executive director of AngloAmerican and formerly CEO of Shell UK. He's also a non-executive of Weir, the Glasgow-based oil-pump manufacturing group. Sounds familiar? If not, take a look at the 2001 report by Christian Aid on the companies which have colluded with the Sudanese regime as it operated its "scorched earth" policy against the peoples of the south.
Weir is one of these - with a twenty milion pound contract to supply pumping stations to Khartoum for a 1,000 mile pipeline from the oilfields to the Red Sea.
Clare Short hasn't seemed too disturbed by such connections. She might however be a little more exercised by a call just issued in the north-east Indian state of Orissa. It comes from a coalition of development and other NGOs, representing and working with the adivsasi (Indigenous) and dalit ("untouchable") communities who comprise around 46% of the population.
They want not only the World Bank to clear out of Orissa, but also DFID, the British government's Department for International Development which they say is dictating damaging "development" policies to the state government.
Although British companies haven't exactly waded into the country's second poorest state, Rio Tinto does have an interest in a potentially huge iron ore project in Orissa and is looking for other opportunities.
[Sources: Private Eye, London, 23/8-5/9/02; personal communication from India, 22/8/02]
" It is essential that Johannesburg sees binding agreements to tackle [issues such as] controls on corporations, from the timber companies destroying Indoneian and Brazilian rainforest, and mining companies exploiting and intimidating local communities in Latin America. Talk of voluntary agreements and partnerships is so much waste of air - like asking a burglar to voluntarily surrender his swag"
Thus opined Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the Guardian newspaper (10/8/02).
And what's Charles Secrett up to at the WSSD? Among other things - promoting the Mining Metals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) final report. Secrett was one of the so-called Assurance Group for the MMSD, a process which has been condemned by many - not least Friends of the Earth groups elsewhere in the world - for failing to do precisely what Secrett tells us should now be done.
Holme, Holme, on the range!
If the sterility of recent debate between Londoners (almost all white, male and anglophonic) is any indication, further confrontations in Johannesburg between Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) and environmentalists will be as illuminating as a Davy lamp under the so-called Asian Brown Cloud.
During the first three weeks of August, Lord Richard Holme flew the flag for multinationals jetting to the WSSD, in forums ranging between BBC Radio, Channel Four TV and the Guardian newspaper, where he tried to counter arguments by Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid and others.
Holme is, of course, not only the vice-chair and chief public spokesperson of BASD but a former director of Rio Tinto and current advisor to the world's most lambasted mining company. "London Calling" refers you to the debate - such as it is - presented on the International Chamber of Commerce's website for August 7, 9 and 16th. (www.iccwbo.org)
Only Danny Graymore, trade campaigner for Christian Aid, attacked Holme specifically for his role in Rio Tinto. (Quixotically, though he was the director charged with bettering relations with the company's critics, Holme was never allowed by Rio Tinto chair, Robert Wilson, to answer shareholder criticisms at annual general meetings. He resigned his directorship, to chair the Liberal Democrat election campaign in 1997.)
Other critics in the court with Holme played the familiar ball that multinatonals must be internationally regulated or they'll ruin the earth. The peer batted it back with the yawning cliche that business equals investment, investment equals jobs and resource enjoyment, and noone else can do the job so well.
"London Calling" is neither equipped, nor has the space, to demolish these arguments here. But let's briefly rehearse the truth, at least so far as Holme's pet industry is concerned. (And he does claim that mining companies are at the forefront of promoting sustainable deveiopment programmes). Access to their own natural resources by the world's poorest peoples, as well as to longterm employment, has dramatically reduced over the past twenty years. Multinationals have taken over and sometimes crippled state-owned mining companies, crashing the protective market barriers of "least-developed nations", while promoting and implementing many disastrous programmes of the World Bank.
Anti-capitalist? What, us?
Holme's main fusillade is aimed at northern NGO's - specifically in London and Washington (little secret, then, as to whom he's carping at) - which he claims are perpetuating "anti-capitalist" views not held by their South-based counterparts.
This is a dual can of worms - and sloppily packaged to boot. In fact northern NGOs that informatively attack multinational mining policies and practices have, with a few exceptions, had their agendas primarily determined by the analyses and priorities of Indigenous, campesino and other land-based communities in the world's most mineral-dependent states. As for the notion that northern NGOs, like Christian Aid and FOE, are "anti -capitalist" - wish that they were my lord, only wish that they were!
"London Calling" is intrigued by the analogy Lord Holme draws in his Guardian article ("Giants tread carefully" 7/8/02) between a legendary British fictional character and the industrry he particularly defends: "So while some want to bind Gulliver hand and foot, so that he cannot move an inch, most want to ensure that he treads carefully - and that this gaint footrpint doesn't leave people squashed"
It's a comparison Holme has drawn before. He seems mildly obssessed wtih "The Gulliver File: Mines, people and land: a global battleground" which was published at the time of the first UN environmental summit in 1992? The work took its title from a 1981 statement by Charles Barbour of Asarco and vice chair of the American Mining Congress, where he declared that "like Gulliver, the mining industry is a robust giant held down by a million silk strings"
Now the silk has been exchanged for rattan, or is being wrapped around a growing number of legal briefs. His Lordship is well advised to be worried.
Israeli "conflict diamonds" - Are we polishing over the truth?
Global Witness, a relatively small London-based NGO, was the first to publicly campaign for the labelling and international boycotting of so-called "conflict diamonds". The concept was quickly taken up by a number of governments - including British, US and Indian - whose apparent altruism might well be questioned. Even more doubts have been raised by the alacrity with which London-based Anglo-De Beers joined the bandwaggon. Hustling out competitive "rogue" diamond peddlers in West and Central Africa (even where it's worked) doesn't seem to have become a major impediment to the world's biggest supplier of rough, and seller of polished, sparklers.
Whatever your views on this particular issue, it's surely the case that the role of the industry's intermediaries - cutting and polishing shops which ratchet-up the value of a diamond many fold between mine and customer - has not yet been seriously investigated. Very young chldren are still exploited in India's cutting shops in Gujerat and India remains a major player in the cutting industry worldwide. But the biggest is Israel., which acounts for more than half the value of polished diamonds sold world wide, and which supplies nearly 70% of its output to the world's biggest single diamond market, the USA.
The Palestinian resistance to invasion ("intifada") has forced Israelii diamond sellers to market much of their produce overseas during the last two years. However, the home-based industry still kicks back a susbtantial amount of revenue to the Israeli regime, led by a man who, if international law had any thorough application, would now be on trial for war crimes.
Yet none of the partners to the "conflict diamond" (Kimberley) "process" seems to have evaluated this linkage. Nor to have examined how far continued US support for the illegal Israeli sequestration of, and consequent atrocities in, Palestian territory is determined by the lucrativeness of the Israeli-US diamond trade.
Surely diamonds emerging from Israeli cutting and polishing shops are "conflict diamonds" which should be internationally boycotted? If not, why not?
Plus ca change, plus la meme chose...
Victorian London's most illustrious and prolix author, Charles Dickens, certainly had his fingers on the pulse of the world's most profligate imperial power. About 140 years prior to the Enron/Worldcom meltdowns (and just before Rio Tinto was to launched its own massive copper scam) Dickens let rip against practices with which we are now only too familiar, in a passage from "Our Mutual Friend".
"As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world.
Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Shares.
Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into parliament? Shares.
Sufficient answer to all: Shares. O mighty Shares!...Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank amid the powers of the earth and fatten us."
[From Charles Dickens "Our Mutual Friend", Chapter 10. "London Calling" is grateful to Peter Jay for bringing this text to our attention].