MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling! July 17 2003

Published by MAC on 2003-07-17
Source: Nostromo Research

London Calling! July 17 2003

The arrival of local warming to the English capital prompts London Calling to lob stones at some greenhouses

Parker bowls into Britain

The Indian government has finally demanded the extradition of Warren Andersen, former head of Union Carbide, to stand trial for the world’s worst corporate homicide. This of course occurred at Bhopal in 1984 and more than 20,000 people may have died as a result over the past 18 years. Now BNFL - Britain’s biggest uranium customer and probably the most lethal industrial enterprise in Britain - is welcoming a new Chief Executive from the USA. He’s none other than Michael Parker who presided over Dow Chemical’s acquisition of Union Carbide in February 2001. Parker quits Dow under a cloud, since this parlous merger has been driving the company towards the red. However, it’s also awarded Parker a US$2 million payoff - that’s a hundred dollars for each Bhopal victim which they’re never likely to get. Dow has so far paid out a derisory US$470 million in settlement of Bhopal claims but the Indian government is demanding US$2.5 billion more. Not a pleasant prospect for a company already facing multi-million dollar suits over asbestos, vinyl chloride and dioxin poisoning back home.

Laos talk

Two European journalists have been dealt savage 15-year jail sentences in Laos, after accusing the regime of systematically exterminating Hmong tribespeople, former allies to the US in its bloody war on south east Asia during the 1960s and 1970s. The European Parliament on July 4th also condemned the “deterioration of human rights” in the country as a whole. This came just after Australian-based Oxiana Resources boasted it had found significant new gold mineralisation at Sepon, the country’s most important mining prospect. World Bank watchers had already campaigned (if in fairly low key) against the IFC’s funding of the project and its lack of due oversight. The Bank’s private investment arm pulled out of Sepon in early 2003.

That’s more than can be said of Oxiana’s key funder and senior partner, the redoutable Rio Tinto. While the British miner boasts revised human rights guidelines, it ignores the implications of its involvement in Laos. So does the British government. Not surprising, considering that the awful Blair has just increased “aid” to the rightwing government of Colombia which human rights activists and trade unionists claim is at least partly motivated. by the significant Colombian mining interests of British-based mining companies BHP Billiton, Anglo American and subsidiary Anglo Gold.

Another Blairite project

Colombia’s vice-president, Francisco Santos was in London last week, profuse in his praise for Tony Blair whom he compared with Colombian leader, Alvaro Uribe: “[They are] the same kind of social democrat who think(s) authority is absolutely necessary to ensure the rule of law”, opined Mr Santos. When asked by former Labour foreign office minister, Tony Lloyd, why the Britain was now bulwarking the most right-wing government Colombia had seen in years, his successor Bill Rammell claimed it was better than a “strategy of isolation”, whatever that might mean.

Rammell might learn a thing or two from Bob Wilson before the doyen of Rio Tinto leaves St James Square this October, to steer the “Economist” media empire towards further neo-liberal orthodoxies. In the face of global opposition, not least from the UN, Rio Tinto successfully defended its 15 years “constructive engagement” with the apartheid regime in South West Africa, before it broke free as the relatively independent Namibia. By then Rio Tinto was considered indispensable to the new leadership. President Sam Nujoma positively begged Rossing Uranium to stay on when Rio Tinto suggested it might scale down its operations and leave.

Having your yellow cake, but not eating it

Talking of which, we sometimes forget that Rossing not only supplied uranium to Iran under the repressive Shah, but that the Iranian regime also had a share (estimated at 15%) in Rossing Uranium Ltd itself. The same cannot be said of Iraq under Saddam Hussain, whose attempts to secure uranium oxide (“yellowcake”), whether from Niger or elsewhere, are rudimentary by comparison.

Current fierce debate over whether Niger supplied the raw material for an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme is as chimerical as the bombs themselves prove non-existent. Even if Niger supplied yellowcake to Saddam, anyone who knows the basics of fissile material production instantly realises that, without an enrichment plant (Iraq’s was destroyed in 1995), a reprocessing plant, or a specific type of natural uranium reactor, the murderous autocrat could as much construct an atomic missile as a chef could magic a souffle out of a boiled egg.
The incorrigible in pursuit of the unacceptable

Yet another list of top investment funds’ favourite companies has emerged, thanks to the Financial Times and Citywire, the London-based financial publishers. If we needed any more convincing that such exercises commend the devil while crushing the holy sacrament underfoot then look no further. Thirty fund managers from 24 companies, holding UK portfolios in the FTSE top 350 companies, were asked to identify their preferred investment targets.

Even the FT was staggered by the result: the favourites emerged as BAT that insidious global peddler of cancer-sticks followed closely by Imperial Tobacco.

Among the miners, Lonmin was the most favoured enterprise (no shock there) while, clustered at the bottom of the list were BHP Billiton (at number 286), Rio Tinto (294) and AngloAmerican (298). The only surprise here was that BP consistently ranked for the past three years as the most desirable British investment target among “Greens” (see London Calling number 21, March 2003) only just scrabbled in at number 306, second from the bottom.

Never underestimate the power of fund managers, not just to promote their favourite stocks, but bolster each other’s choices too. (“Even bulls tend to follow the herd”, as the FT pithily puts it). And don’t expect that so-called “Socially Responsible Investors” (SRI) will do more than satisfy a niche market. Of the top fifty companies in this survey, only three met the FTSE4Good (which automatically excludes mining companies) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. Nine companies (i.e. nearly a third of the total) couldn’t meet even the dilute standards set by these two benchmarks.

Venial and Adonis

Petra diamonds, the AIM-listed diamond junior with prospects in Namibia and Botswana, now claims to have located three big diamond fields in northern Angola. Says its chairman, the colourfully-monikered, Adonis Pouroulis: “Petra has an appetite for more projects elsewhere in Southern Africa"

Petra’s big daddy is Rio Tinto with which it is exploring various leases in Limpopo province, South Africa.. But what is Petra doing in Angola anyway - a “conflict” zone which has still not been cleared by the Kimberley Process for the exploitation of sparklers? Before it piggy-backs too heavily on its junior partner, Rio Tinto might want to ask some searching questions of Mr. Pouroulis.

[Sources: (on Bhopal and BNFL): Guardian 23/7/03, ENS July 8 2003, Independent on Sunday, July 8 2003; (Oxiana) Mining Journal, July 4 2003; (Colombia protests): Guardian July 12; Independent on Sunday, July 6 2003 ; (Niger Iran and Iraq uranium supplies) Letter to Guardian by Professor Norman Dombey, Sussex Unviersity, Guardian July 15; (Background to Rossing and Iran) Partizans and Cafca, The Gulliver File, London and Christchurch 1991; (Fund managers choices): FT Top Investors 100 companies” FT special report, 2003 (undated); (Petra/Rio Tinto): Mineweb July 23 2003]

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