Yesterday’s Rio Tinto AGM was full of dissatisfied shareholders, and not only the usual suspects.
Objections were raised to the proposed bailout by Chinalco, the level of executive pay, the clash of the AGM with that of Anglo American, the failure of the Board to plan for the economic slowdown and the massive increase in payments to auditors to over $160 million. As well as this, objections were raised in relation to the Eagle project in Michigan, USA, the Grasberg joint venture project in West Papua, involvement with the Muriel Mining Corporation in Colombia and the Ranger mine in Australia.
Chairman Paul Skinner excused the Board for failing to foresee the severity of the economic slowdown on the grounds that nobody else foresaw it either. But other than that, the Board appeared convinced of its own near infallibility, and invited shareholders simply to trust it.
Andy Whitmore, representing London Mining Network member group PIPLinks, said:
“The Chair’s Statement in the Annual Report(1) suggests that he and the Board were right to resist the BHP Billiton bid, right about the Alcan deal, right about the current Chair staying on temporarily (when the Chairman Designate resigned after a month, for what appears to be no reason, in February 2009) and – of course – right about the Chinalco deal. It is breathtaking how the view of the Board seems to differ so much from that of pretty much everyone else. With this level of spin it is no surprise that such a large number of shareholders wished to express their annoyance with both the performance of the company and the arrogance of the Board. The Board seems to be living in another world, like Alice in Wonderland.”
On the issues of most pressing importance for London Mining Network member groups (2), both Paul Skinner and CEO Tom Albanese avoided giving straight answers to simple questions.
Repeatedly, they responded to issues of Indigenous Peoples’ rights by stating that some people were opposed to the projects in question, others in favour, that they would create jobs and that they would therefore go ahead with them. They refused to deal with the underlying issue of contention – the pursuit of mining projects on Indigenous land against the express wishes of Indigenous communities.(3)
On the issue of climate change, Albanese said that the company believes it is a serious problem and that each division of the company is coming up with ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the company continues producing enormous quantities of coal and sees continuing growth as the only answer to the world’s economic problems – despite the fact that the current model of economic growth has led to the current financial crisis and brought the planet to the brink of ecological and climate catastrophe.
1) See
2) Groups represented at the Rio Tinto AGM were Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Down to Earth (the campaign for ecological justice in Indonesia), Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries) and PIPLinks (Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links).
3) In the case of the Grasberg mine in West Papua, where such serious human rights violations and environmental damage have been substantiated that the Norwegian Government’s state pension fund disinvested from Rio Tinto last September, Albanese suggested in conversation after the meeting that we should be grateful for Rio Tinto’s involvement because it was a benign influence on the operator, Freeport McMoran. He took a similar view of the company’s involvement with Muriel Mining Corporation in Colombia, which is accused by Embera Indigenous people of violating sacred sites and bringing about the militarization of the area, with associated human rights abuses. The principle seems to be to work together with companies with appalling records so that Rio Tinto can look good by comparison, rather than choosing to avoid association with such companies.
Revd Jon Magnuson, a Lutheran Pastor from Michigan and Executive Director of the Cedar Tree Institute, brought a statement of objection to the Eagle Project (in the State’s Upper Peninsula) signed by 100 regional faith leaders. He pointed out that these leaders were not opposed to mining – indeed, most had parishioners involved in mining – but that they were opposed to this project. He said that the company had shown a cavalier disregard for the Keweenaw Bay Indigenous Community, whose religious rights were being violated by the restriction of access to sacred sites. He gave the CEO a letter from the tribe calling for the company to reconsider the project. Gabriel Caplett from North Woods Wilderness Recovery in the Upper Peninsula accused the company of fraud and incompetence in the design of its proposed Eagle Mine, which he said would run a grave risk of collapse.