MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto's "outrageous exercise in political blackmail"

Published by MAC on 2009-05-18

For several decades, New Zealand's CAFCA (Campaign Against Foreign Control Of Aotearoa) has been doing "what it says on the tin" - fighting to preserve the country's resources and territory for its own citizens, not least Indigenous Maori nations.

Each year the organisation appoints a distinguished jury of Aotearoans (New Zealanders) to decide which enterprise qualifies as "THE WORST TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATION OPERATING IN AOTEAROA."

More often than not, among the annual prime contenders has been Rio Tinto Aluminium (NZ) - formerly Comalco New Zealand - which operates the huge Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in the country's South Island.

In the jury's 2008 report, which examined the records of eight companies, Rio Tinto was just pipped to the post by British American Tobacco (BAT).* However, the UK-Australian mining megalith was singled out for its "outrageous exercise in political blackmail before the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Emissions Trading Bill in May 2008." This was condemned as "the year's most conspicuous piece of political interference."

The judgment on Rio Tinto is published below. A copy of the full report can be viewed at:

* MAC Editorial Note: In March 2009, the chairman of BAT, Jan du Plessis, was also appointed chair of Rio Tinto.



by Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) & GATT Watchdog

Statement of the Judges' Decision for 2008

Winner: British American Tobacco NZ Ltd

Runner Up: Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ Ltd
Accomplice: Business New Zealand

Judges: Geoff Bertram, Brian Turner, Bryan Gould, Cee Payne, Christine Dann & Paul Corliss

There were eight finalists for the 2008 Roger Award, all richly deserving to be put in the public spotlight as transnationals whose behaviour fell under one or more of the Award's four headings - economic dominance, damage to people, damage to the environment, and political interference. There are no particular weights attached to the four criteria, which left the judges facing some difficult trade-offs in making their final choice amongst the top three:

If there was a common theme running through the 2008 finalists it was damage to people; only eventual runner up Rio Tinto escaped condemnation on this count.

Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ Ltd

Rio Tinto (formerly Comalco NZ Ltd) is familiar to Roger Award aficionados as operator of the Bluff smelter and beneficiary of a cut price electricity supply that absorbs over 15% of New Zealand's total generation.

The smelter owners long ago perfected the art of blackmailing politicians into supporting the
electricity subsidy by threatening to close down Southland's main manufacturing industry, but they took political interference to new heights in May 2008 when the familiar threat was deployed in an attempt to block the Labour government's proposed emissions trading scheme [ETS].

Chris Trotter, in his Dominion Post column (16/5/08), put it very succinctly:

"Once again the masks have slipped. Once again we have caught a glimpse of the true faces of our masters. Once again, New Zealand's acute vulnerability to the power of vast transnational corporations has been brutally revealed.

"As an exercise in raw economic coercion, Rio Tinto's submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee scrutinising our Government's proposed emissions trading scheme was chilling. Ranged before the elected representatives of the New Zealand people were the appointed representatives of one of the world's largest and most profitable corporations.....

In its current form the Rio Tinto Asia/Pacific president explained, the ETS posed a threat to the economic competitiveness of the Bluff aluminium smelter's production. Rio Tinto could not, therefore, guarantee the smelter's long term future if the Government's scheme (in its present form) was permitted to proceed. And that was that".

With this single act of political intimidation, Rio Tinto vaulted into the lead bunch of Roger
contenders, and has been rewarded with runner up status.

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