Anglo American Plc is a British multinational mining company based in London, with a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and in the FTSE 100 Index. It also has a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, reflecting the company’s South African origins where it was formed in 1917. Anglo American is the fifth biggest mining company in the world, with a value of over $55 billion in 2020.
It has 56 operations in 15 different countries, mainly in Southern Africa, South America and Australia. The largest producer of platinum globally, Anglo American is also a major producer of diamonds as the majority owner of the De Beers group while its other commodities include copper, nickel, iron ore and metallurgical (low-ash, low-sulphur and low-phosphorus) coal.
The company’s motto is “Re-imagining mining to improve people’s lives,” yet its operations do the exact opposite by reducing water availability in water-scarce regions, infringing on indigenous people’s land rights and damaging ecosystems. This has resulted in much criticism and opposition from communities directly affected by its operations. Below we provide a brief summary of the main struggles that LMN is currently involved with.
Source: Anglo American 2021 factsheet
The Cerrejón coal mine is jointly owned by Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. The giant open-pit mine is located in La Guajira, northern Colombia, where it has displaced and continues to displace indigenous Wayuu and African descent communities. Local communities have often been relocated and face multiple issues as a result, including loss of their livelihood. Meanwhile many of the alternative economic projects set up with Cerrejón funding have failed, leaving people without adequate incomes. The mining operations have also severely damaged the natural environment such that local people fear the land will never recover even after mining stops. This includes destruction of local watercourses which have exacerbated conflicts over water as local communities report not having enough water. Additionally, pollution and dust from the coal mine has caused the contamination of water supplies and the air.
With increasing pressure on companies to take climate action, Anglo American is divesting from coal and therefore selling its share in Cerrejón to Glencore. While a shift away from coal is desirable, Anglo American must not be allowed to simply sell on its responsibility for the damage already caused by the Cerrejón mine. This includes the consequences from the diversion of the Bruno river and the eviction of the Tabaco community in 2001 who are still waiting for redress.
Minas Rio, Brazil
Anglo American’s operations in Minas Rio in Minas Gerais state have been criticised for being imposed on local communities and for water pollution caused by mining waste spills. Additionally, the project includes a large tailings dam which poses a high risk to communities living downstream – a fact of which they are even more painfully aware after the 2015 Samarco dam disaster and the 2019 Brumadinho dam disaster, both in the same state of Minas Gerais. A recent request to heighten the dam has further raised concerns about the risk to people living nearby.
Anglo American’s exploration plans in Amazonia are in danger of infringing on indigenous people’s land rights, particularly as the Bolsonaro presidency has reduced the protection of the Amazon and indigenous rights. At multiple instances when the company was asked if it was committed to respect such rights, it only committed to seeking free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), not to actually obtaining it before starting operations.
Anglo American’s operations in Chile have seriously impacted water availability in a region which has been experiencing a megadrought for a decade. The Los Bronces Integrado project has contributed to the destruction of glaciers, thus impacting the most important water reserves for the life of the country and the region. Meanwhile, the El Soldado mine has greatly impeded the ability of the nearby El Melón community to access drinking water, being now dependent on truck tanks for their water supply as a consequence of Anglo American’s over-exploitation of the water basins. Additionally, there are reports of arsenic contamination in the Colina River. Nonetheless, on all these accounts Anglo American refuses to take responsibility for how its operations affect water availability, even outright denying its impact on glaciers despite independent studies.
Similar to its operations in Chile, Anglo American’s Quellaveco project in Peru consumes a lot of water in a region already dealing with water scarcity. This is particularly concerning as the company’s responses to questions about water usage show a lack of understanding of hydrological cycles and how the mine’s operations could affect ecosystems. Of particular concern is the diversion of the Asana river which could have long-term consequences as in the case of the diversion of the Arroyo Bruno in Colombia.