MAC/20: Mines and Communities

London Calling! December 7 2003

Published by MAC on 2003-12-07


London Calling! December 7 2003

Dirty Diggers sweep the board

There were few surprises at the awards for “outstanding achievements in the international mining industry” presented last week at the Mines and Money (M&M) Congress in London [see London Calling November 30 2003].

The “Sustainable Development” trophy went to Rio Tinto, while the company’s retiring chair, Robert Wilson, picked up the “Lifetime Achievement” gong. The Dirty Digger Awards committee had also voted Wilson and Rio Tinto to the head of its alternative awards list.

An industry which gives plaudits to a company recently responsible for horrendous corporate killings (at the Freeport-Rio Tinto Grasberg mine in West Papua), a ruthless campaign against its own unionised workers, and continued violation of protected areas (as in Indonesia and Turkey), clearly doesn’t begin to know what 'Sustainable Development' means.

Barrick walked off with the exploration prize for its Alto Chicama gold project in Peru (hardly surprising since Barrick itself financed one of the other awards). London-listed Xstrata is now the mining industry’s preferred choice as a “communicator”, although its chief shareholder, Glencore is among the least communicative companies anywhere.

A hearty bear hug went to Norilsk for sealing the “Deal of the Year”. This was the Russian conglomerate’s aggressive take over of US-based Stillwater Mining: an acquisition which has considerably boosted the fortunes of the most pollutive and least healthy miner and smelterer on the planet.

All in all a disgraceful display of the power of money over material fact.

You take the Highland - and Roman takes the cash!

The M&M judges may originally have been minded to give the “Deal of the Year” accolade to London-based Highland Gold for its spectacular play at Maiskoye, a huge gold prospect in the Siberian indigenous province of Chokotka. As readers of London Calling will know, Chukotka's governor is Roman Abramovitch, the highest-flying and most popular of Russian "oligarchs", whose takeover of the London Chelsea football team has endeared him to millions of undiscriminating Britons. Abramovitch’s wheeling and dealing haven’t yet been targeted by Putin in his pretended scourge of the country’s corporate mafia. Now that Roman’s set about offloading his assets, they may never be.

But any prospect of an M&M win for the Highland team disappeared early last week, as the company appeared to score an own goal. Abramovitch was accused of using his own government's cash to do the deal with Highland - throwing in a state-funded approach road to the mine for free. It remains to be seen whether Abramovitch gained personally from the transaction which is now under Russian state investigation, but his links to both the sellers and the buyers seem confirmed.

Long white cloud descends on miners

We can all breathe a sigh of relief when the coming Season of Self-Indulgence and species slaughter is over. At least there won’t be any more gratuitous awards for a while - except for the February 2004 Roger Award in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Named after a virulently neo-liberal former economics minister, this has been handed out annually for quite some years to the “…transnational that has the most negative impact in New Zealand in each or all of the following fields: unemployment, monopoly, profiteering, abuse of workers/conditions, political interference/running an ideological crusade, environmental damage, cultural imperialism, impact on tangata whenua [Indigenous Peoples], impact on women, health and safety of workers and the public”.

For the first time the finalists include two mining companies. There’s Newmont which took over the disastrous Waihi Gold mine situated virtually in the centre of the eponymous township. And there’s Comalco, aka. Rio Tinto. The latter has been nominated before mainly for its flagrant rip-off of the New Zealand taxpayer through rigged electricity deals.

Industrialists may pour scorn on such nominations but Roger’s is an event to be reckoned with, as it seeks to remind Kiwis of the “crime perpetrated on the people of New Zealand by a system that permits our country to be converted into a backwater branch office of the corporations that rule the world.” This year’s judges include the Mayor of Dunedin; Dr Ranginui Walker, Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland; and Jill Hawkey, National Director of Christian World Service.

Roger is now being adopted by two non-governmental organisations in Fiji. Called the Drau-Ni-Salato Award for the Worst TNC in Fiji in 2003, the title refers to the leaf of a plant which causes an irritating itch. No doubt, among those waiting to be scratched by Fijians will be Emperor Gold, a company with a notorious recent past.

[Sources: M&M awards: Mining Journal, 3/12//2003; Highland-Abramovtich scam : “Russian 'soccer boss' sweetened gold deal”, Miineweb 1/12/2003; Roger Award: press release from CAFCA, December 2 2003; Comalco in New Zealand: see Partizans and Cafca “Plunder” London and Christchurch, 1991; for background to Emperor Gold, see ‘Atu Emberson-Bain “Labour and gold in Fiji”, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1994]

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