MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2001-05-01


1) It is appropriate to recall some of Agricola's negative observations on mining: "The strongest argument of the detractors are that the fields are devastated by mining operations...the woods and graves are cut down...then are exterminated the beasts and birds...when the ores are washed the waters which have been used poison the brooks and streams...Thus, it is said, there is greater detriment from mining than the value of the metals which the mining produces" [Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica, published in Europe 1556]

2) Quoted in Financial Times, London 2nd October 1989

3) See for example, Mining Magazine, London September 1999

4) See Panos Institute Report on Gold, London April 1996 and papers delivered at the 1999 Gold Summit, held in California (available from Project Underground, San Francisco)

5) Examples are the Century lead-zinc zone initially explored by Rio Tinto Ltd in the late eighties, now "owned" by Pasminco, and the huge nickel-cobalt-copper deposit at Voisey's Bay, Labrador.

6) An estimated 25,000 million tonnes a year of raw metal-bearing materials are extracted globally each year, delivering around 15,000 million tonnes of tailings, each tonne of which poses a potential or actual problem of safe disposal.

7) Gary Gallon," Mine tailings: a widespread problem: emerging solutions", Gallon Newsletter, Canada, June 1999

8) CERCLA , or the Superfund, has had numerous critics on all sides of the debate over who takes moral and financial responsibility for the huge amount of damaging and dangerous wastes bequeathed by the mining industry. Some in the industry claim that the Superfund is inefficient, wasteful of resources and largely rewards fat-cat lawyers. Leading this view is Kennecott (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto) which in 1994 refused to have its vast Bingham Canyon copper-gold mine in Utah listed as a priority site, despite the mine regularly featuring as one of the 500 most toxic sites in the whole country. Rio Tinto acknowledged serious dust, particulate and underground water quality problems, but claimed that the USEPA - the federal government agency responsible for implementing CERCLA - would do a worse remediation job than the company. The USEPA caved in to corporate lobbying and Rio Tinto/Kennecott proceeded with its own clean-up programme, as well as installing new state-of-the art smelters. However, the water quality problems remain, while the company's cavalier attitude to the nation's leading regulatory body seems of a piece with its stated corporate policy that, since "the community" at large "benefitted" from the results of mining in the past, it should be prepared to pay for mopping-up the mess.

9) See Roger Moody Extractive Empires, World Council of Churches Mining and Indigenous Peoples Consultation document, Geneva, 1997

10) The International Federation of Chemical; Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (ICEM) - representing 20 million workers worldwide - in 1997 launched an international campaign to defend mineworkers’ jobs, threatened by Rio Tinto (see Rio Tinto: Tainted Titan, ICEM Brussels; 1998). At its international meeting in 1999, ICEM also decided to target Placer Dome of Canada (largely responsible for the Marinduque tailings dam disaster, already noted) and Inco on similar grounds. ICEM is not to be confused with ICME - the International Council on Metals and the Environment. This is a Canadian-based industry-sponsored organisation - ironically, a founding member of which was Placer Dome.

11) This appalling event was recorded by Amnesty International in its 1997 Annual Report, and is dealt with in some detail in Tunde Antiphas Lissu In Gold we trust: Tanzania's Mining Act, 1998 and its implications for land tenure rights and the environment, Paper delivered to the Third World Network (Africa) Conference on Mining, Development and Social Conflicts in Africa, November 15-18 1999, Accra, Ghana

12) Here is just one recent example: a member of Dames & Moore, one of the world's biggest private social/environmental consultancies, sought to assure villagers at the PT Meares gold minesite in Indonesian North Sulawesi, that her clients would not use mercury in its operations, "like Newmont does at Minahassa". This was clearly designed to allay the fears of the local people, who were aware of cyanide pollution problems and a major break in the tailings submarine disposal pipe during 1998. The statement was mendacious, since Aurora of Australia plans to use both cyanide and submarine tailings dumping, if the project overcomes mounting local and national opposition.

13) In 1996 BHP of Australia, operator of the Ok Tedi copper-gold mine in Papua New Guinea, settled an out-of-court suit for damages brought by representatives of landowners, who were primarily affected by downriver sedimentation and siltation, causing dieback of the huge expanses of vegetation, because tailings are dumped directly into the Ok Tedi/Fly river system. One of the stipulations to the settlement was that the company would scientifically assess alternative methods of, and sites for, waste disposal. As a result of these studies, in summer 1999 BHP concluded that the mine should never have been opened, while one of the viable options was now to close it as soon as possible. By then, however, jobs, other benefits and community financial security for many thousands of local people were intrinsically bound up with the continued operation of the mine. No proper study has yet been carried out, to establish the bases for alternative employment and livelihoods which will, of course, be required at some stage, even if the mine remains open for another ten or twenty years.

14) See World Bank Annual Report 1998; Environment Matters, Annual Review, 1999, among other World Bank publications, Washington DC. It should be noted that Bank practice in many crucial instances falls short of its rhetoric - especially when it comes to lack of equal participation by NGO's in its assessment processes, and the considerable disparity between standards and capacities of the private sector agencies, IFC and MIGA, and those of the IDA - themselves not among the world's strongest.

15) The collapse of state capitalism ("communism") in the USSR, together with the undermining of state control of mineral resources, and the opportunities for exploitation provided by the rules of post-Uruguay GATT, have also spawned a relatively new monstrous hybrid - the giant metals marketing companies, notably Glencore of Switzerland and TransWorld. Between them these secretive, privately-owned, democratically unaccountable corporations (TransWorld was recently cited as being implicated in the Russian "mafia") already lay claim to a large part of the world's alumininum capacity, while Glencore owns major coal interests in Colombia (where it is partnered with Anglo-American and Rio TInto), and Australia.

16) Around 70 state mining codes have been "revised" in the past fifteen years, predominantly in Africa, in order to open the door to increased foreign investment/ exploitation. While the codes differ in detail, they almost all incorporate improved access to land, bigger tax breaks, penalty-free repatriation of profits, and the opportunity to acquire 50% or more of the equity in nationally-based mining companies. See also Bonnie Campbell The role of multilateral and bilateral actors in shaping mining activities in Africa, paper presented to the Conference on Mining, Development and Social Conflicts in

Africa, Accra November 1999, op cit

17) IIED, Final Report: Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development, Results of a Scoping Project for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, London, October 21 1999

18) See Corporate Observer, Geneva, volume 5 October 1999

19) Both Rio Tinto and Unocal - the US oil company condemned widely for its continued propping-up of the Burmese terrorist regime - are members of this initiative. They sit on the BHF alongside Nestle - the notorious "baby murderer", the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the executive director of UNICEF (see Farhan Haq "Development NGO's attack UN Participation", Interpress Service, San Francisco, September 27 1999

20) This was announced by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and in the mining press, early in 1999. It is still not clear exactly what joint arrangement is being proposed, except for direct funding by the mining industry of parts of the UN agency's programmes.

21) Several major mining companies have now published "rules of conduct". An example is Rio Tinto's "The Way We Work" statement of "business principles". It promises that, where state administrations have failed to secure certain (largely unspecified) rights for local communities, the company will act as if they were in place. However, this - and a longer preamble published later - does not commit the company to actual observance of any UN protocols (only the UN Charter for Human Rights) - a move which Rio Tinto's chairman, Robert Wilson, at its 1999 Annual General Meeting, told shareholders was not necessary. The company has specifically refused to endorse the draft charter of the United Nations Working Group for Indigenous Peoples and even the weaker International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples.

22) Quoted in Business in the Community, no 1, Financial Times, London, 1999,

23) Once again the company is Rio Tinto. The communities referred to are those of the Subanen People in Mindanao, southern Philippines. The allegations are well documented by Minewatch Asia-Pacific (Philippines and Britain) and Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links. In October 1999, after numerous protests to the company (including a petition from the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines) Rio Tinto finally announced that it was withdrawing from its FTAAs (Foreign Technical Assistance Agreements) in Mindanao, although the company did not promise to withdraw other applications.

(24) P Brudon-Jacobovicz Ten years of essential drugs: presentation to the Panel on Pharmaceutical Policies of the NCIH, Washington November 1989, quoted from "Engineering of Consent: Uncovering Corporate PR" Cornerhouse, Devon, March 1998

25) Quoted from DELTA number 4, Leicester, August 1999 (e-mail version).


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