Rio Tinto AGM 24: 7 People hold a banner outside the QE2 centre in London. The banner reads 500,000+ signatures to protect Jadar. Stop Rio Tinto mine in Serbia

Report on the Rio Tinto plc AGM, London, 4 April 2024


i) Two issues featured particularly prominently in this year’s Rio Tinto plc AGM: water and listening.

ii) The issues raised by friends and allies of London Mining Network all involved water in one way or another: contamination of water around its QMM ilmenite mine in Madagascar, water use and contamination around its Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the arid Gobi desert in Mongolia, water pollution at the Simandou iron ore operations in Guinea, the radioactive legacy of the Ranger uranium mine in Australia, and the potential for catastrophic overuse and pollution of water if the Jadar lithium project goes ahead in Serbia or the proposed Resolution copper mine is constructed at Oak Flat, Arizona, USA.

iii) The issue of listening went wider. The communities with whom London Mining Network co-operates very often feel unheard by the company, however much they speak. At the AGM it was clear that many retired company employees in Quebec, in Canada, feel the same way. The company’s officials are keen to stress how much they want to ‘engage’ with ‘stakeholders’ and how much they respect the communities affected or potentially affected by the company’s mining operations. But what is the point of seeking out communities’ views if the company is not going to listen? Former employees in Quebec have spent years explaining the hardship created for many pensioners by the company’s decision to stop the indexation of their pensions which had been in force for more than thirty years. Civil society organisations in Madagascar have repeatedly asked for information which the company has not provided. Indigenous Peoples and conservationists in Arizona have repeatedly explained how damaging the Resolution Copper project would be, but the company still presses on. Tens of thousands of people in Serbia have demonstrated against the company’s proposed Jadar lithium mine and the government cancelled the company’s licences, yet still the company wants to persuade people to change their minds. Why can the company not accept that No Means No? 

iv) Years ago, communities resisting Rio Tinto’s plans in the Philippines told us that the company’s efforts to convince them made them feel ‘dialogued to death’. It seems the company still approaches dissent with the same unyielding attitude.

v) In several cases, people who feel both harmed by the company’s decisions and unheard by its representatives have taken legal action. A recent lengthy article  in The Intercept about a legal case brought by people affected by the QMM mine in Madagascar mentions confidential reports by consultants about certain aspects of the company’s behaviour. The article states: ‘One of the confidential draft reports offered an unnamed company executive’s perspective on legal challenges: “Our legal strategy is straightforward. FUCK them. Frustrate; Undermine; Cost; Kick into long grass.”’ 

vi) Is this the attitude of a company which listens to and respects the concerns of people affected by its behaviour?

vii) The presentations by company Chair Dominic Barton and CEO Jakob Stausholm can be found on the company’s website.

viii) Further information on water around the QMM mine can be found on the Andrew Lees Trust UK blog. The legal case was covered by The Guardian and the mining news website. Information about Resolution Copper at Oak Flat is on the website of Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. More information about the Simandou iron ore project can be found on the website of Advocates for Community Alternatives

ix) Other recent press coverage includes issues of concern which were not raised at the AGM: a report on pollution around the company’s aluminium plant in Quebec, Canada, and the bauxite mine in the Brazilian Amazon which provides much of the feed for the Quebec plant, was published on the CBC website; the struggle to stop the Tamarack mine in Minnesota, USA, was covered by the Nibi Chronicles.

Company Chair’s address

1. Rio Tinto’s Chair Dominic Barton began the AGM by paying his respects to all Traditional Owners and First Nations people around the world who host Rio Tinto’s operations. He also called for a moment to remember the six people killed in a plane crash near Fort Smith in Canada earlier this year. Rio Tinto lost four colleagues from its Diavik diamond mine. The company is in touch with the families and the community at Fort Smith as they grieve for the relatives, colleagues and friends.

2. He introduced the Board, saying that changes continue to be made to improve the skills mix identified in the review done in June 2022. The Board will maintain focus on the four strategic objectives that CEO Jakob Stausholm laid out four years ago: to become best operator, to strive for impeccable ESG credentials, to excel in development and to deepen its social licence. Rio Tinto’s strong results in 2023 demonstrate progress towards these objectives, he said. Financial discipline has enabled Rio Tinto to invest in its business while delivering more attractive returns to shareholders. It is ready for the challenge of delivering the vast quantities of minerals needed for the energy transition, he said. Dominic Barton and other Board members have had the chance to visit fifteen Rio Tinto projects in the past twelve months and have been encouraged to see how commitment to ESG principles extends throughout the mining life cycle from exploration to closure. 

3. Technology and innovation are creating safer work places while decarbonising the company’s processes and value chains. The company is no longer simply setting targets to reduce its carbon footprint but taking action to deliver them. The challenge of decarbonising the world’s economies is immense. There is a large gap between what can currently be delivered and what is needed for the energy transition. This will require a significant research and development effort to find better ways of doing things. Rio Tinto has a significant role to play in closing the gap. It needs to improve operational performance, make stronger arguments for the importance of the mining industry and navigate the underlying tension between the environment and social needs.

4. The World Economic Forum recently published a report saying that no generation of mining leaders faced greater complexity, scale or speed of change. We will, for instance, need 700 million tonnes of copper in the next twenty years if we want to meet net zero targets for 2050. This is as much copper as humans have produced in a hundred thousand years of our history. We face a clear opportunity and challenge in this energy transition. The International Energy Association (IEA) says the world added 50% more capacity to generate renewable energy in 2023 than in 2022 and predicts the next five years will see the fastest growth yet but investment in renewable energy and infrastructure has been lagging. For the global energy system to meet net zero emissions by 2050 the IEA predicts investment will need to triple from current levels of just over one trillion dollars a year to four trillion dollars by the end of this decade [surely a quadrupling rather than a tripling?]. All this infrastructure requires the materials that Rio Tinto produces. Meanwhile, we are still experiencing traditional drivers of demand that are essential to so many aspects of our daily lives – phones, electric bikes, even the paint on our walls. People need Rio Tinto’s products but the public perception of the mining industry does not always reflect the importance of the industry to society. Mining is needed but certainly not wanted by all. “We must work to shape a better understanding of our industry,” he said.

5. As society’s ESG expectations evolve, tension remains between the social and environmental elements of ESG. At a global level, we know we need mining to help avert climate disaster but this reality is sometimes challenged at a local level. Even where governments are supportive, one of the biggest challenges is not the mining operation itself but the permitting process. This is a trend seen across other sectors, for example, the renewable energy sector. The mining industry has to work with stakeholders to strengthen trust, resolve conflicts and deepen social licence so it can rise to the physical challenge of the energy transition. An important part of this is engagement with civil society organisations. They provide valuable feedback about what is working well and what Rio Tinto needs to do better. The company has been encouraged to forge ahead with establishing nature and biodiversity targets. 

6. “We know we are not perfect,” he said. “Where there are challenges we need to keep getting around the table with our stakeholders to develop better ways of working together to address these.” We are living in turbulent times, he said, with a volatile geopolitical landscape, rapid technology changes, increasing polarisation, and an uncertain economic backdrop. This complex world requires complex solutions. But he said he looked to the future with optimism. There has never been greater demand for what Rio Tinto does and the quality of Rio Tinto’s people, partnerships, assets and technology gives him confidence that the company can deliver for all its stakeholders. Jakob, his executive team and all 53000 Rio Tinto colleagues have been doing a terrific job. The company will deliver what it says it will do.

Chief Executive’s address

7. After a short public relations video about Rio Tinto’s marvellous corporate culture, Chief Executive Office, Jakob Stausholm, spoke. He acknowledged and paid respect to the Traditional Owners and First Nations people hosting Rio Tinto operations around the world. [It is surely more important actually to respect Indigenous Peoples’ land rights and demands rather than paying lip-service to them in this way.] The company’s values of care, courage and curiosity are at the core of its culture journey, he said. Over the last few years Rio Tinto has been embedding culture change and shaping its strategy, using its four objectives and trying to find better ways to provide materials the world needs. Rio Tinto is at the heart of the energy transition, he said. There are also powerful traditional drivers of long-term demand. Emerging trends are opening up, giving Rio Tinto new opportunities to deliver value to shareholders. It can provide customers with the sustainable and traceable minerals they demand.

8. As a mining and processing company with a global footprint, he said, Rio Tinto can make use of these opportunities, working alongside its partners. It can help countries grow their economies and secure supplies of materials critical for renewables. It is finding ways to reach its targets on decarbonisation. Shifting to renewables is part of this. It is reimagining manufacturing through the development of low carbon technologies. The Metalco Joint Venture in Canada is producing recycled aluminium at scale. 

9. Rio Tinto is working closely with communities to improve in areas such as biodiversity and water management and helping countries reach their full capacity of economic development, he said. It is committed to listening, learning and striving to do better. At Simandou, Rio Tinto can provide high grade iron ore for green steel as well as help local people. It needs a strong social licence. Understanding of this is deepening across its teams. More and more, the company is finding mutual ground with stakeholders. It needs to continue listening to voices from communities and work closely with civil society to find how it can do better and build trust. Rio Tinto can be a miner that communities and governments choose to work with. 

Why Rio Tinto executives make enormous sums of money

10. Sam Laidlaw, Chair of the People and Remuneration Committee, then explained at some length why Rio Tinto executives get paid an awful lot of money.

Questions and answers

11. After this, the Chair opened the meeting to the floor (and the internet) for questions and answers.

Water management strategy

12. Councillor Doug McMurdo, Chair of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), representing investments of around £450 billion, said that LAPFF’s members understand that good ESG by companies improves financial performance and investor returns in the long term. He thanked Dominic Barton and colleagues for meeting with LAPFF on numerous occasions in the last six months to discuss Rio Tinto’s approach to water management. He said that Rio Tinto had clearly begun to take its water management strategy more seriously and was engaging stakeholders more in discussions about water management. 

13. But LAPFF’s discussions with the company had not yet reached a definition of what ‘independent’ water impact assessments are. Rio Tinto has made it clear that social licence to operate is a crucial aspect of its strategy and operations. Notwithstanding progress in establishing social licence since the Juukan Gorge incident, the company still has some work to do. Independent assessments are the only way to establish this social licence. Given that water is important for all of us in terms of global security in the face of climate change and that Rio Tinto has acknowledged it as important for its own security, what is Rio Tinto’s definition of an independent impact assessment? Will Rio Tinto commit to undertaking independent water impact assessments as agreed with its stakeholders at its mine sites, starting urgently with QMM and Oyu Tolgoi and then setting out a timeline for the rest of the mine sites in meaningful consultation with affected collaboration with stakeholders at those sites? Will Rio Tinto commit to sharing the consultants’ reports  – that being the full JBS and G and WSP water quality assessment reports for QMM on the Rio Tinto website? 

14. Dominic Barton replied that Rio Tinto has a very strong commitment to ensuring that it is using water resources carefully and properly. In 2023 it was the first mining company to disclose water usage and allocations on an interactive map of its sites, covering 66 facilities. It is doing its best to be as transparent as possible on water use at all its sites. 

15. Regarding the independent audit, the company’s view is that it needs independent groups to do assessments as it has been doing at QMM and at other sites, then making the results transparent for people to look at and criticise and see where the challenges and the issues are. Having a third party review of what the company has been doing with water and then allowing that to be disclosed and reviewed publicly is important. At QMM, the JBS and G study was a three year independent study on radiation that started in November 2019 and finished in October 2022. This was released for people to see, the conclusions were clear and there has been commentary on it from various groups. Rio Tinto aspires to focus on how it is using water and be the first to call out an issue if it sees it rather than waiting for someone else to discover it.

Indexed pensions in Quebec

16. A former employee of Rio Tinto [RTIT former CEO Bruce Grierson] said that the Chair would know who he was, and the Chair agreed. Bruce, who retired in 2020, questioned the operation of Rio Tinto’s ‘3Cs’ values – care, courage and curiosity – in the case of former employees in dispute with the company over the discontinued payment of pensions. The matter is before the courts as the former employees are suing the company for oppression. What is the nature of the 3Cs operating when former employees have tried to engage with the company without going to court? In 2021 Bruce was asked by other retirees to draft a history of the company’s Indexation Policy, which was designed to add shareholder value as well as providing some inflation protection for retirees. If the business was sufficiently profitable, pensions would be automatically indexed every two years. It was a simple, straightforward policy initiated in 1981. 

17. Rio Tinto purchased Bruce’s company in 1989. As the leader of the company, Bruce felt very well treated by Rio Tinto. He worked for Rio Tinto for another twelve years and everything was fine. The retirement policy was honoured. But in 2012 it was arbitrarily stopped. Bruce wrote to Mr Stausholm and said that he thought the decision should be revisited. He explained the history and why he thought it was a good policy and could not understand why it had been stopped. He received a polite answer from the company’s Chief People Officer which said that the company had no obligation to the retirees. Bruce wrote back objecting that this was not true. The 3Cs were already in operation, which should ensure that the company listens and ensures it has social licence. A dialogue began and the retirees negotiated with the company for several months, insisting that there was an obligation, with the policy in place for over 30 years. The company maintained it had no obligation. It had done no proper due diligence, had never obtained the CEO’s approval for stopping the indexation, had never considered whether the company was doing well or not when it stopped it. In fact it was making record profits. It never advised the retirees that it was changing the policy. This was all discussed before the retirees went to court. 

18. On June 22, 2022, Bruce received a letter saying that the company would not share any internal non-public company documentation. As a former executive, Bruce understood all about exhaustion policy. Rio Tinto is a Goliath and the retirees are David, and the retirees’ lawyers pointed that out, saying that Rio Tinto has such huge resources that the retirees would be silly to sue them. But a group of nine retirees decided that they had to sue the company. How can it be that the company would take advantage of retirees like that? So the retirees then took to the law courts. They have not been successful. The company tried to have the retirees dismissed as not having standing, but failed. The retirees forced the company to disclose documents. Bruce and colleagues are at loggerheads with a company that they worked for, respected and were usually on the same side of the fence. Where have the 3Cs come into play with respect to the retirees? The company was not perfect in the past, but the retirees and colleagues also tried to achieve social licence and act safely. This is not new. Bruce was involved in Africa and the company started schools and clinics, so this is not new. But the 3Cs are supposed to be something novel, showing that the company will take care of its people and have social licence. 

19. Bruce said he was very frustrated as the dispute has been going on for almost three years. It has been in the courts for 20 months and there will be many more to go, but when the trial takes place it is all going to come out in the open anyway so the company should listen to the retirees, accept the fact that it did not do an appropriate job looking back into its obligations and that it does have an obligation to the retirees. He asked that Jakob Stausholm answer the question.

20. Jakob Stausholm said he was very sad about this dispute. He said that Rio Tinto has an important business in Quebec which is the world’s largest producer of titanium slag. The company plays a very important role in that community and when such issues are raised, the company looks at them very seriously. It has responded in the way it thought was right. No pension scheme has been changed, some years Rio Tinto has indexed for inflation but it was a discretionary decision every year and the policy was discontinued in 2012. Jakob Stausholm said he went to Quebec and met with a number of the pensioners and Rio Tinto has tabled some counter-measures which management think are attractive. Bruce and colleagues have a different view and decided to take it to court, so it was difficult to discuss the dispute at the AGM. Peter Cunningham, Rio Tinto’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), is more deeply involved in it. It hurts Jakob Stausholm’s heart when Bruce says that this is compromising the 3Cs. Rio Tinto is trying to implement them but there are sometimes opposite views on things. Rio Tinto believes it is fully meeting its obligations, that it is doing this in a very thorough way. The speaker’s frustration hurts Jakob Stausholm’s heart because the speaker and the other pensioners have done a terrific job for the company, and the company wants harmony, but this does not mean it can fulfil any request. He said he hopes that the current resolution process will lead to the right outcome.

21. Company CFO Peter Cunningham added that the company sees that the pension plan is competitive and well managed. It wants to optimise the security of benefits and minimise the financial risks associated with the plan. It is fully funded by the company but the pension plan does not provide for indexation of benefits – this is a voluntary decision of the company. Rio Tinto has recently written to non-unionised plan members offering to enhance medical benefits for members and set up a temporary hardship fund for those who need it.

Unit costs

22. Shareholder Philip Clark asked a question about unit costs via the Lumi online platform which Dominic Barton read out. CFO Peter Cunningham spoke about a number of unpredictable factors that had increased the company’s overall unit costs in 2023. 

Tailings dams at Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold operations in Mongolia

23. Shareholder Richard Solly also asked a question via the Lumi platform.

“My question concerns operations at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. It is from Battsengel, a herder who lost livelihood through loss of access to his pasture and water resources. In July 2023, he saw the floor of tailings cell 2 of Oyu Tolgoi mine. He was told that a new floor was being constructed at 12-18 metres below ground on the bedrock but did not understand why the natural vegetation was still there when he visited in July. TC2 is in use now. He is asking for a guarantee that the current TC1 and TC2 of the Oyu Tolgoi mine have been built in compliance with the Rio Tinto’s own and international tailings dams standards along with documents proving such compliance.”

24. Dominic Barton replied that dealing with tailings and water usage at Oyu Tolgoi is significant for Rio Tinto and the company is monitoring it.

25. Bold Baatar, Chief Executive, Copper, said that Rio Tinto takes water scarcity in the Gobi Desert very seriously. Bold is from Mongolia and wants to make sure that the nomadic community around the mine has access to water. The company has dug 255 wells in the area since starting operations. The IFC [International Finance Corporation] and EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development], the lenders to the project, have appointed an independent expert and have done audits 18 times over the last decade since Rio Tinto has been there, and all these reports are public on Oyu Tolgoi’s website. There have been no major non-conformances and only one minor non-conformance related to a seepage at a bore hole about 60 metres outside the mining lease area. The company took immediate remedial actions and isolated it to make sure that the wells further into the herder community were not affected. The closest herder living near the mine site is about eight kilometres away. Bold said that the company could confirm through an independent monitor that there had been no impact on the quality of water. It is within international standards. 

26. As far as tailings are concerned, he said, Oyu Tolgoi adheres to Rio Tinto and ICMM [International Council on Mining and Metals] standards. There is an independent tailings executive, Clayton Walker, and his team make sure that operations have another set of eyes to look at them and ensure that standards are adhered to and are complying with ICMM. Every year Bold signs off for the product group to confirm that this is happening. The company is monitoring the situation and would be happy to sit down with Battsengel at Oyu Tolgoi to understand more about the details of his loss. The number of herders has increased since Rio Tinto started operations. The total camel population has increased by over 60,000 during that time, so there has not been a loss of nomadic pastures for herders and the company takes its partnership with the neighbouring eighteen herding families very seriously.

Resolution Copper, Arizona, USA

27. Back inside the meeting room, the Chair called on Roger Featherstone, Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, to speak.

28. Roger said: “I live in Tucson, Arizona, in the United States. I am here to ask a question about your proposed Resolution Copper project that would destroy Oak Flat, a Native American sacred site that is a recreational and ecological haven.

29. “Oak Flat is one of the few remaining desert riparian areas left in Arizona and is vital for the survival of many plants and animals. Your proposed block cave mine would replace this delicate and irreplaceable web of life with a crater 3.2 kilometre wide and 305 metres deep. It would dump 1.5 billion tons of toxic waste on the ground behind a 150 metre tall dam. It would damage over 60 square kilometres of land.  

30. “Your proposed project would use the same amount of water as a city of 150,000 people for the life of the mine.  

31. “Arizona is in the 24th continuous year of drought and is in the worst drought we’ve faced in 1,200 years. There simply is not enough water for your proposed mine and for communities, farmers, and our environment.

32. “As Rio Tinto admits, the technology to build this mine does not now exist and for a variety of reasons, the mine proposal is a failed experiment.

33. “You first proposed the Resolution Copper project 20 years ago in 2004. You planned to begin construction at Oak Flat in 2014 and to begin production in 2020. You now concede that it would be at least another ten years before you could begin mining at Oak Flat. 

34. “We’ve worked with an amazing coalition of citizens from all walks of life to stop this failed experiment to date and we are committed to continue to do so for as long as it takes. Your proposed mine is simply not compatible with life as we know and enjoy it in Arizona.

35. “Mining is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Your bromides that you must destroy Oak Flat to protect the world from climate change don’t make sense from a technical, economic, or social standpoint.

36. “For all of these reasons, you would be doing all of us, especially your shareholders, a favour by abandoning your Resolution Copper proposal now. Walk away now before you do any more harm to your reputation. As we’ve discussed many times, if you really want to produce copper from Arizona to combat climate change you have other options.”

37. “So, when will you announce that you’ll be abandoning the Resolution Copper proposed mine?” 

38. Dominic Barton replied that Rio Tinto had had many ongoing dialogues with local communities including First Nations groups and this had helped reshape the project to avoid ancestral sites, sites of cultural significance, seeps and springs, and sites where medicinal plants are gathered. It has been challenging trying to engage with the two Chairs of the San Carlos Apache Tribe as they do not want to talk to the company, but Rio Tinto has been able to talk with the other ten groups. The company is listening very carefully to members of the San Carlos Council and community. The project represents potentially 25% of US copper demand but would have to be done in a very careful way, respecting cultural rights and traditions and being careful how water is used.

39. Bold Baatar thanked Roger for meeting with the company. “Water in Arizona is something we deeply care about” and the company has been providing over seven billion gallons, about 430 million gallons of water per year to Arizona agriculture to help it manage through the drought. [Presumably this would be more difficult to do if the mine had already opened and was already using enormous quantities of water.] Climate change is impacting many communities. Rio Tinto takes seriously all Roger’s comments around obtaining social licence. The US has the leading environmental standards in the world, has the most stringent standards, and Rio Tinto has been in discussion with the US Forest Services [USFS] for over ten years. The company does not yet have a permit to build the mine but based on USFS recommendations and consultations with eleven Native American tribes it has modified its mining plans and moved the proposed location of the tailings dam, and is contributing permanently to protection of numerous other sites of cultural significance to the Apache, such as Apache Leap. Rio Tinto is awaiting a decision on the Environmental Impact Statement. It has been public on the website. It is over 7000 pages and there have been ten years of consultation with the community, so it is a very transparent process. The company expects a decision patiently.

Capping non-executive directors’ fees

40. Jamil Bakhir, a private shareholder, asked about the proposal to increase the cap on the fees of non-executive directors. Why not reduce the number of directors? Why have fifteen? Why not ten? Executive directors run the show. Why have so many independent directors?

41. Dominic Barton replied that the Board is going through a transition and the company does not intend to keep fifteen directors. It aims to have twelve, but six new people are being brought in and the company wants the most experienced people on the Board as it goes through the transition. Skill mixes are needed to provide the right governance. The last time it looked at the cap was in 2013. The Board does reviews every three years.

42. Sam Laidlaw reinforced the point that there is a transition and the number of directors will go down. Directors’ responsibilities and fees have increased since 2013 which is why a higher cap is needed.

Sexual harassment, bullying and racism in Rio Tinto

43. Another online question was read out from Philip Clark. He thanked the company for publishing data in its Annual Report relating to its My Voice programme. This reflects well on the company. But the data raise some concern. The number of reported cases has doubled in the past five years. This may show trust among employees in the process but the percentage of cases which are substantiated remains doggedly high. Is this a leading indicator of problems in the future? 

44. Dominic Barton replied that the cultural change process has been a very significant initiative, led by Jakob Stausholm and with Liz Broderick’s report released in early 2022. This outlined major issues around sexual harassment, bullying and racism in the company. It is an encouraging sign that more people feel able to discuss these things. “But if in two years I am saying the same thing to you I am going to be very embarrassed,” he said. The company does not want to see the same things happening in two years time. But Liz hoped more people would come forward with complaints. Dominic Barton said he hoped the company was learning from this as it moved through the process. The company is analysing what the complaints and concerns are, what happens to complaints when they are made and how quickly they are worked through.

45. Jakob Stausholm added that there is no doubt that when you try to get more psychological safety in your culture, people feel comfortable coming forward with issues. There are clear indicators that the company has moved in the right direction. But where is the end goal? The company has to remain humble, keep on searching to uncover things, which is why Liz Broderick will carry out another discovery tour where she will talk in safe rooms with Rio Tinto staff, and see what more can be learnt. Culture change takes a number of years. When you get the right culture you will perform better as a company. There is no way back.

The QMM ilmenite mine in Madagascar

46. Yvonne Orengo, Director of Andrew Lees Trust, a charity that has been serving Southern Madagascar for nearly thirty years, said she wished to acknowledge and mark the deaths of three Malagasy community members who were protesters shot dead whilst participating in a protest related to the QMM mine in Madagascar last October: Msr Damy, Mme Francia Rasolonirina and Msr Jean Salomon Andriamamonjy lost their lives in what appear to be extrajudicial killings. The absence of a public inquiry and a complete media blackout will have left the bereaved families without closure and there are many questions about the human rights defenders policy at QMM. “Thank you for this moment to acknowledge these losses,” she said, and paused for a moment in silence.

47. She went on, “This speaks to other comments which have already been made about the 3Cs.” Echoing Jakob Stausholm’s earlier comments in response to questions about indexed pension schemes, she said, “It hurts my heart that I have to be back here again raising questions, and the conflicts are burning and pertinent because they also relate to people’s extreme worries about the degradation of water quality around the QMM mine, which our organisation and others, civil society members who have reached out to be listened to by Rio Tinto, have raised for five years about high uranium and high lead levels in water downstream of the QMM mine, 50 and 40 times respectively the WHO safe drinking water guidelines, and these have largely not been addressed.” Concerns have regularly been dismissed, with uranium levels said to be natural background, water contamination as simply our interpretations. 

48. The company has recently employed the JBS and G report that was mentioned earlier to assert that there is no concern for health risks. “However, I want to share with the investors here, and the shareholders, that this report has been reviewed by an expert industry specialist in the subject” and it is not conclusive as Dominic Barton had suggested – far from it – and the independent analysis is available for anyone who wants to read it. There is insufficient evidence and data to support the company’s claims regarding radiation exposure, “so neither Rio Tinto nor we can be sure there are no health risks.” The water report that was shared earlier caused concern as there were two sets of data. The report has been shared “but we do not even know which data set is correct.” It is like a double accounting problem. Accountants in the room will surely be concerned about this. It is all part of the ongoing transparency problem around water governance at QMM. 

49. “What we do know,” Yvonne continued, “because after four years of pressing the company we finally managed to get pre-mining water data, is that there is a significant increase in uranium and lead levels from upstream to downstream after the mine began operations.” Most importantly, these worrying levels of lead have been found in the bodies, in the blood, of local people, and they exceed WHO thresholds. These are people who are using water and natural resources downstream of the mine. The levels of lead pose a serious risk to health and they require attention. Lead is especially harmful to young children, causing permanent brain damage, cognitive and behavioural disorders, which, on top of the poor nutrition they are already suffering because of deepening poverty levels, presents a serious threat to a whole generation of Antanosy citizens and to the Antanosy region as a whole. The company now faces a lawsuit – it is in the news today –   from human rights firm Leigh Day, brought by the local people who are seeking accountability for the damage caused to their local environment and to their health.”   

50. Yvonne went on to ask, “Could you please explain to the communities, to us, and to the investors present, why you have failed to address the elevated uranium and lead levels around QMM that we have raised consistently for at least five years? Do you have a comment about the lawsuit which is now faced by the company as a result of this failure to address these issues?

51. “Following up on LAPFF’s request to you, we also ask you, as Malagasy civil society have done for the last four years, to please commit to independent audits of water, and independent water impact assessment and the remedy that might come out of that, and please do not tell me that everything is in the public domain, because the WRG report on fish deaths has been deliberately withheld – we have been asking for it for two years – and there is not the transparency that is spoken about here.”

52. Dominic Barton said that he had visited the QMM site last year and spent time with NGOs, fishing communities and others to understand what the issues are. He said he wanted to acknowledge and appreciate Yvonne mentioning the three people who died at the site during the confrontations around elections. The JBS and G study was a three year independent study on radiation, done by international environmental experts from Australia. They concluded – and this has been published – that local food sources, air and dust are safe from a radiological perspective and the company agrees. “We do commit to understanding more about what is happening and then publishing that” so that others can comment on it.

53. Sinead Kaufman, Chief Executive, Minerals, added that on water quality, Rio Tinto had recently published a simpler report on water quality, sharing data on uranium, lead and other elements, the quality upstream of the mine, at the mine and downstream of the mine. The company’s recent analysis had shown no discernible difference in the quality impact upstream and downstream of the mine. All the samples that were taken were analysed independently and outside the country. That report is available on the company’s website. QMM has tried hard over the past year to be simpler and more transparent in its communications. All the water reports are published online and there is a dashboard that is reported monthly. On the fish report, last year there had been a discussion at the AGM. The company had an independent South African consultant looking at the reasons for the fish deaths at QMM. The report outcome was inconclusive, without direct evidence of any heavy metals contamination that might have caused fish deaths. The recommendation was to do more work on the receiving environment and do a much more comprehensive report on aquatic health. The company is now scoping this and will share data when it is conclusive.

54. Yvonne said that it is not transparent to withhold the WRG report when the company had promised it both to Andrew Lees Trust and to investors. 

The Simandou iron ore project in Guinea

55. Jonathan Kaufman, from Advocates for Community Alternatives in West Africa, asked about the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.  

56. He said: “Rio’s consortium is entering this project on the heels of the Winning Consortium, which has already alienated communities by polluting water bodies, taking land without adequate compensation, and ruining farmers’ fields.  It has worried civil society groups by failing to disclose project documents and postponing key environmental and social management studies until the project is underway and making claims about green steel without being able to show in any way what arrangements are in place to actually deliver that. So far, Rio’s limited record is not encouraging. You started work on your part of the project before the updated environmental and social impact assessments were approved. You still haven’t made public your studies, assessments, and management plans. We have heard no credible plan for ensuring that high environmental and social standards on the project infrastructure components that you will be sharing with Winning will be respected.  And we know that the mining project will have devastating impacts on water sources in the Simandou range that feed the Niger River and protected Ramsar wetland sites, among other major water bodies.

57. “ I would like to suggest a few concrete steps that you could take to give communities confidence that things will be better with Rio Tinto, and I would like to hear whether these are things that you can commit to.

1) Agree to an independent, transparent, and participatory assessment and audit of water impacts and mitigation measures.

2) Commit to working with communities to design a project grievance mechanism applicable to all elements of the project, with procedures and scales of compensation that are transparent and advertised in advance, with an independent mechanism available in case of escalation.

3) Practice radical transparency.  Publish your contracts, your Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, your Environmental and Social Management Plans, your environmental conformity certificates and other authorisations, and your environmental management implementation reports proactively, without waiting for the government or blaming the government for delay.

Finally: Join a credible, independent, human rights-based audit scheme and commit to publishing all audit reports.

58. “I would like to hear your reaction to those proposals and whether these are things that you can agree to. Thank you.”

59. Dominic Barton replied that he had visited Guinea with [independent non-executive directors] Dean Dalla Valle and Ben Wyatt to see the Simandou development. They flew over the proposed rail line and visited the mine site, neighbouring communities and natural forest. They need to worry about the western chimpanzee and elephant groups. They spent time with four NGOs, taking half a day to hear their views. It is extremely important to Rio Tinto to adhere to ESG principles. The NGOs expect Rio Tinto, even if only a partner with others, to adhere to its own high standards and want a dialogue with the company about how this will work. The Rio Tinto Board members were impressed with the NGOs that were on the ground looking at these issues. The company is focused on water in the mine site and surrounding areas. Communities and dispute mechanisms – there is a lot that can be learnt from from the company’s other operations, for instance the tripartite council in Mongolia. Rio Tinto has been very clear with its partners about the importance of ESG, including safety, human rights, the age of when people work given the poverty and lack of education in the area, and in-migration, so they are very concerned about the community impacts of the project.

60. Dean Dalla Valle added that the project is in a unique and isolated area. It would take a regular fuel tanker of the sort you could see on the roads of the UK six days to reach the mine from the port. It will be transformational for the people of the area. The team working on the project very aware of the potential water impacts and how to manage them in perpetuity. There is one particularly sensitive area there. Without mining, the country may not be able to protect the areas needing protection. The level of environmental concern – team showed us another area, Boyboy forest, and they are looking at protecting it and putting more measures in place. Our team are working with regulators. The Board members met with civil society organisations on the last day of their visit, spent a good hour with them and listened to them, and Dean Dalla Valle thought that the company is very aligned with what they want it to achieve with this project. He was confident they will achieve what people want them to achieve. Nation-changing infrastructure is going in and the project will be recognised as making a major difference for Guinea. 

61. Dominic Barton said that the company would follow up with Jonathan Kaufman on his four specific recommendations. It would be helpful for the company to be able to work with NGOs. He said that the Board members had left Simandou not feeling that all was great but they felt good about the process. He thanked Jonathan for his ideas.

Climate transition plan

62. Louisiana Salge – asking on behalf of EQ Investors, a UK based wealth manager with sustainable investment expertise. It is part of the Climate Action 100+ collaborative engagement group. Rio Tinto had taken a positive step three weeks ago by committing to enhance its disclosure on the emission reduction plan associated with the scope 3 emissions linked to iron ore. This was a result of some of the shareholder pressure and is a positive step. The new information will help investors better understand the preparedness of Rio Tinto in respect of mounting material climate risks.

63. Louisiana said she was seeking more clarity on Rio Tinto’s climate transition plan, focusing on future proofing its commodities portfolio. To meet the Paris Agreement many technologies will require significant amount of future facing commodities, with the IEA suggesting a quadrupling of current requirements by 2040. This is a strategic opportunity and Rio Tinto can play an important role in doing this responsibly. The strategic report confirms the company’s desire to grow its involvement in the minerals enabling the energy transition but its current forward looking disclosures do not specify plans of specific targets. Will Rio Tin to commit to providing greater detailed articulation of its strategy towards future facing commodities including delivered and planned long term capital allocation to, and partnerships in, these areas?

64. Dominic Barton replied that Rio Tinto is committed to playing a key role in the energy transition. Its strategy is completely aligned on this. All the commodities it produces including steel are aligned. It has set aggressive targets for scope 1 and 2 emissions for 2030 and 2050. The company has to be learning and humble about it but he said he did not know of a mining company that has made the commitment Rio Tinto has made to the renewable transition. The company has a range of initiatives on scope 3 emissions with its consumers (the steel companies), suppliers and shipping, so this is fundamental to what it does. Remuneration policy will be based on how well executives do on decarbonisation. This came from management not the Board – management wanted teeth in the target. The strategic focus is on minerals for energy transition and then decarbonisation.

65. Jakob Stausholm added that the company definitely wants to commit to radical transparency but it can only do that with information on which it has clarity. What it is doing on decarbonising is good business. The company would not be credible on producing minerals for the transition if it were not pushing the boundaries on decarbonising its existing operations. The biggest scope 3 emitters are the steelmakers, and the company has made a commitment to transparency on its research funding on this. Rio Tinto’s customers in China and Japan are keen to decarbonise and want Rio Tinto’s help with this. Rio Tinto wants to push radical transparency, but it cannot lay out a precise roadmap to 2050 as it is investigating ten times more than what will actually happen: some research and development projects will have positive results and others will not. Last year Rio Tinto had the first mine site in the world – Boron in California – where they could say that the site was running 100% on biofuels. Now only biofuels are being used at the Kennecott site. But the company cannot change everything as there are not enough biofuels. Changing manufacturing processes is crucial and the company is making progress. The company is underwriting the biggest wind and the biggest solar project in Australia, which is moving the dial in Australia. The company needs to make rational decisions but it is absolutely committed and wants to be a pacesetter in the industry on this.

The Jadar lithium project in Serbia

66. Sofija Stefanovic spoke on behalf of a coalition of groups resisting Rio Tinto’s lithium project in western Serbia, and also as a PhD researcher at the University of Cambridge. Her questions, and those of her colleague Nina, are rooted in academic research as well as lived experience. 

67. “I know the Jadar project has not been mentioned today, despite your ongoing activities, including your representative in Serbia announcing the company is now actively campaigning to revive the Jadar project just this week, a few days ago on national TV. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been saying no to the project for years so the current campaign to revive it through the media as well as significant investments in the country, both different communities for local communities but also otherwise, after the project’s cancellation and following the citizens resistance, it sounds like the opposite of listening, which you have been talking to us about a lot today, and the opposite of care, frankly. It is perceived as undemocratic and as social engineering of acceptance, and it also threatens to stoke social conflict. I’d say if you were actually listening, you’d hear that the answer was a firm no, and it has been for a while, coming from many different groups in Serbia and internationally. 

68. “So my question – and then I’ll move on to a question that remains unanswered from the local groups – is, in line with your ESG and the 3C commitments, why do you not accept that you have lost trust in Serbia? Why do you not take the responsibility for this flop, repair the impacted land and withdraw, as the local groups, alongside allies, have been asking you to do for a while? 

69. “I move to the questions from the local groups that remain unanswered despite these being asked at many events organised by the company as well as other stakeholders including the government. Why had you started buying up land and properties in the Jadar valley before receiving the necessary permits and project approval? In light of the statements made by government official alluding to corruption, had any promises been made to you around the project going ahead, ahead of time?”

70. Dominic Barton replied that the company had heard the concerns that people have about the project. “We don’t believe that the project has to come at the cost of the natural environment and the region’s agricultural industries. We think there is significant potential for the country. We have been listening, talking to 3000 different people to hear more views of where they are, but I would just underscore all of this by saying, it is ultimately up to the people and the government of Serbia as to whether we would be permitted to do anything.”

71. Sinead Kaufman said, “We firmly believe that the Jadar project, which will be an underground lithium mine, built to the highest environmental standards, international standards both from the EU and outside the EU is possible to develop without compromising on the wellbeing of the environment and the region. We completed environmental impact assessments as part of the permitting process many years ago and we did not publish those reports because the permits were annulled by the Serbian government, and we fully respect that decision. We’ve really been doing two things since that time. We’ve been really working to engage with as many people as will speak to us in all walks of life in Serbia, to really understand and listen to their concerns and also to provide them with information on the project, because we never really had the opportunity to explain what the project will be as part of that permitting process, because the permits were cancelled before that time. The second thing we’ve been doing is publishing as much information as we can on our website and also sharing that, both locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, to explain what the project would be if it is built, and really taking that information on board as well. So we remain committed to continuing to engage with the Serbian people, with civil society and also with the government and stakeholders, to look at the merits of the project. As the Chairman has said, it will be ultimately for the Serbian people to decide. We believe it is still worth looking deep and hard at the project to see how it could be developed responsibly, for the benefit of the people of Serbia.

72. Sofija repeated her concern that this was social engineering and asked that the question about buying up land and properties be answered.

73. Jakob Stausholm said that the company had bought a lot of land when it had the licences and then two years ago the licences were annulled, and that is the reason the company owns a lot of the land.

74. Nina Djukanovic said that she worked as a colleague of Sofija. Nina is a researcher at the University of Oxford and has spent the last few years working with the local community in solidarity with them and other activist groups. 

75. “In your initial speech,” Nina said, “you stressed the tension that you see between the social and environmental issues and the permitting process as one of the main challenges towards tackling climate change. We heard a lot about the importance of critical raw materials and the role that Rio Tinto sees itself as having. In the context of lithium in Serbia this is very important because you continue to talk about this in the context of the green transition. But in fact you are creating a false binary between climate change and protecting the environment because the local groups in the Jadar valley are living in close relationship with their environment and you are saying that they are going to decide, but they have already decided multiple times. I appreciate that you have talked to anyone who is willing to talk to you and you mentioned about 3000 people. May I remind you that in the protests we have seen more than 100,000 people at the height of the protest in autumn and winter 2020 and 2021, across more than 50 Serbian cities, blocking highways, roads and bridges for several weeks, finally, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the project. 

76. “Why do you continue to engage with this? Why do you continue to promote this narrative, which, frankly, is a very narrow understanding of the energy transition which does not take into account anything regarding justice and anything regarding the local rights. The locals have rejected the mine and to suggest, as some representatives of your company in Serbia have, and as you have now, that rejection of the projects somehow means ignoring the importance of tackling climate change, is a gross distortion of reality on the ground where people are protecting their right to have a different sustainable future that is based on their relationship with the land and on the clean water, air and soil. 

77. “So my question is, when are you going to acknowledge that Rio Tinto is one of the most polluting companies historically and that the mining industry is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss globally, and the government data in Serbia have shown that carbon emissions from mining and pollution are projected to rise dramatically, and a few wind turbines and solar panels are not going to change that? Are you going to acknowledge that and why do you continue this greenwashing narrative despite the clear rejection from the local population and the wider activist groups both in Serbia and elsewhere?”

78. Dominic Barton said that Rio Tinto had not been able to put out a lot of information. Nina had mentioned the impact assessment. Not all the information that should be out there is out there. The company needs to make sure that all the information the company has is available so people can understand the project. The input we heard affected the project design. But it will be up to the people and government of Serbia to decide whether or not to do the project.

Uranium in Australia

79. Andy Whitmore, Co-chair of London Mining Network, said he had a question about the Ranger uranium mine but that before asking it he wanted to comment on energy transition minerals, given that the company was stressing the issue so much. He said it is absolutely necessary to ensure that we are dealing with the climate crisis and it is good there is so much shareholder concern about it and that the company is addressing issues around carbon. But it is only one crisis amongst many. There is the biodiversity crisis, land issues, and, as heard today, associated water issues. The International Resources Panel released its updated Global Resources Outlook earlier this year, which looked at the expansion of resources including metals, and it is an exponential growth.  This is not just to do with the energy transition. If the ‘sustainable’ part of ‘sustainable development’ means anything, it has to consider the idea that minerals are part of a wider problem. The Chair had mentioned circular economy. Oil and gas companies are thinking about how to phase out oil and gas, but mining is still part of the problem because of these significant multiple crises. Maybe the Board’s strategic thinking needs to consider how the company will stop focusing mainly on primary production, which is what most of the complaints in the AGM have been concerned with, and how to move safely into a circular economy.

80. He then asked a question about the Ranger uranium mine. “In previous years I have raised issues around the Ranger uranium mine in the Kakadu National Park in Australia, which is operated by Rio Tinto’s subsidiary ERA, where the focus is now on closure and rehabilitation.

81. “I obviously want to start by acknowledging the announcement just before the AGM that ERA has appointed Rio Tinto to manage the Ranger Rehabilitation Project. Mirrar representatives, traditional representatives, in Australia have recognised the greater capacity this should bring to rehabilitation, and it appears this is consistent with Rio Tinto’s previous commitments to continued funding of the necessary rehabilitation work.

82. “However, it is still a concern there that ERA remains the primary corporate decision maker on the nearby Jabiluka project. Despite explicit opposition from the Mirarr people, ERA has recently applied for a formal extension of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease.

83. “Does Rio Tinto stand by previous commitments to respect the wishes of the Mirarr people, and will you commit to working with the Traditional Owners and others in civil society to ensure Jabiluka is permanently protected?”

84. Dominic Barton said he was looking forward to reading the report by the International Resources Panel. It will be very difficult to do the energy transition without copper. There is going to be a need for copper – three times more copper is needed in an electric vehicle than in an oil driven vehicle. The company is looking closely at recycling and the circular economy. It has launched the Metalco initiative to help understand more about this, particularly in North America on the aluminium side. The company is very keen on looking at urban mining but it has to be realistic about the gap, the timeframe, because there is also the need for a just transition. “We can turn off all the taps, but what does that do in terms of a just transition?” he asked.

85. Kellie Parker, CEO of Rio Tinto’s Australian operations, said she had had the honour of walking on Mirrar country, had seen the mining lease at Jabiluka and seen the deep connection to culture and country that the Mirrar people have. She had worked with the Mirrar people to step in to support ERA with the rehabilitation of Ranger. What is important in the project is water. Mirrar people walk with bare feet and when you have mined uranium it is important that you can ensure that people can walk safely on country with bare feet. Kellie said she was really committed to ensuring that the rehabilitation is completed to the standard that is required at Ranger. Working with the Mirrar people around Jabiluka, there is a Care and Maintenance Agreement across the top of the lease and it has a veto right in it. The ERA Board decided that when the lease expires on 11 August this year the veto right is maintained so they applied for an extension of that lease to ensure that the new lease has a veto right in it. Quite a lot of work now needs to happen with the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth Government to ensure that the cultural understanding is mapped so that not only the tangibles but the intangibles around Jabiluka are understood and a decision about the protection of Jabiluka can be made, which the company supports.

86. Andy Whitmore pointed out that the company has made commitments on Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) at Jabiluka so it would be good to ensure they follow up on those commitments. Regarding just transition, we need to think about what kind of transition we need. A lot of IEA statistics are based on assumptions.

Air pollution and its effects on human health

87. Gabriel Vogt, from ShareAction, said he was speaking on behalf of the Longterm Investors in People’s Health Programme at ShareAction. He said that LIPH is a coalition of 45 investors with over five trillion dollars in assets under management. His question related to Rio Tinto’s action on air quality. Worldwide, air pollution is the leading environmental cause of death and disease, killing at least seven million people annually. As ShareAction explains in its recent investor briefing Clearing the Air, air pollution is not only physically harmful but also places financial risk on companies like Rio Tinto and their shareholders. He noted that in the Rio Tinto Sustainability Fact Book there is extensive disclosure of toxic air pollutants. The additional disclosure of fine particulate matter, PM 2.5, goes a step further than some other mining and metals companies. LIPH also recognised the establishment of multiyear air quality improvement projects at many of Rio Tinto’s operational sites. But more progressive action must be taken to protect the world from these severe impacts. Forward thinking companies are starting to recognise that their responsibility extends beyond complying with existing regulations. LIPH would like to see Rio Tinto seize the opportunity to set the bar high amongst its peers and become a global leader in tackling air pollution. Could Rio Tinto commit to meeting with the LIPH group to discuss this further?

88. Dominic Barton said that the company would be very happy to meet. The matter is discussed a lot by sustainability committees at the company’s various sites and it would be good to learn what more LIPH thinks the company could do.

Community relations in Madagascar

89. Stephen Power, from Jesuits in Britain, a trust within the Catholic Church in Britain, asked about QMM’s work in Madagascar. He noted that community relations there are at a very low ebb. He said he understood that Rio Tinto is now employing consultants from London to address some of this. Part of the problem in dealing with local communities around the world is presumably that scientific data, technical data, is not easily accessible to people who do not have much technical education. This raises suspicions and creates hostility. How is the involvement of consultants from London going to improve situation? What methods will they use?

90. Dominic Barton said that a number of different groups were helping the company. From London, some of that is on the research side. Rio Tinto does draw on intl experts including from South Africa, Australia and the UK, but there is also a lot of engagement locally. People in Madagascar tell the company that they need it to explain information in a way that is useful for the local community. There is a lot of dialogue with local community groups near the mine site.

91. Sinead Kaufman added that the company had tried hard at QMM to listen to everybody and explain to people what the operation is about and invite people to come and visit. The company has been using support consultants on environment, water quality and engagement. It has improved the transparency around its website and how people have access to information. The company also wants to improve the education and understanding that people will have in the local community of what the mine is and what the quality and monitoring systems are. She said she was not sure which consultants Stephen was talking about but would be happy to meet Stephen at the end of the meeting to get more specific information. To Sinead’s knowledge, the company is not using consultants in the communities to engage with people but it is getting advice from everybody it can.

92. Stephen Power said he had been referring to the University of London. He asked whether, if community relations around QMM were better, this would have enabled the publication of the WRG report. He said he understood that the unresolved nature of that report could lead the company to think it would be misunderstood, but this was a product of poor community relations.

93. Sinead Kaufman said that the company had heard very clearly that it needs to improve communication and it is doing a lot of work on that front through its communities team in Madagascar and it will continue to do that. She repeated that she could discuss consultants after the AGM but on the WRG report it clearly stated that the data are inconclusive and that the company needs to do more work. The company has already commissioned the additional work that it needs to do, which is a much more comprehensive study on aquatic health rather than a point in time incident where clear data cannot be obtained. The company wants to make sure it can provide the right information and the right science to the community and help people to understand what that science means.

More on pensions in Canada

94. There was a further discussion of the disputed pension indexation policy in Canada, in which it was noted by a retiree that the average annual pension income is around 32,000 Canadian dollars, or £18,000, which she said is not a generous amount, and is losing value over time with the ending of indexation. Dominic Barton repeated that the company has a different view from the retirees on this matter. He said he was willing to discuss the facts with the questioner. Retiree RTIT former CEO Bruce Grierson added his voice, stating again that the company had stonewalled the retirees and it was very frustrating. Dominic Barton said he was willing to follow up on where the stonewalling might be occurring.

Will the company actually pay attention to those it harms?

95. Yvonne Orengo added that communities feel very similar frustrations to the retirees, especially those who have had to resort to legal action to get the company to pay attention after trying very hard through civil society action to discuss matters with the company. “That level of frustration needs to be registered by investors,” she said, “because it is all very calm and lovely in these meetings but actually those feelings that are being expressed there are being felt in many many places around the world – in Serbia, in Mongolia, in Madagascar” as well as the retirees. People in the communities in Madagascar are living on less than two dollars a day, so £18,000 a year would be quite good for them, she said.

And on that telling note, the meeting came to an end.