MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Xstrata accused of buying credibility in lead poisoning case

Published by MAC on 2009-03-03

Accusations are often made that mining companies, both big and small, offer inducements to governments and civil society organisations in order to gain accreditation as socially or environmentally responsible.

Such claims are usually difficult - if not impossible - to prove.

Now, an Australian lawyer, acting on behalf of victims of lead poisoning for which UK-Swiss Xstrata is allegedly responsible, has nailed the company's flagrant attempt to influence the findings of no less a body than the UN's World Health Organisation.


Mining giant Xstrata paid $420,000 to secure Mount Isa award

Townsville Bulletin (Australia)

28th February 2009

MINING giant Xstrata contributed $420,000 to secure a World Health Organisation (WHO) accreditation for Mount Isa despite ongoing litigation about high lead levels in children, council documents have revealed.

Documents dated July 23, 2008, show the Swiss miner provided $420,000 over three years to employ a co-ordinator responsible for obtaining and maintaining Mount Isa's accreditation as a WHO `Safe Community'.

The safe communities scheme, born out of the First World Conference on Accident and Injury Prevention in Sweden in 1989, was designed to identify cities where: `All sectors of the community work together to increase the overall safety of its members'.

Mount Isa became Australia's first mining town given WHO safe community status with much fanfare in a designation ceremony last week.

But Slater and Gordon lawyer Damian Scattini said the involvement of mining money had dispelled any veneer of legitimacy surrounding the title.

Mr Scattini, who represents five families that have launched legal action against Xstrata, its subsidiary Mount Isa Mines Ltd (MIM), Mount Isa City Council and the State of Queensland over alleged lead poisoning, said the accreditation was `simply an exercise in spin'.

"It's an obvious conflict of interest, and again Xstrata is putting public relations' spin ahead of children and the community," Mr Scattini said.

"Mount Isa already has the polluter monitoring the pollution through the so-called Living with Lead Alliance, and now they're allowing the polluter to finance this.

"Really the money would have been better spent cleaning up the town instead of trying to clean up Xstrata's image."

In a statement, an Xstrata spokesperson said the company was `extremely proud' of its Xstrata Community Partnership Program in North Queensland (XCPPNQ) through which the Mount Isa safe communities project was funded.

"Through this program, we have invested more than $11 million and partnered more than 60 organisations which deliver tangible and long-lasting benefits to the communities in which we operate and in which our employees and their families live," the spokesperson said.

"Our partnership with the Mount Isa Safe Communities Project team supports: delivery of conferences and workshops for knowledge sharing; action parties' gap analysis, surveys and research; purchase of new equipment; the co-ordinator's role; and development and ongoing maintenance of the dedicated website.

"Xstrata is committed to building and developing the capacity of our partners. The Xstrata Community Partnership Program North Queensland - including the Mount Isa Safe Communities Project - and our three year funding arrangements enable us to do this."

Mount Isa Safe Community Adviser Team spokesperson Lynette Drew was unavailable for comment yesterday.

_ ANDREW STRUTTON

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