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To: "SchNEWS Subscribers" (
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 08:01:02 +0000
Subject: SchNEWS 212, 21 May 1999


"Rio Tinto is the world's biggest profiteer from mineral exploitation. And the majority of these profits are gained at the expense of indigenous land owners who have never given consent to the company's operations" - PARTiZANS

Last Thursday [20 May] Rio Tinto Zinc (RT), the world's biggest and baddest mining company faced more protests at its annual general meeting.

The board faced nearly two hours of angry questioning from the floor, as shareholders concerned with their dividends were joined by people, more concerned with the communities and eco-systems across the planet that have been smashed to pieces by the corporation's mining operations. In an at-a-glance quick-fire fact rundown, here's some of their activities that they didn't boast about in their annual reportů

* A senior RT exec was one of the chief drafters of an Australian labour law which breaches International Labour Organisation conventions on the rights to organise, collectively bargain, and freely associate.

* In West Papua, they've been assisting the military brutally to crush indigenous opposition, where they jointly own one of the world's biggest gold and copper mines.

* Trespassing on Western Shoshone Treaty land in Nevada, US. This gold mine increased production 180% during 1998, and has established itself as the world's lowest cost commercial producer of this (almost) useless metal.

* The recent - and devastating - report on their now obsolete Capper Pas tin smelt on Humberside, England, showed that the plant is a major health and environmental disaster, spewing out an impressive range of poisonous heavy metals for the local kids to play around.

* The lack of consultations with the Wayuu people of Colombia during the recent huge expansion of coal operations in Guajira.

To be fair, the company have acted with with near-perfect consistency, as every time it descends upon another area of wilderness, an ecological nightmare unfolds in its wake. And RT have their green-wash public relations down to a fine art. Like the rest of big business, they see the advantages of talking to environmental groups, as why do battle when you can co-opt the activists? You needn't make any real concessions to the greens, as even a token deal can do so much to foster a green'n'caring image. James Harris, vice-president of PR consultants Hill and Knowlton, put it this way "For corporations, environmental groups offer the opportunity to obtain positive publicity - they also provide credibility, which can be particularly valuable." Stauber and Rampton, who edit PR Watch put it more bluntly - hiring activists is a "crude but effective way to derail potentially meddlesome activists."

In the UK, RT are also one of the main providers of information to schools from primary to post-graduate. They even fund two colleges - Atlantic and United World in Wales, while last year they chucked $30 million at charities to make the world a better place (sic).

All of which helps to compensate of course, for the negative publicity that tends to come from systematically polluting the earth and fucking over the locals. Time to hire yerself a credible greenie. Someone like Tom Burke, one time director of Friends of the Earth, who now works for Rio Tinto, helping them pull the wool over the public's eyes. Burke is a well connected man, working for the last 3 environment ministers and setting up the Green Alliance, the people behind Rio Tinto's new forums. These forums are classic examples of greenwash gimmicks - talking shops where groups like Amnesty International, Save The Children Fund and Oxfam help Rio Tinto clean up their image. There seems to be one small oversight at the Forums - no indigenous people whose lands are being destroyed by the company are ever invited.

So do we really need all this gold, copper, and titanium oxide (the stuff that makes toothpaste white)?

In 1998 Rio Tinto had to face one of its biggest-ever financial crises thanks to the fall in virtually all metal prices. But as economists point out prices have been falling for nearly thirty years. Good for consumers as everyone gets cheaper cars, microwaves, fridges etc. But not so good for the miners who face deteriorating conditions.

So will this article get you all scurrying down to the local tin recycling bank? Maybe, but it should be pointed out that the biggest consumers of Rio Tinto's metals is the European armaments industry. Not only are those Hawk jets and missiles a bit tricky to fit in the old recycling bin, the arms connection may help explain why our European leaders might not want to put RT's back up to much.

* Rio Tinto Behind The Facade - report by the International Chemical, Energy and Mineworkers Union - £1 postage from PARTiZANS

* PARTiZANS, (who campaign specifically against Rio Tinto) 41A Thornhill Square, London, N1 1BE - tel: 0171 700 6189 - email:

"Not a creature on this planet needs a single further ounce of commercially mined gold" - PARTiZANS

GoldBusters, is a coalition of groups fighting, appropriately, the gold industry, hoping to make the wearing of the sparkling stuff as unattractive as wearing fur. 80% of new gold being mined worldwide is for jewellery - people wearing it are probably unaware of the true costs.

The mining of gold is one of the most environmentally destructive industrial activities, wreaking havoc on indigenous communities on every continent. In dozens of countries mercury-laced tailings, eroded land and acid mine drainage stand as visible and toxic legacies of gold rushes from days gone by.

Unfortunately in the 1990s, the gold mining industry has experienced a boom due to new technologies, principally using cyanide to leech the gold from its parent rock.

The two-pronged campaign is aimed at jewellery consumers, and nations' gold reserves . Depressing its price would lead to the decommissioning of many mines, and the dumping of exploration stocks by investors. For example, 20 gold mines in Australia have been postponed or closed recently because it wasn't cost effective.

* Not wanting to miss out on the image-enhancing potential of a few co-opted indigenous people, Rio Tinto Australia has sponsored a new exhibition 'New Directions - Aboriginal Australia and Business'. According to its website, the exhibition presents "clear signs of a new direction in relationships between the Rio Tinto Group and Aboriginal people based on respect, listening and negotiation for mutual benefit."

* It gets better: apparently "Rio Tinto has 'relationships' with Indigenous peoples in many parts of communities along a sometimes uncertain path. There have been misunderstandings and setbacks as each party has learned one another's ways".

road protests 1999   |   road protests (current)   |   movement links