Guest blog by Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Collective for the Defence of Malagasy Land (TANY)
I would like to warmly thank London Mining Network for having given me the opportunity to attend the pre-AGM organized by IndustriALL and to speak in front of the shareholders during the Rio Tinto AGM on 16 April. (See full AGM report.)
Last year, thanks to London Mining Network, Perle Zafinandro, chairwoman of Fagnomba, an organization that led strong protestations against Rio Tinto’s affiliate Qit Minerals Madagascar (QMM) from 2010 to 2013, came to London to expose the situation on the ground and express the demands of local communities in front of Rio Tinto headquarters representatives and shareholders, as the local headquarters of QMM did not agree to meet the local communities to listen to their demands and to discuss. This organization’s leaders could not organize demonstrations any longer after being sentenced to several years of probation, during which any demonstration ould lead to immediate imprisonment. (1). (See report of last year’s AGM at http://londonminingnetwork.org/2014/04/rio-tinto-agm-2014-thanks-and-no-thanks/.)
QMM’s new strategy aims to improve the company’s relationship with the local people by funding several social projects, such as training for youth. But local people start to be worried about material donations to local authorities and to people and sectors of the public services by Rio Tinto, including financing of several civil society organizations. “Almost no institution is independent from QMM-Rio Tinto in Fort-Dauphin now”, they say.
At the same time, the TANY Collective is wondering why no national media have reported on the fatal accident that afflicted a QMM worker on the 28th of January 2014 that we only learned about on the IndustriALL website (2): was the silence due to local people’s lack of independence or to a lack of company transparency or both? After several trade unions and NGOs questioned the headquarters about Rio Tinto’s global operations, I asked for more information about the results of the company’s investigations into this fatal accident in Fort-Dauphin Madagascar during the AGM on 16 April this year.
Raising questions after the Rio Tinto CEO’s annual speech to shareholders cannot resolve the dramatic impacts of the company’s mining activities on local communities. But it allows us to bring the most burning issues to the attention of shareholders and to demand answers from the highest echelons, which is necessary when the local company executives play blind-deaf-and-dumb.
(1) http://www.vodeo.tv/documentaire/je-veux-ma-part-de-terre-madagascar http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x19qmca_bande-annonce-officielle-de-je-veux-ma-part-de-terre-madagascar_shortfilms
From the Rio Tinto AGM report at http://londonminingnetwork.org/2015/04/rio-tinto-agm-workers-of-the-world-unite/.
During the Rio Tinto AGM, Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Collective for the Defence of Malagasy Land thanked the Chairman and CEO for showing they were aware of the fatal accident at the QMM mine in Madagascar in January. She asked if the company could share the result of its investigation. How is it possible that such dangerous work was being done during the night? How is it possible that it took 17 hours to find the worker inside the tailings pond? What measures were being taken by QMM Rio Tinto concerning the safety of workers and procedures for emergency?
Jan du Plessis said that Rio Tinto was shocked at what happened there. When they have a fatality, Sam Walsh sends an immediate message to Jan and the Chair of the Sustainability Committee. At the Sustainability Committee meeting they always devote an enormous amount of time to undertsanding why a fatality has happened. They take these things very seriously.
Sam Walsh said that there had been a landslip in the bank of the tailings pond, because of the way that the bank had been built and the unique nature of the pond. This had never happened before and was totally unexpected. 30,000 tonnes of material shifted. This resulted in a huge excavator disappearing some distance into the pond, totally covered by water. Why was the equipment operating at night? It is a 24 hour operation and the work being done was required to make sure the company could continue depositing tailings in this pond. Why was the worker not wearing the life jacket which is a requirement for doing work near water? He said they do not yet know why. This was not first time and there is a need to update procedures and supervision of this kind of work. It took 17 hours to find the worker because the pond had to be drained to get to the excavator and then to the employee. It was extremely tragic. Rio Tinto has made a significant improvement in its injury rate and QMM has an excellent track record of low instances of injuries but this clearly did not help this time. Rio Tinto does have a process to make sure that procedures are really implemented.