The London Metal Exchange

Last week, London Mining Network (supported by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)) have filed a landmark legal action at the UK High Court against the London Metal Exchange (LME or Exchange). We’re arguing that, by enabling the global sale of ‘dirty metals’, the Exchange is in breach of UK anti-money laundering and proceeds of crime legislation. The case details the LME’s trading of metal from environmentally devastating Grasberg Mine mine in West Papua, Indonesia. If successful, this case will force the LME to revisit the rules under which it lists metal for trading on its Exchange. This in turn will force metal producers to adapt their mining practices if they want to keep being able to access this platform which is essential for them to reach customers and to sell their products; in sum: to access capital. In this case specifically, the mine’s American and Indonesian operators would have to cease exploitative mining practices which harm the environment and indigenous communities if they want their product to remain listed on the Exchange.

With GLAN, we argue that the copper derived from the mine in question is “criminal property” as it is produced in circumstances that would breach UK criminal law if they were to occur in the UK. Failure by the LME to exclude these illicit commodities triggers liability under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002), which requires the Exchange to immediately identify and halt trade of these metals, and provides an unhindered gateway for these tainted goods to enter consumer supply chains. The legal action will have implications for other companies whose mining operations are linked to environmental crimes overseas accessing the Exchange.

In West Papua indigenous communities are suffering the effects of mining waste pollution from the Grasberg mine being dumped into the water sources that they rely on for basic needs like drinking, cooking and bathing. Over 200,000 tonnes of toxic mining waste, known as ‘tailings’ are thrown into local rivers every day. This practice is considered so harmful to the environment that it is subject to an almost universal ban across the globe. West Papua remains an exception, as one of the few places where it is still practiced, at the cost of both the environment and the indigenous people inhabiting the region of the mine.

West Papuans have seen the rivers that are central to their way of life, for fishing and navigating, disappear; sedimentation resulting from toxic mining waste is causing widespread health problem for the community. Skin diseases and other health conditions from the heavy metal pollution in the water is causing suffering to the whole community but children and the elderly are more at risk. Indigenous communities have witnessed West Papua’s forests, which provides their food, gradually disappear under mounds of mining waste.

The environmental harms in West Papua highlighted in this case are symptomatic of a deeper systemic problem across the world. GLAN has identified similar problematic patterns with mining corporations operating in Brazil, Peru, Guinea and the Russian Federation to name only a few.