London Calling - August 12 2002Published by MAC on 2002-08-12
London Calling - August 12 2002
Rio's road to Rio
Rio Tinto, the world's most influential mining company, will more than rub shoulders with government ministers and other so-called "decision makers" at the forthcoming WSSD conference (Rio-plus-Ten).
According to today's Guardian newspaper, Sir Robert Wilson, chair of Rio Tinto, will be part of the official British delegation to the Summit, paying his own way but "benefiting from access to ministers" Not that this is anything new. But now the collusion between company and government isn't hidden any longer.
Soon after "New Labour" took power in 1997, Wilson was invited by party leader, Tony Blair, to discuss the government's stance on European Union policy. At the time Rio Tinto was especially keen that the EU shouldn't introduce a tough code of conduct for European-based companies and that New Labour shouldn't implement a stringent "ethical foreign policy".
Nick Cohen, the London Observer's colunist commented the following year
"If I had written a satire [in 1997] in which the ethical foreign policy was a cynical spin and the "purer than pure" Tony Blair was shown in Downing Street schmoozing Rio Tinto execs at a business meeting, the editor would have started twitching. If I had thrown in that Blair included Roger Liddle, a member of the Downing Street Policy Unit, who was being allowed to carry on dealing with Rio Tinto, a former client from the days when he was a lobbyist at Derek Draper's Prima Europe, the poor man would have started gibbering uncontrollably, and snatching imaginary flies from air.
But that was precisely what happened. A Downing Street spokesman emphasised that although Liddle had worked for Rio Tinto and other clients for a week after he joined Downing Street in 1997 - "just tidying up loose ends" - the meeting between the company, Blair and Liddle to talk about the European Union took place in the autumn after Liddle had condescended to drop his private interests and concentrate on public service.
[But] Liddle still had shares in his lobbying firm even then, and the fact that clients could meet Blair would add to the firm's value".
Picking the Short straw
When asked last week to explain why Rio Tinto was being officially endorsed as a WSSD delegate, Clare Short, Labour's international development secretary, admitted "RTZ (sic) has a very bad history. Getting these big operations to change the way they perform across the world is absolutely key to a sustainable planet. So calling for business not to be there is very foolish"
Yet back in 1998 Ms Short had mouthed almost exactly the same platitudes. Nick Cohen takes up the story "In June  , Clare Short, mistakenly seen as the conscience of the Labour Party, was asked by Michael Clapham, a mining MP, if she had seen the criticism of Rio Tinto. 'Rio Tinto had a reputation but it seems to be working for change' said the touchy-feely Development Secretary. ' All of us including my honourable friends should meet Rio Tinto and get behind these improvements in performance'.
After five years in power New Labour has done nothing to change the way Rio Tinto performs. On the contrary the government has now elevated Britain's dirtiest company to quasi-ministerial status.
British participation in the WSSD also hit the headlines last week when the government announced that its environment minister, Michael Meacher, was being excluded from the official delegation. because Blair didn't want to be accused of junketing! This is from a "world leader" who will stay in Johannesburg for just one day and he's talking about the only British minister widely recognised as really knowing and caring about global environmental devastation.
After vociferous protests from environmental groups, Meacher is now back in the South African team. Clare Short - who didn't originally want to go - has also been inveigled to join, after insisting that the MMSD focus should be on development not the environment.
So that's alright then. Short can toss back the South African red with Robert Wilson at her elbow and still preserve a good conscience.
"Science" serves a side-swipe
Never mind that last week the US journal "Science" published figures to show that human "development", such as farms, buildings, factories and mines, actually costs us all US$ 250 billion a year, in terms of the natural resources - forests, mangroves, wetlands, coral reefs and other eco-systems - which are sacrificed. Although it would cost US$45 billion to adequately protect these reserves, "Science" claims they could supply "goods and services" for humanity (not to mention other species), worth at least US$4,400 billion.
Professor David Costanza of the University of Vermont is quoted as saying "We have been cooking the books for a long time by leaving out the worth of nature. Economics has traditionally been focused on the market. But we have ben finding that a lot of what is valuable to humans takes place outside the market.
"Natural capital is going to be more valuable as it becomes more scarce. In many cases we have passed the point where development is worth more to us than conservation"
[Sources: Guardian, London, 12/8/02; Observer, London 19/702; Science, USA, 9/8/02]