Rio Tinto destroys 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site, and other London mining news

Dear friends,

In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, LMN recently issued a statement making clear the link between mining, imperialism and racism. Rio Tinto then swiftly gave the world a further illustration of it: it destroyed a 46,000 year old Aboriginal site in Western Australia so that it could expand its Pilbara iron ore operations. The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP) had told the company why the site was important and asked them not to destroy it. They went ahead and destroyed it anyway – as if to say, “Aboriginal people’s world views are stupid. Their beliefs, opinions and feelings don’t matter. We are sensible and rational and we make lots of money, and that’s what matters. So our interests and our culture must prevail. Aboriginal people are in our way.”

Later, Rio Tinto said there had been a misunderstanding and Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive of Iron Ore said he was sorry. Then the company’s CEO said he was sorry. Then the Chief Executive of Iron Ore was secretly recorded addressing staff and clarifying that they were only sorry about the distress caused, not the actual destruction. Massive public outrage had already been caused, including to institutional investors worried about the company’s reputation, and the possible effect on profits. There has been a large amount of news coverage, and it is such an important story that we have included many articles about it in this newsletter. To avoid overwhelming all the other important stories, we have put the articles about this issue at the end.

It amazes me that Rio Tinto has enjoyed a good reputation among investors and some organisations concerned about human rights. Among other things, it has just been involved in the removal of a village in Guinea so a mine can expand. It has signed a deal with the Mongolian government to ensure coal-generated power for its Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine. It failed to give us and our friends in Bougainville, Madagascar, Mongolia, Serbia, the USA and West Papua adequate answers to questions at and after its April AGM. For two other examples of why I believe the company absolutely does not deserve a good reputation, do read our Cut and Run report. That report also includes two examples of the legacy of BHP. No surprise that, in the aftermath of  Rio Tinto’s act of destruction in the Pilbara, it was announced that BHP was planning to destroy dozens of other Aboriginal sites as part of its own expansion plans in the Pilbara – though it is having second thoughts now!

Meanwhile, complaints to the United Nations have been made against Cerrejon Coal (involving London-listed Anglo American, BHP and Glencore) in Colombia. Anglo American is under fire in Chile for errors in its environmental impact assessments and use of water. Glencore is being probed by Swiss authorities for corruption and criticised for the quality of its Sustainability Report. Antofagasta is under fire for toxic dust pollution at Caimanes in Chile. Danakali is under fire for investing in Eritrea while the government there still supplies foreign companies with forced labour – please see the urgent action request calling for divestment.

At LMN, we’ve endorsed a new set of guidelines produced by our friends at Earthworks in the USA and MiningWatch Canada on mine tailings management. Sputnik News interviewed us about the report we helped produce on the way mining companies are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and we published an article by one of our volunteers on the link with other occupational diseases in the industry. We helped Young Friends of the Earth Scotland with a podcast on Renewables, mining and just transition (and don’t forget our report, A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition, from last year) and contributed to a Labour Party consultation on the ‘green economy‘, warning that we must avoid exporting environmental destruction and human rights abuse caused by increased mining of metals needed for renewable energy and calling for reduced energy and minerals used. We produced a new education newsletter and launched a resources page on our website. And we held our own organisational AGM which got a nice write-up from our friends at Independent Catholic News. You can find our annual review for 2019 on our website.

Finally, our friends in member group Coal Action Network and their many allies have won a splendid victory over destructive opencast coal mining in the north of England. It shows that community action and broader solidarity can win! Many congratulations to all involved in that campaign.

And there’s plenty more news below.

All the best,
Richard Solly,
Co-ordinator, London Mining Network.


Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

You do not have to look far to see the link between the mining industry, British colonialism and modern systemic racism. It is through the extraction and exploitation of natural resources from Asia and Africa that the British Empire was able to fund its expansion and export its white supremacist ideology.


In this mailout

Take action!
Divest from forced labour in Eritrea

News
1) Victory against opencast coal mining in England
2) Avoiding pitfalls on the way to a green economy
3) The mining industry and COVID-19
4) Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management
5) Growing network supports communities devastated by mining
6) UK-linked corporate attempts to silence mining critics
7) News about Cerrejon Coal (Anglo American, BHP and Glencore)
8) Anglo American in the news
9) News about Glencore
10) BHP to revise expansion through 40 sacred sites
11) Dalradian Gold in Northern Ireland
12) News about Antofagasta
13) BHP and SolGold in Ecuador
14) Vedanta seeks to upsize loan to $2.75 billion to fund delisting
15) Justice still awaited at Marikana
16) Investors worried about mining impacts
17) Legal frameworks need improving for environmental, social impact assessments on mines
18) Human Rights Defenders’ Toolbox
19) Rio Tinto destroys 46,000 year old Aboriginal site in Western Australia
20) Other news involving Rio Tinto


Take Action!

Divest from forced labour in Eritrea

The Eritrean government’s program of mandatory and indefinite national conscription traps its population in forced labour for long stretches of their adult lives. The system is aided and abetted by numerous international governments and companies – including UK-linked mining companies. Show your support. London-listed Danakali is involved in Eritrea.


News


1) Victory against opencast coal mining in England


No additional coal extraction in the Pont Valley!!!

Durham County Council planning committee voted to reject Banks Group’s controversial proposal for ‘West Bradley’ an extension to the current ‘Bradley’ opencast coal site between Dipton and Leadgate which would have caused another 90,000 tonnes of coal to be extracted over a further 1 year period. The application was rejected on the grounds that the environmental impacts of the scheme could not be outweighed by its proposed benefits, after nearly 12,000 objections were received.

County Durham Coal Mine Extension Deemed ‘Environmentally Unacceptable’

Activists are celebrating an “incredible” victory after a bid to extend a coal mine in County Durham was finally scrapped. Plans to dig up an additional 90,000 tonnes of coal from the site of the Bradley opencast mine were branded “environmentally unacceptable” by the council’s planning committee after a five-hour virtual meeting. Campaign to Protect Pont Valley and Coal Action Network were joined by a network of national groups in opposing developer Banks Group’s proposal, sending 12,000 letters of objection.


2) Avoiding pitfalls on the way to a green economy

Decent Jobs on a Living Planet


Renewables, mining and just transition – podcast with Benjamin and Whit, from London Mining Network & Earthworks

A just green recovery and global extractivism – submission by London Mining Network

Labour’s plans for a green recovery will likely rely on significantly building the UK renewables industry and developing so-called green technologies. Labour have previously pledged to provide up to £33,000 to 2.5 million people over five years in interest-free loans on electric cars, and the 30 by 2030 report (which the party endorsed) estimated that there will be 25 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. It is therefore fair to expect that Labour’s plans would initiate a rapid expansion in the production of electric vehicles, Li-ion batteries, photovoltaic cells and wind power technology. These technologies rely heavily on the use of metals and minerals (including lithium, cobalt, copper, aluminium, nickel and so-called rare earth elements), supplies of which are predominantly concentrated in the global South.


3) The mining industry and COVID-19

Predatory’ Mining Corporations are Using COVID-19 to Undermine Regulations, Warns Rights Network


The London Mining Network, an alliance of human rights, development and environmental activists, work in collaboration with mine workers and Indigenous communities affected by extractivist industries. Their new report Voices from the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic sets out what they say are worrying trends of mining corporations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which represents “an immediate threat to the health and safety of communities” around the world.

Mining Hazards: Occupational Diseases in a Post-Covid World

Disease is a social problem. A family member with disease adds to already tedious burdens of caretaking. In the recent Chinese documentary Miners, Grooms, and Pneumoconiosis (2019), the former miner Zhao Pinfeng contracts pneumoconiosis, a deadly occupational lung disease from inhaling mineral dust during mining operations. After spending most of his meagre savings on medical expenses, Zhao eventually passes away, leaving his wife and two young children behind.


4) Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management

The 2019 mine tailings dam collapse near Brumadinho, Brazil, killed over 250 people and decimated houses and buildings for kilometers before flowing into the Paraopeba River. The catastrophe stunned the world, but should not have come as a surprise. Tailings facilities, which contain the processed waste materials generated from mining metals and minerals, are failing with increasing frequency and severity.



5) Growing network supports communities devastated by mining


London Mining Network held its 2020 AGM on 24 June using a Zoom meeting. The network works in solidarity with communities around the world harmed by London-linked mining companies. (LMN’s Annual Review can be viewed here.)


6) UK-linked corporate attempts to silence mining critics

SLAPPd: the Armenian activists fighting a mining multinational’s lawsuits


Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are a form of often frivolous litigation used by corporations to intimidate and punish critics and silence their right to free speech. Lydian international, a London-linked tax haven-listed mining company, has repeatedly deployed the tactic against journalists and civil society as it presses forward with the Amulsar gold mine in Armenia

Corporate bullying in fight over Xolobeni mining

Activists argue that the Australian company suing them is using the courts to silence criticism and so abusing the legal system. The law should change to stop these types of suits. (Mining company MRC enjoys significant UK investment.)


7) News about Cerrejon Coal (Anglo American, BHP and Glencore)

UN asked to suspend Cerrejon coal mining in Colombia


The United Nations is being asked to call for the suspension of coal mining in the Provincial Reserve in la Guajira, Colombia, due to the COVID-19 emergency.

British lawyers launch UN bid to halt Colombian mine operations

British lawyers have filed a request with the United Nations to halt work at a Colombian mine part-owned by Anglo American over claims it is causing life-threatening pollution and human rights violations.

BHP-backed coal mine in Colombia rocked by human rights claim

Three global miners including Australia’s BHP have become embroiled in an alleged human rights crisis in Colombia, with indigenous communities claiming the jointly owned Cerrejón coal mine is depriving them of water and exacerbating illnesses amid the coronavirus emergency.

Yet another mining-related death threat in Colombia

On 17 June, José Silva, president of Nación Wayuu, an NGO defending the human rights of the Wayuu people in La Guajira, found a floral wreath at the entrance to his home with a threatening note saying, “Your funeral is approaching.”

State harassment of indigenous activists in Colombia

Coal Action Network is working in solidarity with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in La Guajira, Northern Colombia who have spent decades demanding justice from the companies operating Latin America’s biggest coal mine, Cerrejón, and slowing down the mine’s expansion with legal challenges and direct action. The mine exports coal to Europe and the multinationals are listed on the London Stock Exchange.


8) Anglo American in the news

Error by Mining Giant Anglo American Undermines its Promise of No Glacier Impacts for $3bn Chilean Copper Project


Anglo American has undermined its plans for a controversial US$3 billion copper mine expansion beneath a Chilean nature sanctuary, 52 kilometres (32 miles) above Santiago in the Andean foothills. The multinational mining giant revealed an embarrassing technical blunder in its response to shareholders this May.

Anglo American in Chile: the community of El Melón and the sacrifice zone

Throughout its years of mining activity in Chile and Latin America, this giant mining company has been involved in various socio-environmental conflicts due to the impact of its activity: degrading the land, endangering the lives of communities, monopolizing water from rivers, catchment areas and glaciers, polluting the ecosystem and threatening the life of all living beings around it.


9) News about Glencore

Rights Groups Say Glencore’s Sustainability Report Lacks Credibility


Twelve human rights and environmental groups including LMN raised serious concerns about Glencore’s newly published Sustainability Report, saying it lacks credibility, ahead of the company’s Annual General Meeting on 2 June.

Glencore probed yet again by Swiss authorities

It’s the world’s largest commodities trader – and minerals exploitation has been key to its fortunes in recent years. Following Glencore’s London Stock Exchange listing in 2011 (although it’s still “homed” in Switzerland) the huge, sprawling, conglomerate has become enmeshed by numerous accusations of human rights, bribery and corruption. Now, just a few weeks after opening an investigation, the Swiss Attorney General is preparing to launch  criminal charges against this “wheeler of all deals”.


10) BHP to revise expansion through 40 sacred sites

The world’s no.1 miner, BHP, will place on hold part of its expansion plans for its South Flank iron ore project in Western Australia (WA), which would have destroyed dozens of sacred aboriginal sites. The move follows a national backlash over Rio Tinto’s blasting of a 46,000-year-old indigenous site last month in the resource-rich Pilbara region.



11) Dalradian Gold in Northern Ireland


On 29 June, infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon announced an independent public inquiry for Dalradian Gold Ltd’s controversial goldmine application in the Sperrin Mountains. Local opposition to this project in the north of Ireland remains strong. Because at the time of writing, there were over 36,600 objection letters to the proposal and just over 3,960 letters of support.


12) News about Antofagasta

Questions for Antofagasta


Most of Antofagasta’s operations are in Chile, and it is controlled by the Chilean Luksic family. LMN has had contact in recent years with people in Chile concerned about its Los Pelambres and Zaldivar copper mines. We submitted questions to the company’s behind-closed-doors AGM in May. We are analysing the company’s responses with our friends in Chile.

Caimanes: injustice, dust and megamining

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, serious contamination is currently affecting the quality of the air that people are breathing in Caimanes (4th region of Chile), putting the health of its inhabitants at risk. It is not the first time that the mining company operating in the region has generated serious environmental impacts in the valley. This leads us to think over the actions and responses of the actors in a conflict that has taken place over many years.


13) BHP and SolGold in Ecuador

Constitutional Court could save Australian-Government-funded Reserve in Ecuador from mining


A forest reserve in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, originally set up with Australian Government support and home to over 200 species at risk of extinction, has been scheduled for a landmark legal case. In a precedent-setting move, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador has announced it will take on the case of the Los Cedros Protected Forest, which is threatened by grand-scale copper and gold mining, by using unique Rights of Nature laws enshrined in the constitution.  London-listed SolGold and BHP are both involved in Ecuador.

SolGold resumes exploration in Ecuador

Ecuador-focused miner SolGold has restarted its regional exploration program, following a hiatus of activities due to the government restrictions triggered by the covid-19 pandemic.



14) Vedanta seeks to upsize loan to $2.75 billion to fund delisting


Vedanta Resources Plc is seeking to increase a planned $2.5 billion loan by $250 million to help it advance a decision to delist its main India unit, according to people familiar with the matter. The proposed upsizing comes as the London-based mining conglomerate prepares to begin the formal offer, seeking to buy back the shares it doesn’t already own in Vedanta Ltd.



15) Justice still awaited at Marikana


Nearly eight years after the massacre of mine workers at Lonmin’s operations at Marikana, South Africa, and with Marikana’s new owner, South African mining company Sibanye Stillwater, continuing Lonmin’s tradition of inaction, pressure is put on the company’s biggest customer, German company BASF.


16) Investors worried about mining impacts

After BP takes a hit, investors widen climate change campaign


The effort aims to press oil majors to better reflect climate risks in their accounting, and will soon target other businesses with heavy fossil fuel exposure – including Rio Tinto.

Investors, corporates don’t view ESG risks alike – report

Global investors and corporates are divided in their perception of sources of future environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, according to a joint survey conducted by CRU and Fitch Ratings.



17) Legal frameworks need improving for environmental, social impact assessments on mines


The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) has released its newest report. Guidance for Governments: Improving Legal Frameworks for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Management provides IGF member states with a summary of good international practice in legal frameworks for ESIA and related management plans for large-scale mines.


18) Human Rights Defenders’ Toolbox

This Human Rights Defenders’ Toolbox is an online resource for human rights defenders worldwide.


19) Rio Tinto destroys 46,000 year old Aboriginal site in Western Australia

Pilbara mining blast confirmed to have destroyed 46,000 year old sites of ‘staggering’ significance


“Deeply troubled” traditional owners in the western Pilbara have had their worst fears confirmed after Rio Tinto detonated explosives near culturally significant sites dating back more than 46,000 years.

The destruction of two rock shelters in WA reveals a disturbing lack of appreciation for our heritage

Two rock shelters, recognised as one of Australia’s oldest known Aboriginal heritage sites — with evidence of human occupation from over 46,000 years ago — were destroyed last weekend.

Report reveals Rio Tinto knew the significance of 46,000-year-old rock caves six years before it blasted them

Mining giant Rio Tinto was alerted six years ago that at least one of the caves it blasted in Western Australia’s Pilbara region last month was of “the highest archaeological significance in Australia“.

Traditional owners say Rio Tinto knew importance of caves razed for mine

Rio Tinto Ltd knew the cultural and historical significance of two caves in Western Australia years before it blew them up last month as part of an iron ore mine expansion, traditional owners said on Friday.

Bloomberg on Rio Tinto’s massive recent bloomer

One of the major global sources of mining-related data, Bloomberg News, once again has ventured  (perhaps over-optimistically) its opinion about Rio Tinto’s spectacular gaffe in May. That’s when the company had knowingly demolished a sacred West Australian Aboriginal site, previously undisturbed for more than 40,000 years.

WA Government rules out further protections for Aboriginal heritage sites at risk of demolition

Western Australia’s Government has ruled out further protections for Aboriginal heritage sites at risk of demolition following the destruction of a 46,000-year-old site in the Pilbara.

‘Clearly there was a misunderstanding’: Rio Tinto apologises for blasting Juukan Gorge

The destruction of these caves has devastated the sites traditional owners, who say they made repeated attempts and appeals to government – state and federal – to prevent the detonation.

Hundreds protest at Rio Tinto’s Perth office after mining giant blew up indigenous site

Hundreds of people have rallied outside Rio Tinto’s Perth headquarters to protest the mining giant’s destruction of a significant indigenous site in Western Australia.

Traditional Owners want Rio Tinto to preserve remains of a cultural site destroyed in a mine blast

Traditional owners of a 46,000 year old Indigenous cultural site, blasted during a mining operation by Rio Tinto last month say they want the company to do all it can to preserve what is left. At a rally outside the Perth headquarters of the mining company on Tuesday, organisers said the destruction of important Aboriginal sites shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

Rio Tinto stripped of endorsement, protestors rally outside Perth headquarters

Reconciliation Australia has suspended Rio Tinto from its Reconciliation Action Plan program and revoked its endorsement of the mining giant after the company destroyed two historic cultural sites in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

Dozens more ancient heritage sites could be destroyed by Australian mining companies

Dozens of sacred sites in the Pilbara and Goldfields regions of Western Australia are under threat from approvals granted by the State Government since the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Caves last month by Rio Tinto.

Miners lash Aboriginal heritage inquiry as Rio boss breaks his silence

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques has broken his silence over the company’s destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site, issuing a public apology and pledging to cooperate with a federal inquiry into the incident.

Rio Tinto chief says sorry for sacred caves blast

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques on Friday apologized for distress caused by Rio’s destruction last month of two ancient and sacred Aboriginal caves in Western Australia, pledging full cooperation with an Australian government inquiry.

‘Heritage of all Australians’: Rio Tinto and BHP in damage control after call for mining halt

Western Australia’s ‘archaic’ heritage laws are in the spotlight as global outrage grows over the destruction of Aboriginal sites

Rio’s demolition of sacred site doesn’t match its image

Rio Tinto Group last month demolished a 46,000-year-old site sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples to make way for an expansion of its Brockman 4 mine in Australia’s iron-rich northwestern Pilbara region. The act has been likened to the destruction of Palmyra by the Islamic State.

Leaked tape reveals Rio Tinto does not regret destroying 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelter to expand mine

Iron ore boss reportedly told a staff meeting that the company was apologising for the distress caused, not the destruction

Australia pension giant pressing Rio over heritage site blasts

Australia’s biggest pension fund said it is pressing Rio Tinto Group on the destruction of a 40,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site, though isn’t yet contemplating selling down its stake in the world’s second-biggest miner.

Australia begins probe into Rio’s destruction of Aboriginal site

Australia called for submissions on Thursday to an inquiry into how mining giant Rio Tinto legally blew up two sacred Aboriginal caves that showed human history stretching back at least 46,000 years.

Former top Rio Tinto advisor says company now focused on ‘what it can get away with’

Mining giant Rio Tinto has walked away from its long-standing commitments to communities and heritage protection, according to the company’s former global advisor on social performance.

Rio Tinto caves on demands to release review of Indigenous heritage site destruction

Company announces report on destruction of the Juukan Gorge cave in the Pilbara region of Western Australia will be made public in October

A miner blew up ancient human history, now an industry may pay

Blasts carried out in late May by Rio Tinto Group flattened the features in the central Hamersley Range, more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Perth. Now the fallout is mounting for the London-based producer, and new risks are being posed to an iron ore sector that produces Australia’s top export, forecast to generate earnings of A$100 billion ($69 billion) in the year ended June 30.


20) Other news involving Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto strikes power deal for Oyu Tolgoi

The world’s second-largest miner, Rio Tinto, has reached an agreement with Mongolia regarding the construction of a power plant to supply the giant Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine, located in the Gobi Desert.

Guinea: the battle for Simandou renews

Some lawyers haven’t been allowed to rest on their elbows, during these fraught, uncertain, disease-infected times; albeit in a battle that’s being played out on paper. The tussle for control over potentially the world’s  largest new iron-ore resource – Guinea’s Simandou –  has re-surfaced, between discredited Vale of Brazil and the equally discreditable Israeli diamontaire Beny Steinmetz. For the present, Rio Tinto is keeping “socially distanced” from the two contenders, although doubtless still seeking to gain control of  the entire, hitherto-disaggregated, deposit.

World Bank-Backed Rio Tinto-Alcoa Joint Venture Relocates Guinean Village During Covid-19 Lockdown

While communities across Guinea were under Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders, a joint venture owned by mining giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto relocated more than a hundred families to expand its sprawling bauxite mine.  Residents of Hamdallaye village in the Boké region of Guinea, who have been seeking redress for the loss of their ancestral farmlands and livelihoods to the mine, say that Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) moved them to an unfinished resettlement site without adequate housing, water and sanitation, or sufficient arable land and sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Rio Tinto: answer the question!

Eight organisations that put questions to Rio Tinto at its London AGM on 8 April (or, to be precise, at the connected ‘shareholder engagement session’) are still waiting for adequate answers to their questions more than a month after the event. So we have written an open letter to Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive Office, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, setting out the questions again. Some were answered at the time, but wholly inadequately. Some have not been answered at all.