To mark Rio Tinto’s 2021 AGM, campaigners from five continents came together to push back against the company’s hollow talk. Rio Tinto says its a force for “human progress”, but around the world its actions tell a different story. Here we collect the community demands Rio Tinto must address, materials from our campaign, and resources on Rio Tinto mines.
Communities living near Rio Tinto operations across the globe feel the impact of these mines daily. They demand that Rio Tinto meets its commitments to respect heritage, water, land, and people.
Bougainville – Panguna
Communities are seeking commitments from Rio Tinto to:
- Engage with them and other Panguna mine-affected communities to help find solutions to these urgent problems and undertake formal reconciliation as per Bougainvillean custom;
- Fund an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine by a team of qualified local and international experts to map impacts – in particular, those posing serious risks to public health and safety – and to develop recommendations to address these;
- Contribute to a substantial, independently managed fund, to help address the harms caused by the mine and assist long-term rehabilitation efforts in accordance with the recommendations of the assessment and the needs identified by local communities.
Madagascar – QMM
Demands for communities in Southern Madagascar, based on research/consultations and engagement with communities, civil society and stakeholders over the last 4 years: –
1) Restore the quality of local natural water supplies (includes managing QMM mine waste waters)
2) Provide safe drinking water to affected communities
3) Share water data transparently (including wastewater data) and make this publicly available
4) Communicate the findings of the Swanson 2019 radioactivity report as previously agreed
5) Improve community consultation processes and increase accountability and transparency to protect local governance around natural resources, e.g., water and land, and natural resource management
Mongolia – Oyu Tolgoi
1. Socio-ecological Justice:
a. Disclose the water recycle and water resource availability for the lifespan of the mine with information based on scientific calculations and measurements.
b. Carry out the environmental and social impacts assessments for its underground mine construction, operations, and the new tailing storage facility section as per the Resolution #92 of the Parliament of Mongolia (November 2019) as well as the recommendations of the Multidisciplinary Team Report (2017 MDT/IEP, p. 26/2289).
c. Respect for Mongolian nomadic cultural heritage and unique ecology and support for its ability to thrive.
2. Economic Justice
a. Refrain from using mailbox subsidiaries for arbitration or tax purposes – like Oyu Tolgoi Netherlands B.V. in Amsterdam – and work towards abandoning Rio Tinto’s presence in tax havens altogether. Stop shifting profits to tax havens, and instead ensure that taxes are paid where profits are generated and real economic activity takes place.
b. Provide transparency about all tax related to Oyu Tolgoi, by publishing Oyu Tolgoi LLC’s annual accounts in an unconsolidated manner. This would provide the Mongolian public with more detailed information with regard to Oyu Tolgoi’s contributions to Mongolia’s public revenue;
c. Commit to a joint review and the renegotiation of the Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement (OTIA) together with the Government of Mongolia. In line with Rio Tinto’s recent willingness to renegotiate the Oyu Tolgoi Underground Mine Development and Financing Plan, an admission of the need to renegotiate the OTIA could allow Rio and the GoM to reach a fairer division of the mine’s revenues, allowing for economic justice for Mongolia and a more stable relationship between the two parties;
d. Remove the fiscal stabilization clause and tax holidays to develop a more constructive and sustainable relationship between Rio Tinto and the Mongolian Government;
e. Include stakeholders less influenced by short-term political interests and more by long-term sustainable development such as local civil society, affected herder communities and environmental governance and resource governance experts, to better meet the needs of the Mongolian people and the protection of the Mongolian environment.
3. Abort the UNCITRAL arbitration process
i. The Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement includes so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses. An ISDS clause allows investors to sue host governments in the case of investment disputes, and they can do this under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) rules. Originally intended to stop arbitrary abuse by states singling out foreign investments, ISDS has devolved into a mechanism that allows corporations to interfere with a state’s sovereign right to legislate in their people’s public interest.
ii. By extension, the arbitration by UNCITRAL is by definition flawed, costly and unlikely to favour Mongolian’s public interest.
4. Provide transparency about the energy source and consumption of the Oyu Tolgoi mine.
 Rio Tinto currently controls subsidiaries in a variety of well established tax havens, including Bermuda, Delaware, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Switzerland.
Serbia – Jadar
Rio Tinto – Leave Serbia!
USA – Resolution Copper
- Oak Flat must remain in public hands and you must not do anything on the project that would irrevocably alter the landscape until you have completed a feasibility study, made a final decision to move forward, and have all your permits in hand.
- You must commit to not using any form of mining that would involve surface collapse at Oak Flat.
- Do not hide behind the skirts of legal action. You are saying that you’ll have difficulty talking with us because of our lawsuits while we sued the US government and not the company and you were not required to intervene in the lawsuit.
Our Questions to the AGM
Organisations with which LMN is working have submitted the following questions to Rio Tinto in advance of the 9 April meeting.
Panguna copper mine, Bougainville
Question from Jubilee Australia
In 2020, communities in Bougainville filed a human rights complaint against Rio Tinto in Australia about the legacy of the vast amount of mine waste left behind by the company’s Panguna mine, from which Rio Tinto divested in 2016. Communities report that the tailings have blocked parts of the river, causing widespread flooding of their lands, water pollution and destruction of their livelihoods and sacred sites. They have called on the company to fund an independent human rights and environmental assessment to identify risks posed by the mine and contribute to an independent fund to address these impacts on local people and assist with clean up. Given Rio Tinto’s recent commitments to ensure that it leaves a “positive legacy” (Stausholm 23.04.21) and to learn from its mistakes and rebuild trust with indigenous peoples impacted by its operations, will the company now publicly commit to funding an impact assessment of Panguna and addressing these devastating problems left by the mine?
Grasberg copper and gold mine, West Papua
Question from London Mining Network
Rio Tinto presents itself as a responsible corporate citizen and leader in the global mining industry, a force for good in bringing about a better future for the planet. The company markets itself as being “essential to human progress” and tells us that “we are all in this together”. If that is the case, how can the Chairman of the company not answer a straight question about the ethics of cutting and running from the mess and destructive legacy at the Grasberg mine in West Papua? Putting aside the questions of the legal, financial and reputational risks the company has run by walking away, does Rio Tinto recognise that the moral responsibilities for its actions do not stop with a cheque or a legal clause on a piece of paper?
Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine, Mongolia
Questions from Oyu Tolgoi Watch
At Oyu Tolgoi, members of affected communities are concerned about the lack of assessment of the impacts of land subsidence on their pastures and general living environment. There are also worries about the land subsidence potentially affecting the stability of massive tailings ponds. Current cost overruns have been caused by land instability. Will you conduct an analysis of alternative mining technologies to replace the controversial block caving method? Do you plan to carry out an ESIA that includes the impacts of the alleged new land instability on block caving, land subsidence and potential failure of tailings facilities in this unstable zone?
Rio Tinto documents state that from 2017 onwards Oyu Tolgoi will face water shortages, but the transfer of waters from the Orkhon River, through the Orkhon-Gobi project, is out of the question due to its impact as well as its cost. But the World Bank project has continued consultations and encouraged the Gobi population to demand the transfer of water for their own development. We are hearing from local communities that the Orkhon-Gobi project is still being discussed. This involves construction of a 1000 km water pipeline and water extraction project that will kill the Orkhon River, which is an important ecological feature in the Orkhon Valley, itself a UN protected heritage site. What is your Plan B for water for the mine? Is it in fact the Orkhon Gobi project?
QMM mineral sands mine in Madagascar
Question from Publish What You Pay Madagascar
When it comes to the rural poor of the Anosy region in southern Madagascar, those very people targeted to be “lifted out of poverty” by the presence of the QMM mine, villagers tell us that their water has been polluted and degraded over the last ten years since the QMM mine started its operation. Local people are reliant on natural water sources for survival. All the existing water data and studies point to contamination and the detrimental effect of QMM operations on the local waterways and water quality of the region. So, how does Rio Tinto/QMM explain and justify its reluctance and delay to address safe drinking water needs of the mine affected communities? When will Rio Tinto concede the QMM mine is contaminating waterways around the mine and provide safe drinking water to the affected communities, made up of poor fisherfolk and rural producers living on less than $1.5 per day. Why the delay?
Question from Andrew Lees Trust
We have been researching the QMM mine’s contamination of local waterways in Anosy for over four years with the help of an expert hydrologist and a radioactivity specialist and I want Rio Tinto to explain why QMM is insisting to the affected communities and civil society, and why Rio Tinto tells its shareholders, that it ‘uses no chemicals’ for extraction at the QMM mine, only water. It leads with this whenever asked to answer questions about QMM’s contamination of water with elevated levels of uranium and lead. Why is Rio Tinto not explicitly admitting what they know: that QMM’s extraction process (churning mineral sands) causes the elevated levels of uranium and heavy metals in its mining pond and discharge wastewaters that are the subject of the inquiry? Why is the company apparently trying to take advantage of the lack of scientific understanding of the situation in its audiences to divert attention from the facts, our very real concerns about water contamination, and our demands for safe drinking water?
More detailed questions on the QMM mine
Jadar lithium project, Serbia
Questions from Zastitimo Jadar & Radjevinu / Protect Jadar and Radjevina (Serbia), Earth Thrive (UK/Serbia) and Eko Put/Eco Road (Republika Srpska)
Why did you initiate the elaboration of the Spatial Plan to the Serbian Ministry of Construction, Transportation and Infrastructure in December 2016, years before you had the key information about the project: e.g. Ore Reserve Declaration (obtained in January 2021), the planned lifetime of the mine, the water use for the technical process, the exact location and volumes of the Tailing Storage Facilities?
What are your exact plans to protect the rich biodiversity and natural landscapes in the area, as the mine is situated within a key water basin, and in proximity of Important Bird and Biodiversity Area “Cer” and Landscape of Outstanding Features “Cultural Landscape Tršić-Tronoša” with a vast number of internationally and nationally strictly protected and protected animals and plants?
How do you plan to assure the preservation and cultural and spiritual use of current and future generations of significant archaeological, historical and religious heritage – dozens of sites spanning at least 3,500 years of settlement and history in the area – especially concerning the Bronze Age site within the planned mining area, and the important Church and its graveyard in the projected direct impact zone?
Do Rio Tinto shareholders know that Drina is a transboundary international river that flows into a rich marsh ecosystem which is currently in the process of being legally protected, and HOW can Rio Tinto shareholders guarantee that groundwater and surface water pollution will not occur?! It is not a matter of IF the Drina waters will be polluted, but WHEN, and we ask once again how can you prevent it and provide us with firm GUARANTEES?
Resolution Copper project, Arizona, USA
Question from Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners’ Coalition
I’m Henry Munoz, Chair of the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners’ Coalition and I’ve lived in Superior, AZ, all my life. I have 23 years’ underground mining experience working at the Magma mine at Oak Flat until the 1982 closure and at the BHP San Manuel block cave mine for 14 years. With my experience with block cave mining, I know the devastating effects your proposed mine would have on my town and the region. Your proposal would destroy the surface of Oak Flat, and both drain and pollute the deep aquifers around Superior, and the water supply of farmers and residents of the valley east of Phoenix. Based on my experience with block caving in Arizona, the depth of this deposit, and the problems you are having with building the block cave at Oyu Tolgoi, your design won’t work. If you destroy Oak Flat, you will destroy our town’s chance to build a recreation based sustainable economy. Will you abandon the project so that we may enjoy Oak Flat and prosper for many generations to come?
Question from the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition
Resolution Copper’s plan to destroy Oak Flat will fail. Moving forward with this experiment is bad enough, but destroying Oak Flat, a sacred recreational and ecological haven, is beyond reason. After you blew up the sacred rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, you promised never to do it again. If your words mean anything, you have no choice but to abandon the project. You would suck our water dry to export unfinished concentrate abroad during a decade’s long drought with projected water shortages starting next year. You would devastate a people’s culture and religion. You would destroy a valley with a mountain of toxic tailings that would cover the city of London 5’ deep. The project would use the same amount of water that would supply Tempe, AZ, with 180,000 residents. You would deprive Arizona of ½ billion dollars of revenue earmarked for educating our future students. Will you keep your word and leave Arizona alone?
Campaign Materials & Resources
In the run-up to Rio Tinto’s AGM (5 – 9 April), we ran an online campaign drawing attention to Rio Tinto’s failure to meet its commitments and to listen to community demands. Each day we shared and examples relating to four key areas – erasing Indigenous heritage, causing Water Stress, damaging the environment, and looting resources. On the day of the AGM itself, we encourage all our supporters to send a message to Rio Tinto.
Special thanks to Autonomous Design Group for designing the graphics!