Big Questions for Anglo American

Since Anglo American listed in London and moved its headquarters from South Africa to Britain, the company’s dealings with its critics have been characterised by a level of formal courtesy that sits awkwardly with its behaviour on the ground. At this year’s AGM on 19 April, Chairman Sir John Parker and CEO Cynthia Carroll continued the tradition, treating critics with delicate kid gloves that failed to disguise their unyielding iron fist.

Knowing that it would face heavy criticism for its treatment of former mine workers dying of silicosis, for its proposals to open a massive copper-gold mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska, and for continuing problems for communities affected by its 33% owned Cerrejon Coal mine in Colombia, Chairman Sir John Parker and CEO Cynthia Carroll got in first by welcoming all the company’s critics and telling them how much they sympathised with them.

Dying in South Africa

The company is so sympathetic to the plight of former mine workers in South Africa that it is funding the medical costs of the first sixteen such workers to sue it, on the grounds that their claims have taken so long to resolve.

Meanwhile, it is denying any legal liability and fighting both those sixteen cases and those of the other 1200 plus former workers suing them in the English courts (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/apr/18/anglo-american-sued-miner-tuberculosis).

Professor Tony Davies, former Director of the National Institute for Occupational Health, Johannesburg, spoke about the impacts of dust on workers in deep gold mines. Sir John Parker attempted to curtail his contribution on the grounds that it was a statement rather than a question – despite having allowed nearly half an hour to deal with lengthy statements and multiple questions from the first two shareholders who spoke. Professor Davies finished his contribution and the Chairman asked whether there were any more issues to be raised on the same subject. Former mineworker Daniel Seabata Thakamakau then pointed out that, long after the paltry sum paid out in state compensation for losing his job on health grounds in 1991 has been exhausted, he cannot support his family. He asked for help from the company for himself and for all the former mineworkers suffering as he is. Peter Bailey from the South African National Union of Mineworkers appealed to the company to compensate the dying miners over and above the level of statutory compensation, which is clearly inadequate. He pointed out that this is a matter of simple justice for the people whose labour made the company so profitable.

Sir John Parker expressed his sympathy for all the workers dying of silicosis and then explained that the company does not believe it is liable and that the English courts are not the appopriate forum for the cases to be resolved. Company medical officer Dr Brink spoke at some length about everything Anglo American is doing to help workers suffering from tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS – carefully avoiding mentioning silicosis or the dust levels in company-owned gold mines which are believed to have caused it.

What part of “No” does the company not understand?

Sir John Parker welcomed representatives of Indigenous and fishing communities around Bristol Bay, Alaska, and their allies in US organisations Earthworks and the Natural Resources Defense Council, telling them how much he enjoyed their company.

They pointed out that CEO Cynthia Carroll had promised them that the company would leave if it was not wanted in a community; that opposition to the company’s proposed open pit copper and gold mine, the Pebble Mine, was overwhelming, documented and growing; and that Anglo American continues to deny the legitimacy of local opinion polls and is challenging some of its local opponents in court. (See http://ourbristolbay.com/ for background.)

CEO Cynthia Carroll responded by accusing the project’s opponents of providing people with inaccurate information and being emotional rather than scientific – a claim supported by Alaskans who had come to the AGM to oppose the company’s critics. Sir John Parker offered to visit the area if the company’s critics thought it would help. He insisted on the trustworthiness of local management and the integrity of the State and Federal permitting processes. He said that people could not judge the project until all the scientific studies were completed and all the information assembled.

So it is perfectly clear that, however massive the regional opposition to the project and whatever promises the company has made, Anglo American is determined to ram the project through, come what may.

Hot air

Questions were also asked about the company’s contribution to damaging climate change through its massive coal production.

Sir John Parker spoke of the need for long-term pricing of carbon in a manner which would not jeopardise jobs, economic development and shareholder value. Hasty action is to be avoided, because the company must not become uncompetitive.

In other words, the company will do as little as possible for as long as possible, while the world hastens towards ecological apocalypse.

Colombia again

So many were the critical questions fielded by the Board that the company’s involvement in the troubled Cerrejon mine in Colombia nearly escaped comment. But at the last moment, Colombia Solidarity Campaign representative Richard Solly was able to speak on behalf of communities displaced by the mine. His question concerned the level of competence of community relations officials at Cerrejon and went on to make the following points.

“The community of Roche, currently being removed for mine expansion, has been split by the company’s approach. The majority of families have moved, despite the inadequacy of the process, because they could not wait any longer. The families remaining are unwilling to move to the new site when they know full well that there is inadequate land in the new community for them to continue their traditional cattle-herding way of life. Now the community is being legally expropriated. They ask us to ask you: when will their houses be demolished? Where will the residents go if they have not been given houses in the new town site, houses constructed without these residents’ agreement? Why will the company not negotiate with them in good faith?

“The families still at Roche tell us they are willing to negotiate once the company recognises their right to continue, or to be compensated adequately for the loss of, a way of life which they have followed for seven generations. Can you not prevail on Cerrejon Coal to abandon this expropriation process? Everyone would lose out if it comes to another eviction like that at Tabaco in 2001.

“And speaking of Tabaco, it is now more than three years since Cerrejon coal signed an agreement with the community’s relocation committee to buy land and help reconstruct the village. This still has not happened. Why not?

“In addition to this, we are told that the company refuses to listen to or meet with former residents of the displaced community of Manantial and other such communities.

“Will Anglo American insist on a root and branch reform of community relations at Cerrejon to ensure that community members and workers negatively affected by the company’s activities are treated with justice and respect?”

Sir John Parker replied that there is no question that since the independent review of Cerrejon Coal’s operations in 2007 significant progress has been made – both at Roche and at Tabaco. He said that only eight families remained at Roche and that negotiations were continuing.  Norman Mbazima, Head of Thermal Coal, added that the people of Roche had to be resettled as the mining footprint meant there was going to be coal dust on the community. All but nine families had moved after voluntarily signing an agreement (though he did not mention the massive pressure which those families had been placed under to encourage them to sign). The remaining families had held out for a long time. There had been frequent meetings. Cerrejon Coal officials had discussed a number of issues at these meetings and continued to do so. Anglo American thinks there has been some progress, that more families out of the nine have now agreed to move, and the company does not want to have to implement a forced relocation. International Government Relations Manager Hugh Elliot said that negotiations were continuing on the Tabaco resettlement. These were complicated as the community had been dispersed but the company working very hard to move things forward, believing that serious advances had been made since the 2007 review.

Communities facing relocation are unlikely to take much comfort from these responses, given the level of distrust they feel towards Cerrejon Coal.

For background, see http://londonminingnetwork.org/2011/08/creation-of-civic-committee-of-la-guajira-against-large-transnational-mining/. For a complete list of LMN’s articles on the Cerrejon mine, see http://londonminingnetwork.org/?s=cerrejon.

Question by John McDonnell MP

John McDonnell MP, who also wanted to question the Board about the Cerrejon Mine, had to return to the House of Commons before his question was called. London Mining Network undertook to post the question on its website and Norman Mbazima undertook to answer it in the near future. LMN will post the answer once its is received.

My question concerns the rerouting of the River Rancheria for the expansion of the Cerrejon Coal Mine in Colombia.

Last October I met in Westminster with a representative of a community federation in the area, who outlined the massive and growing opposition to the re-routing of this river, the only major river in the arid region of La Guajira.

Unionised mine workers are supporting communities in opposing this project.

Despite the existence of a consultation process, we are told that company officials are arrogant and show a grave lack of respect for communities.

One Wayuu Indigenous community at Provincial has apparently opted out of the company’s consultation process because they feel it was imposed on them. They plan their own internal consultation procedure. Communities along the river fear destruction of traditional livelihoods through serious disruption to river flow levels.

Colleagues at Colombia Solidarity Campaign have even received news that a general strike is being planned in the department if the company insists on pressing on with its plan.

Will Anglo American ensure that Cerrejon Coal abandons this ill-conceived project?

 

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