Rio Tinto

updated April 2021

Introduction

Rio Tinto is a British-Australian multinational metals and mining corporation with joint headquarters in London, UK, and Melbourne, Australia, being also listed in both these countries. It is the second-largest mining company in the world after BHP, with its market value exceeding $140 billion in 2020. It has 60 operations and projects in 36 different countries around the world as shown in the map below, its commodities including aluminium, iron ore, copper, and diamonds. While the company claims to ‘produce materials essential to human progress’, its operations include a multitude of violations of human rights and various forms of environmental degradation detrimental to human progress.

Source: https://www.riotinto.com/operations

Rio Tinto’s long history of harming people and the environment has resulted in much criticism and opposition from communities directly affected by its operations. Below is a brief summary of the main struggles that LMN is currently involved with. For a more extensive list of controversies, conflicts and issues surrounding Rio Tinto’s operations as well as its dark past, we invite you to look at our alternative timeline of the company’s history (coming soon). Additionally, our 2020 report ‘Cut and Run’ gives an in-depth account of Rio Tinto’s legacy issues in Bougainville and West Papua, where the company still refuses to take responsibility for the destructive impacts and persisting dangers caused by the Panguna and Grasberg mines respectively. In September 2020 the Human Rights Law Centre filed a complaint with the OECD on behalf of 156 indigenous residents of Bougainville regarding the pollution caused by Rio Tinto’s former mine there.

Planned destruction of sacred and public land in Arizona

Rio Tinto is the majority owner (55%, with BHP owning 45%) of Resolution Copper, which is planning to construct a large copper mine near Superior, Arizona. The proposed mine would destroy the religious and sacred place known as Oak Flat and potentially up to 6,000 hectares of public land. The project includes a controversial and technically problematic deep underground block cave mine 2,134 metres below the surface of Oak Flat. This would create a crater roughly 3,200 metres wide and 300 metres deep due to subsidence of the land. The project has already received much opposition due to its environmental impacts and how it will affect the indigenous peoples to whom Oak Flat is sacred. As one of its last acts, however, the Trump administration sped up the process of the land transfer by a year resulting in an outcry and hundreds of groups urging President Biden to revoke the deal. Resolution Copper claims to have the legal right to construct the mine according to plan, while denying that the area is culturally significant and refusing to demonstrate the infeasibility of alternative mining methods.

A mine with many problems: Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia

Oyu Tolgoi is one of the biggest copper and gold reserves in the world, located in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. The Oyu Tolgoi mine is managed and partially owned by Rio Tinto and has threatened pastoralist communities’ traditional lifestyle. In particular, the mine’s extensive water needs have raised serious concerns about water availability in this arid desert region. The company has failed to demonstrate that there is sufficient water available for production and infrastructure, as well as the project’s social needs. The mine was opposed by local nomadic herders who have suffered cultural and economic losses after a seasonal river was destroyed by the construction of the opencast mine. They continue to oppose the mine’s proposed underground expansion and have denounced Rio Tinto for falsely claiming to have resolved all complaints. Moreover, Rio Tinto continues to refuse to carry out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment which is needed after major changes in the design of the underground mine and tailings facility. Questions regarding the mine’s environmental and water impacts were raised again at the 2020 AGM but were left unanswered. The expansion project has also caused trouble for Rio Tinto as it has been delayed by two years while costing $1.5 billion more than expected. This has prompted the Mongolian government, who is one-third owner of the mine, to consider cancelling the project.

Refusing to acknowledge water contamination in Madagascar

Rio Tinto is 80% owner of an ilmenite mine in southern Madagascar operated by a local subsidiary QIT Minerals Madagascar (QMM). In 2013-2014 this mine breached the authorised limits of an environmental buffer zone, which is designed to protect a local estuary system. The statutory buffer limit had already been reduced from 80m to 50m and the mine extended even further beyond this. It thus encroached onto the bed of Lake Besaroy in the adjacent estuary system, raising concerns that the mine was leaching radionuclides such as uranium into the local water system. Independent studies have demonstrated that the QMM mine has contaminated the lakes and rivers where local people fish and collect drinking water. This poses serious health risks to villagers since the water was found to contain elevated levels of uranium and lead approximately 50 times and 40 times higher respectively than WHO guidelines for safe drinking water. After first denying the breach of the environmental buffer zone, Rio Tinto admitted its ‘mistake’ in 2019. However,  it continued to claim that the elevated uranium levels were ‘naturally occurring’ and not linked to the mine operation. The company has provided no evidence to support this claim and its latest water study analysis has been critiqued for failing to observe standard procedure, due to the omission of existing data. Demands for safe drinking water provision for the locally affected communities have been repeatedly denied.

Blasting a sacred Aboriginal site at Juukan Gorge

One of 2020’s biggest scandals in the mining sector that shockingly exposed its destructive character was the blasting of a 46,000-year-old sacred site by Rio Tinto in Western Australia. The global outrage that followed resulted in the resignation of Rio Tinto’s CEO and two other executives. While the company claims to have learned from this mistake and has pledged not to destroy other such heritage sites, there are doubts to what extent this is just PR. These doubts are confirmed by the company’s insistence on continuing with the Resolution Copper project described above. In response to the destruction at Juukan Gorge, LMN and 34 other organisations called on the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark to strip Rio Tinto of its human rights ranking.

1873 – Increasing extractivism in Spain
1888 – Year of the shots
1905 – The origins of one of Rio Tinto’s many mergers
1924 – Integrating mining and the military
1925 – Colonial expansion
1930s – Approving fascist repression of labour rights
1954 – Imperialist expansion
1956 – Dispossessing Indigenous Australians for aluminium
1962 – The origins of large-scale mining in West Papua
1962 – Becoming Anglo-Australian
1966 – Mining starts in the Pilbara, Australia
1968 – One of Rio Tinto’s many acquisitions
1969 – Denying self-determination to West Papua
1972 – Waste dumping starts in Bougainville
1973 – Ertzberg mine in West Papua is officially opened
1976 – Mining for nuclear weapons in occupied Namibia
1985 – Buying into a water-depleting mine in Chile
1987 – Rio Tinto evicts and pollutes in East Kalimantan
1989 – Abandoning the Panguna mine and the destruction it caused
1989 – Another copper acquisition
1993 – Polluting Wisconsin years after mining stops
1995 – Discovery of copper in Arizona initiates struggle over land
1996 – Rio Tinto investment expands the Ertzberg mine in West Papua
2001 – The start of a controversial mega-mining project in the Gobi desert
2005 – Funding militarisation in West Papua
2005 – Land exchange bill introduced in US Congress for Resolution Copper
2009 – Rio Tinto avoids taxes for Oyu Tolgoi mine
2009 – Mining begins at controversial QMM mine
2012 – Rio Tinto fails to do complete impact assessment for Oyu Tolgoi mine
2012/2013 – Herders file complaints against Oyu Tolgoi mine
2013 – Protests against QMM mine are violently suppressed
2013/2014 – QMM mine breaches environmental buffer zone
2014 – Land swap sets Resolution Copper project in motion
2014 – Rio Tinto refuses to clean up in Bougainville 
2016 – Rio Tinto cut and run from Panguna
2016 – Once again protests against QMM mine are suppressed
2018 – Rio Tinto cut and run from the Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine
2019 – Rio Tinto starts developing a lithium mine without transparency
2019 – Release of Draft Environmental Study on Resolution Copper
2019 – Studies prove contamination by QMM mine
2019 – Rio Tinto refuses to do proper impact assessment for Oyu Tolgoi
2020 – Anosy communities report serious water pollution due to QMM mine
2020 – Resistance against Jadar mine grows in Serbia
2020 – Rather than pay taxes, Rio Tinto starts arbitration against Mongolian government 
2020 – Blasting of sacred Aboriginal site at Juukan Gorge
2020 – Human Rights complaint against Rio Tinto for Panguna legacy
2021 – Trump fast-tracks Resolution Copper project
2021 – Rising costs force renegotiation of Oyu Tolgoi

1873 – Increasing extractivism in Spain

The Rio Tinto mines in southwestern Spain are bought by a British-European investor group consisting of Deutsche Bank and Matheson & Co. The new Rio Tinto Company transforms this ancient mining site into the world’s leading copper producer of the late 19th century.

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

1888 – Year of the shots

At the same time that Rio Tinto is becoming the biggest copper producer, protests increase, which culminated in “the year of the shots.” A peaceful demonstration of miners, farmers and other workers demanding better working conditions and a reduction of the polluting copper fumes ends up in a massacre where it is estimated over two hundred people are killed.

García-Gómez, J. and Pérez-Cebada, J., 2020. A Socio-Environmental History of a Copper Mining Company: Rio-Tinto Company Limited (1874–1930). Sustainability, 12(11), p.4521-4538.

1905 – The origins of one of Rio Tinto’s many mergers

The Zinc Corporation is formed and ‘pioneers a new process to extract zinc from ore residues left after the extraction of silver and lead.’ It thus mines one of the world’s richest silver-lead-zinc deposits in Broken Hill, Australia. The company later evolves into the Consolidated Zinc Corporation and eventually merges with Rio Tinto in 1962.

 

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

1924 – Integrating mining and the military

Auckland Geddes becomes chairman of Rio Tinto, having previously served in the second Anglo-Boer war and as director of recruitment in the War Office during the First World War as well as Minister of Reconstruction and President of the Trade Board in the post-war cabinet. This is exemplary of how interlinked mining and militarism are, as our report Martial Mining shows.

Martial Mining report by LMN

1925 – Colonial expansion

Rio Tinto expands beyond Spain, starting with the Copper Belt in what is now Zambia but was then called Northern Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes, an emblem of white supremacy and colonialism who actively reinforces apartheid to exploit Black Africans in his mining operations.

https://londonminingnetwork.org/2016/02/londons-mining-history-from-colonialism-to-apartheid-why-rhodes-must-fall/

1930s – Approving fascist repression of labour rights

While Spain is under the fascist rule of Franco, striking miners at the Rio Tinto mines are kept in check by Franco’s troops.  At the 1937 AGM, the then chairman Geddes states that “since the mining region was occupied by General Franco’s forces, there have been no further labour problems… Miners found guilty of troublemaking are court-martialed and shot.”

 

Rio Tinto: A Shameful History

Moody, Roger. 1991. Plunder!

1954 – Imperialist expansion

The company sells two-thirds of the Rio Tinto mine in Spain and uses the proceeds to finance new exploration companies in Africa, Australia and Canada. This leads to the establishment of major uranium mines in Canada as well as the Mary Kathleen mine in Australia.

 

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

1956 – Dispossessing Indigenous Australians for aluminium

The Australian part of the Consolidated Zinc Corporation – which would later merge with Rio Tinto – develops a bauxite deposit with the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty. Limited, known as Comalco, at Weipa, Queensland. This is enabled by the 1957 Comalco Act which gives the company access to Aboriginal reserve land. Rio Tinto still mines here today and is even responsible for the administration of the town of Weipa.

https://www.wikvsqueensland.com/peoples.html

https://www.weipatownauthority.com.au/your-wta/governance

1962 – The origins of large-scale mining in West Papua

The “New York Agreement” between the Suharto regime and the US administration sets out the terms for the transferral of sovereignty for West Papua from Dutch colonial rule to Indonesian rule. At the same time, mining rights are provided for US company Freeport McMoran Inc. in the Central Highlands of West Papua where it starts developing the open pit Ertzberg mine. For many years this would be the world’s largest combined copper and gold mine, with Rio Tinto playing a key role in its expansion in 1996. The mine’s development and operation causes many harmful social and environmental impacts which continue until today, while local communities are denied a say over their own lands.

Cut and Run report by LMN

1962 – Becoming Anglo-Australian

Rio Tinto Company and the Zinc Corporation merge, forming The Rio Tinto – Zinc Corporation (RTZ) and Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA), its main subsidiary.

In 1995, RTZ and CRA themselves merge and become a dual-listed, Anglo-Australian company: the Rio Tinto Group.

 

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

https://web.archive.org/web/20090327021733/http://www.riotinto.com/documents/Investors/dlcsep06.pdf

1966 – Mining starts in the Pilbara, Australia

Rio Tinto starts mining in the Pilbara, opening its first iron ore mine at Mount Tom Price. Since then, its ever-growing iron ore business has come to include 16 iron ore mines as well as privately owned infrastructure including a 1,700 kilometre rail network – all to facilitate the extraction and export of resources. It has also come to include the destruction of cultural heritage, such as the 47,000 year old sacred site in Juukan Gorge, only 60 km from Tom Price.

 

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/26/rio-tinto-blasts-46000-year-old-aboriginal-site-to-expand-iron-ore-mine

1968 – One of Rio Tinto’s many acquisitions

Rio Tinto buys US Borax, a company that had started mining borate deposits in California. The Boron mine is today the state’s largest open-pit mine and the world’s largest borax mine. In 2010, Rio Tinto locks out 570 miners from its borates mine in retaliation for the miners’ refusal to agree to a contract that threatened to turn decent, family and community-supporting jobs into part-time, temporary or contracted jobs. This leaves families struggling to make ends meet without a paycheque from Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto: A Shameful History

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-mine-lockout-idUSTRE61O0CV20100225

1969 – Denying self-determination to West Papua

The “Act of Free Choice” is set up under token UN oversight to act as a legitimation of West Papua’s incorporation into the Indonesian state. Very few West Papuans are given a say in what happens to them. Many West Papuans, especially indigenous West Papuans, see all these processes as a denial of their fundamental right to de-colonization and determination.

Meanwhile, development of the Ertzberg mine continues also without consultation of indigenous West Papuans – even though the mine will have a lasting influence on Indonesian and West Papuan political life.

To this day, the copper-gold mine in the highlands of West Papua continues to bring social and health problems, labour and community conflict, rampant corruption and cultural and environmental degradation. Alongside these problems, the mine engenders increased militarization and police repression while allegations of human rights abuse by the Indonesian military are frequent, including torture of mining opponents.

The Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, human rights abuses and denying West Papuans autonomy and control over their lands.

Cut and Run report by LMN

1972 – Waste dumping starts in Bougainville

Operations start at the Panguna copper-gold mine in Bougainville, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The mine is operated by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a subsidiary of Conzinc Riotinto Australia, one of the precursors of what is now Rio Tinto. The mine displaces and dispossesses local people of their lands, on which they depend for their livelihoods. Moreover, between 1972 and 1988, BCL dumps toxic mining wastes from its Panguna mine straight into the local river system, compromising people’s health, food security and causing catastrophic consequences for the environment.

The Panguna mine’s entire history of displacement, toxic waste dumping and its severe impacts on people’s health and livelihoods is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

Cut and Run report by LMN

1973 – Ertzberg mine in West Papua is officially opened

Operations officially start at the Ertzberg copper and gold mine in West Papua. Waste from the mine is dumped directly into the Ajkwa River, causing damage all the way down to the sea and along the coast. This continues into the present with around 200,000 tonnes of waste being dumped into the river every day. Local people speak of deaths caused by drinking water that has been poisoned by the mine.

The Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its toxic waste dumping which pollutes the environment and has detrimental impacts on people’s health and livelihoods.

Cut and Run report by LMN

1976 – Mining for nuclear weapons in occupied Namibia

Uranium production starts at Rio Tinto’s Rössing mine in Namibia. Throughout the 1970s, Rio Tinto produces a quarter of global uranium. Having signed two contracts with the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 1968 for 7,500 tonnes of processed uranium, the company leads a cartel of mining interests that will service the development of the UK’s nuclear arsenal. Occupied by apartheid South Africa, the Rössing mine is considered “as close as the UK would come to controlling its own uranium supply.”

The mine has a racist and colonial history as Rio Tinto receives the licence to mine in 1970 from the then-Apartheid regime in South Africa, an investor in the mine and occupying Namibia until 1990. When the United Nations prohibits the extraction of natural resources from Namibia, Rio Tinto’s then chairman Val Duncan declares the company is “not prepared to take any notice,” and the British government formally rejects the decree. Rössing becomes an “emblem of colonialism” for the Namibian liberation movement, helping to forge alliances between the international anti-apartheid and nuclear disarmament movements.

Moreover, workers are found to be subjected to slave-like conditions, while black workers also face discrimination and get paid less than white workers. Workers are also exposed to serious health hazards leading to higher rates of cancer amongst other ill health. Additionally, the plant consumes millions of cubic metres of fresh water annually in a region where rainfall totals only about 3 centimetres per year. In 2018, Rio Tinto sells its entire interest in the Rössing mine to China National Uranium Corporation Limited.

 

The Rössing mine is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, apartheid, nuclear weapons, abuses of workers’ rights and water depletion.

 

Martial Mining report by LMN

Rio Tinto: A Shameful History

1985 – Buying into a water-depleting mine in Chile

Rio Tinto acquires a 30% interest in the Minera Escondida copper mine, located in Chile’s Atacama Desert where it has severely depleted local water resources. Escondida is the world’s largest copper-producing mine and is managed by BHP Billiton. In 2020, an environmental watchdog reveals that for 15 years the mine has been extracting more water than allowed by its permits, all while Chile is experiencing a megadrought.

 

https://www.mining.com/chilean-watchdog-charges-bhp-for-water-misuse-at-escondida/

1987 – Rio Tinto evicts and pollutes in East Kalimantan

Indigenous Dayak communities in East Kalimantan, Indonesia are displaced by the mining company Kelian Equatorial Mining (PT KEM) which had gained concessions for gold mining there. The company is jointly owned and operated by Rio Tinto with 90% ownership and the Indonesian company PT Harita Jayaraya Inc. which owns 10%.

Besides the evictions of hundreds of local inhabitants and the destruction of homes, the company also forbids them to undertake gold mining, agroforestry or cultivation of fields near the mine. None of the company’s actions are adequately compensated for. This prompts demonstrations but opposition to the mine is met with militarisation and violence.

In its 13 years of operation, the mine reportedly dumps 100 million metric tons of waste rock into the environment, much of it contaminated. Rio Tinto acknowledges that there was “acid mine drainage” from the mine site while the company’s 1996 environmental report confirms that almost 1,100 kilogrammes of cyanide had been discharged from the mine into the Kelian River. The pollution poses health risks as local residents lose their source of clean water and begin to suffer from skin rashes and eye infections. Additionally, it results in fish virtually disappearing from the river, depriving residents of an important source of food. The mine closes in 2005.

 

The Kelian mine’s entire history of displacement, dispossession and water pollution through waste dumping is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Rio Tinto: A Shameful History

Nyompe, Pius Erick. 2003. Indonesia Case Study: The Closure of the Kelian Gold Mine and the Role of the Business Partnership for Development/World Bank.

1989 – Abandoning the Panguna mine and the destruction it caused

As tensions in Bougainville increase due to injustices related to the Panguna mine, the mine is forcibly shut down and eventually abandoned in 1989. With the Bougainville population bearing all the costs of environmental damage and health risks without getting any of the benefits, this causes such outrage that it sparks a war for independence from Papua New Guinea. Thousands are killed in this conflict which concludes in 2001 when a peace deal is signed under which Bougainville remains part of Papua New Guinea but with governing autonomy and a commitment to a deferred referendum on autonomy or independence. At the end of 2019, the referendum is held and 98% of Bougainvilleans vote for independence.

 

The Panguna mine’s entire history of causing social and environmental problems as well as its role in the violent conflict for independence is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

1989 – Another copper acquisition

Rio Tinto acquires BP Minerals, thus becoming one of the world’s largest copper producers.

https://www.riotinto.com/about/business/history

1993 – Polluting Wisconsin years after mining stops

Flambeau Mining Company starts operations at the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin, producing 181,000 tons of copper between 1993 and 1997, as well as gold and silver. The company is a subsidiary of Kennecott Minerals which in turn is wholly owned by Rio Tinto. When the open pit mine closes, the site is “reclaimed” yet the mine continues to contaminate local water streams over two decades later, leaching toxic metals and dangerous chemicals into the nearby Flambeau River as well as the groundwater.

 

The Flambeau mine and its pollution of the environment is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

Rio Tinto: A Shameful History

https://www.sierraclub.org/wisconsin/blog/2017/08/flambeau-mine-far-success#:~:text=This%20open%2Dpit%20mine%20continually,the%20situation%20may%20get%20worse.

1995 – Discovery of copper in Arizona initiates struggle over land

A large additional copper deposit is discovered deep underground, adjacent to an older mine near Superior, Arizona. Since 2004, indigenous and environmental groups have been resisting plans to construct a large copper mine. Not only would it destroy up to 6,000 hectares of public land, protected since 1955, it would also destroy the area of Oak Flat which is sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe and other Native American tribes. Rio Tinto is the majority owner (55%, with BHP owning 45%) of Resolution Copper, the company managing the project. The proposed mine would use a controversial and technically problematic deep underground block cave mine 2,134 metres below the surface of Oak Flat. This would create a crater roughly 3,200 metres wide and 300 metres deep due to subsidence of the land.

 

2021 Investor Briefing

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/24/trump-mining-arizona-holy-land-oak-flat-tribes#

1996 – Rio Tinto investment expands the Ertzberg mine in West Papua

Rio Tinto signs a production sharing agreement with Freeport McMoRan thus playing a pivotal role expanding the mine in West Papua. Rio Tinto’s investment provides the financial capacity to expand production at the mine from the initial Ertzberg open pit to the current open-cast pit at Grasberg, ‘Nemangkawi’ in the indigenous Amungme language. Without this investment, the mine would never have expanded to the point it has today. The mine still continues to develop and expand, with plans to create underground block-cave mining. Under the new agreement with the Indonesian government, it is set to continue to exploit these vast mineral reserves until 2041.

 

The Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine’s entire history is noticeably absent from  Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, human rights abuses and denying West Papuans autonomy and control over their lands, as well as its pollution of the environment through waste dumping which has detrimental impacts on people’s health and livelihoods.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

2001 – The start of a controversial mega-mining project in the Gobi desert

After years of explorations, large copper reserves are discovered at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia’s Gobi desert. While multiple companies have been involved over the years, the Oyu Tolgoi mine today is jointly owned by the Mongolian government which holds 34% ownership while Turquoise Hill Resources (TRQ) owns 66%, with Rio Tinto owning 51% of TRQ. Rio Tinto also manages the operation.

 

While the discovery has been celebrated for its economic potential as it is one of the biggest copper and gold reserves in the world, the mine has threatened pastoralist communities’ traditional lifestyle. Additionally, the mine’s extensive water needs have raised serious concerns about water availability in this arid desert region. The company has failed to demonstrate that there is sufficient water available for production and infrastructure, as well as the project’s social needs.

 

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

2021 Investor Briefing

2005 – Funding militarisation in West Papua

The New York Times publishes an article outlining illegal and secret payments made to the Indonesian police and military by Freeport McMoran, the company with which Rio Tinto is in a joint venture ownership of the Grasberg mine. The payments are for security protection of the Grasberg mine and confirms earlier allegations of the company’s connection to the Indonesian government, thus associating it with extensive human rights abuses by the military and police against local and indigenous West Papuans. This symbiotic relationship between the mine at Grasberg / Nemangkawi on the one hand and the Indonesian government and security forces on the other is shown to be central to the ongoing conflict and denial of basic human and environmental rights in West Papua.

 

The Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine’s entire history is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, human rights abuses and denying West Papuans autonomy and control over their lands.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

2005 – Land exchange bill introduced in US Congress for Resolution Copper

Congressman Rick Renzie introduces the first of what would be 12 attempts to pass legislation in the US Congress to privatize Oak Flat in Arizona in order to facilitate the Resolution Copper mine. Renzie is later convicted of attempting to bribe Rio Tinto in exchange for pushing the legislation. This signals the start of massive opposition to the proposed project by Native Americans, conservationists, religious leaders, and the public.

 

https://www.hcn.org/issues/48.2/how-a-huge-arizona-mining-deal-was-passed

2009 – Rio Tinto avoids taxes for Oyu Tolgoi mine

After years of negotiation with the Mongolian government, Rio Tinto signs an investment agreement for the Oyu Tolgoi mine. One of the key issues for Rio Tinto had been the recently introduced windfall profit tax for mining companies, and the company only invests once the Mongolian government rescinds that law in 2009, reportedly due to lobbying pressure.

 

Since then, Rio Tinto continues to avoid paying taxes as the ownership structure through which it controls the mine involves multiple subsidiaries in tax havens such as Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This means that both the Mongolian and Canadian government receive only limited taxes from the mine. In 2015, Rio Tinto negotiates an even lower tax rate resulting in Mongolia missing out on around US$230 million in taxes between 2015 and 2020. Rio Tinto thus takes most of the profits from Mongolia’s natural resources while the local population bears the social and environmental costs of the mine.

 

While Rio Tinto’s own timeline highlights that it is ‘giving the facts on tax,’ its attempts to evade taxes for the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent.

 

Mining Taxes report by SOMO

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

2009 – Mining begins at controversial QMM mine

QIT Minerals Madagascar (QMM), a local subsidiary of which Rio Tinto is 80% owner, starts mining for ilmenite at Mandena in southern Madagascar. The Anosy region where the mine is located is “one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Madagascar, but also one of the poorest and most isolated.”

 

The construction of the mine involves displacing local people from their land, with QMM documenting 498 people who lost their land and livelihoods. Many of them receive only a fraction of the promised compensation. It also involves the removal of ‘rare fragments of coastal littoral forest and heathland’ unique to Madagascar and thus constituting a great loss of biodiversity. Around 6000 ha is estimated to be removed through dredging. Lack of communication means local people are ill-informed about the mine, causing conflict and mistrust in addition to social, environmental and economic problems, including a rise in prices of property, rent, food, healthcare and energy.

 

In 2010, UK-based human rights lawyer Leigh Day assists one thousand villagers to bring a class action lawsuit against Rio Tinto. However, the company capitalizes on legal delays and the fragility of the situation and makes quick cash offers directly to over half the Malagasy claimants, thus silencing complaints and neutralizing the legal case.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Martial Mining report by LMN

Voices of Change report by Andrew Lees Trust

http://www.ejolt.org/2013/01/madagascar-local-protests-against-rio-tinto/

https://ejatlas.org/conflict/rio-tinto-qmm-ilmenite-mine-madagascar

https://climate-diplomacy.org/case-studies/mining-conflict-madagascar

2012 – Rio Tinto fails to do complete impact assessment for Oyu Tolgoi mine

An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report is released in August 2012, primarily addressing the construction of an open pit mine while also mentioning underground block caving and future infrastructure. This ESIA is considered to have covered all required assessments and both lead lenders (the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) support Rio Tinto’s refusal to carry out a full assessment of the underground mine’s impacts and risks.

 

In December 2012, a group of international and national civil society organizations review the ESIA and issue a report which shows that problems faced by Rio Tinto today in its underground mine development could have been predicted earlier had the assessment been carried out in compliance with international standards.

 

The many problems and objections to the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

‘A Useless Sham’ report

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

2021 Investor Briefing

2012/2013 – Herders file complaints against Oyu Tolgoi mine

In October 2012, a group of nomadic herders affected by the Oyu Tolgoi mine file a complaint to the Complaint Ombudsman Advisory (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation’s – one of the primary lenders for the mine. The complaint revolves around the serious negative impacts from having been resettled and the inadequate compensation received for this. Four months later, a larger group of nomadic herders files a second complaint with the CAO demanding to stop the diversion of the Undai River as this would cause several water systems to dry up, deteriorate pastureland yields, and negatively affect traditional livelihoods.

 

The mediation process continues from 2013 to 2017, in which time the herders’ allegations are validated in three expert assessments carried out by independent international teams: two by the Independent Expert Team regarding the impacts of the Undai River diversion on herder water and one by the Multidisciplinary Team regarding Oyu Tolgoi’s impact on herders’ livelihoods. Based on their recommendations, a Complaint Resolution Agreement (CRA) is signed between Oyu Tolgoi, the Khanbogd district government and the elected Herder Representatives.

 

In May 2020, both cases are closed by the CAO, allegedly “after monitoring implementation of the 2017 Complaints Resolution Agreement.” However, the key projects aimed to restore sustainable access to water and pasture resources have not been completed, as reported by herders and partner NGOs OT Watch and Accountability Counsel.

 

The many problems and objections to the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/case_detail.aspx?id=191

http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/case_detail.aspx?id=196

2017 Complaint Resolution Agreement

http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/document-links/documents/CAOCommunique_MongoliaOTClosure_March2019_ENG.pdf

2013 – Protests against QMM mine are violently suppressed

The social and environmental harms caused by Rio Tinto’s subsidiary in Madagascar continue to spark protests and strikes. The protesters demand reparations and are resisting evictions, the destruction of sacred forests and exclusion from ancestral lands. In January 2013, protesters hold QMM workers hostage on the mining site. When Rio Tinto threatens to exit the country, the Malagasy military intervenes, firing tear gas as well as handcuffing, beating and dragging protesters.

 

Ever since mining started at the Mandena site in 2009, there has been a succession of protests and general strikes. Hundreds of Malagasy people from around the region have been involved in resisting evictions and involuntary relocation; seeking compensation and reparations for lost lands and livelihoods; protesting environmental despoliation; opposing the destruction of sacred forests and unauthorized removal of ancestral tombs; mobilizing against exclusion from ancestral forestlands and denouncing loss of forest access.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Voices of Change report by Andrew Lees Trust

Martial Mining report by LMN

https://climate-diplomacy.org/case-studies/mining-conflict-madagascar

2013/2014 – QMM mine breaches environmental buffer zone

Between 2013 and 2014 the QMM mine breaches the authorised limits of an environmental buffer zone, which is designed to protect a local estuary system. The statutory buffer limit has already been reduced from 80m to 50m and the mine extends even further beyond this. It thus encroaches onto the bed of Lake Besaroy in the adjacent estuary system, raising concerns that the mine is leaching radionuclides such as uranium into the local water system. At least 15,000 local people access their domestic and drinking water supplies here, while also relying on the health of lakes for fishing livelihoods. Studies later confirm this contamination with concern over the threat to people’s health and a demand to the company to provide safe drinking water for affected villagers.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

http://www.andrewleestrust.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Images-of-QMM-encroachment-.pdf

2014 – Land swap sets Resolution Copper project in motion

In order for the Resolution Copper project to go ahead in Arizona, the US congress has to first approve the land exchange since Oak Flat is public land. This faces a lot of opposition due to the project’s environmental impacts and how it will affect the indigenous peoples to whom Oak Flat is sacred. After 13 failed attempts, the land swap is finally approved in 2014 in the form of an amendment to a defense law, through John McCain’s surreptitious ‘midnight rider’ strategy. Not coincidentally, McCain is ‘the largest recipient of Rio Tinto campaign contributions at the time’.

 

The Obama administration later tries to ensure continued protection of Oak Flat through a “Historic Places” designation in 2015. However, this does not ensure environmental concerns are given precedence over mining industry interests.

 

The lack of transparency in pushing the Resolution Copper project as well as the opposition against it is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3gwnm/trump-is-about-to-hand-over-sacred-apache-land-to-a-mining-company

http://azminingreform.org/oak-flat-land-exchange/

2014 – Rio Tinto refuses to clean up in Bougainville 

The governments of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea start planning how to clean up the severely polluted site of the Panguna mine. Rio Tinto was meant to play a supporting role in this but ends up walking away from the problem and the environmental degradation it caused which has lasting impacts on people’s lives.

 

The Panguna mine’s entire history of displacing and dispossessing local people, dumping toxic waste and thus severely impacting people’s health and livelihoods is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

https://news.mongabay.com/2020/04/decades-old-mine-in-bougainville-exacts-devastating-human-toll-report/

2016 – Rio Tinto cut and run from Panguna

Rio Tinto divests from the Panguna mine in Bougainville, in essence, cutting and running from their responsibility and the liability of cleaning up their toxic legacy. The company does not consider itself obliged to address the mine’s environmental legacy, arguing that it adhered to Papua New Guinea’s laws during its operations. Rio Tinto thus rejects any responsibility for remedying the environmental, social, health and other legacies of the Panguna mine operations which continue to affect thousands of people.

 

The Panguna mine’s entire history of displacing and dispossessing local people, dumping toxic waste and thus severely impacting people’s health and livelihoods is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/rio-tinto-walks-away-from-environmental-responsibility-for-bougainvilles-panguna-mine/

2016 – Once again protests against QMM mine are suppressed

New protests erupt following additional QMM land acquisitions in Mandena. Locals report that leases are once again sold below their value, at just 500 Malagasy Ariary per square metre (about USD 0.15 at the time), against the State Commission approved 3000 Malagasy Ariary per square metre (about USD 0.88). The sales are advanced with the enticement of secure land tenure in the future, when the plots would be formally titled and returned by QMM to the prior owners after mining. However, in addition to inadequate compensation, no consideration is given to short- and medium-term livelihoods and food security issues, despite rural people’s obvious dependence on natural resources for subsistence in this region.

 

In 2018, locals take to the streets again to protest, blocking access roads to the mine site. QMM responds with criminalisation and legal action, resulting in the incarceration of protesters. Rio Tinto deletes claims on its website to have delivered human rights training to Malagasy police and military between 2013 and 2018. This period coincides with a spike in violations when thousands of local community members are held in unjustified pre-trial detention. Journalists, environmental and human rights defenders are particular targets.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

CRAAD-OI & TANY collective

Martial Mining report by LMN

Resource Warfare, pacification and the spectacle of ‘green’ development: Logics of violence in engineering extraction in southern Madagascar

https://waronwant.org/resources/new-colonialism-britains-scramble-africas-energy-and-mineral-resources

2018 – Rio Tinto cut and run from the Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine

Rio Tinto seals a deal worth US$3.5 billion (£2.77 billion) to sell out of their production sharing contract for the Grasberg mine in West Papua, which continues to pollute the local ecosystem, posing risks to people’s health, affecting their livelihoods, and causing many other social problems. Rio Tinto refuses to take any responsibility for this.

 

At the 2019 AGM, the company is asked how much of the US$3.5 billion would be put aside for liabilities and legacy issues. The chairman replies that Rio Tinto considers the price negotiated for its departure from the project to include “selling on” all its liabilities and that therefore the company is no longer (legally or morally) responsible for the ongoing impacts of this mine. London Mining Network counters that Rio Tinto cannot simply sell its responsibility for damage done in the past and that the company must be held accountable for its role in causing social and environmental problems.

 

The Grasberg / Nemangkawi mine’s entire history is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, human rights abuses and denying West Papuans autonomy and control over their lands, as well as its pollution of the environment through waste dumping which has detrimental impacts on people’s health and livelihoods.

 

Cut and Run report by LMN

2019 – Rio Tinto starts developing a lithium mine without transparency

After Rio Tinto discovers a lithium-borate deposit in western Serbia in 2004, it commissions a spatial plan from the Serbian government in 2016 for its Jadar mine project. This is approved in 2019 before the ore resources and reserves are even declared, and without adequate consultation of local residents. Overall, there is a huge lack of transparency by Rio Tinto about the project and its impacts on the environment. Impact assessments are needed to assert how mining activities would impact the area which has important historical and cultural significance. Moreover, the area affected includes the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area “Cer” and the Landscape of Outstanding Features “Cultural Landscape Tršić – Tronoša,” home to a vast number of nationally and internationally protected and “strictly protected” birds, amphibians, reptiles, and plants.

 

2021 Investor Briefing

2019 – Release of Draft Environmental Study on Resolution Copper

The US Forest Service releases a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which outlines massive problems that Resolution Copper’s proposed mine would create. This follows a 2016 public comment period in which more than 120,000 comments were received in opposition to the proposed copper mine. However, the Forest Service states it is powerless to stop the project. In response, conservation, tribal, and religious organizations file a 6,436 page set of detailed criticism of the report.

 

The widespread resistance against the Resolution Copper project is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Arizona Mining Reform Coalition comments on DEIS report

2019 – Studies prove contamination by QMM mine

Independent studies demonstrate that the QMM mine has contaminated the lakes and rivers where local people fish and collect drinking water. The water is found to contain elevated levels of uranium and lead approximately 50 times and 40 times higher respectively than WHO guidelines for safe drinking water, thus posing serious health risks to villagers.

 

After first denying the breach of the environmental buffer zone, Rio Tinto admits its “mistake” in March 2019. However, it continues to claim that the elevated uranium levels are “naturally occurring” and not linked to the mine operation. Research using QMM water data confirms it is the extraction process itself that concentrates the uranium and heavy metals in the mining pond. To this day, the company has provided no evidence to show it is making discharge waters safe before being released into the environment where villagers use local water sources.

 

In 2020, Rio Tinto issues a water study undertaken by external provider JBS&G; it is critiqued for failing to observe standard procedure as it omits existing data. The latest QMM wastewater report confirms levels of uranium and lead well above WHO guidelines for safe drinking water and also reveals elevated levels of cadmium and aluminium in mine discharge waters. Demands for safe drinking water provision for the locally affected communities have been repeatedly denied.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

http://www.andrewleestrust.org/studies_and_reports.html

http://www.andrewleestrust.org/blog/?p=1667

https://theecologist.org/2021/feb/18/can-rio-tinto-be-trusted

2019 – Rio Tinto refuses to do proper impact assessment for Oyu Tolgoi

Following Rio Tinto’s incomplete impact assessment from 2012, the Mongolian parliament passes a resolution in November 2019 demanding that assessments of environmental and social impacts are carried out for the underground mine construction, operations, and the new tailing storage facility section. However, Rio Tinto continues to refuse to carry out these assessments and has failed to disclose its reports on water quality and availability.

 

Herders are demanding that Rio Tinto carry out a detailed environmental and social impact assessment for the mine’s Phase 2 underground mine. What Rio Tinto issued previously has not addressed loss of access to water, loss of more pasture due to post-mining land subsidence, or potential risks of tailing dam failure due to land instability.  Moreover, since 2010, civil society organisations have been demanding the disclosure of reports to show whether there is enough water available for the project’s life span without affecting water resources of traditional users. Additionally, herders are demanding the disclosure of reports on water usage and recycling with scientific monitoring data to prove the company’s claims about best water management practices. Questions regarding the mine’s environmental impacts are raised again at the 2020 AGM but left unanswered.

 

The many problems and objections to the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

‘A Useless Sham’ report

2021 Investor Briefing

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

2020 – Anosy communities report serious water pollution due to QMM mine

A study by Publish What You Pay Madagascar (PWYP MG) on the perceptions, concerns and needs of the local communities living around the QMM mine in Mandena shows that over half the population perceive the water quality to have been degraded over the past ten years,  since mining operations began. The water is found to be either suspicious in colour, foul-smelling, or tasting bad. Focus groups confirm these perceptions, noting “strong pollution” since the installation of the QMM weir and mining operation. More than half of the respondents in the study report health problems in relation to local water consumption, including almost all those who draw their water from surface water, while a majority perceives the mine to be responsible for the poor quality of water. Contamination of their water sources is a principal concern of the communities as it has not only had detrimental effects on their health, but also on their livelihoods (which are primarily based on fishing) and consequently on their income.

 

Over half of those surveyed have already taken their concerns to the local authorities, and/or to QMM, but the researchers find that locals fear repression and imprisonment for making complaints. Later in the year, QMM fails to attend a national meeting where the PWYP MG results are presented. Instead, it launches a media campaign in Madagascar to promote QMM as a responsible operator.

 

The QMM mine and its entire history of polluting the environment, harming people’s health and livelihoods, and suppressing protests is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

Water Pollution at Mandena report by PWYP MG

2020 – Resistance against Jadar mine grows in Serbia

While Rio Tinto continues to develop its lithium mining project in Serbia without full transparency or completed impact assessments, resistance against the mine grows. Local farmers are reportedly being pressured to sell their land out of fear of expropriation, while there are growing concerns about water pollution and environmental degradation that the mine would cause.

 

https://balkangreenenergynews.com/voices-of-discontent-over-rio-tintos-jadarite-mine-investment-in-serbia-grow-louder/

2020 – Rather than pay taxes, Rio Tinto starts arbitration against Mongolian government 

Rio Tinto initiates arbitration procedures against the Government of Mongolia, arguing that the tax bill they were served of US$155 million is “indirect appropriation.” Originally intended to stop arbitrary abuse by states singling out foreign investments, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system has devolved into a mechanism that allows corporations to interfere with a state’s sovereign right to legislate in their people’s public interest. By extension, the arbitration by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) is inherently flawed, costly and unlikely to favour Mongolian’s public interest.

 

While Rio Tinto’s own timeline highlights that it is ‘giving the facts on tax,’ its attempts to evade taxes for the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent.

 

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

https://www.somo.nl/rio-tinto-shareholders-your-dividends-are-plundered-bounty-from-mongolia/

2020 – Blasting of sacred Aboriginal site at Juukan Gorge

In May 2020, Rio Tinto destroys a 46,000-year-old sacred site at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara, Australia. This is done despite warnings from local Indigenous people and archaeologists of its cultural and historical significance. Following the global outrage over this, Rio Tinto’s CEO and two other executives are forced to resign. Meanwhile, LMN and 34 other organisations call on the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark to strip Rio Tinto of its human rights ranking.

 

While Rio Tinto’s own timeline proudly states that it became “the first mining company in Australia to embrace Indigenous people’s land rights, committing [them] to the standards expected by host communities and Indigenous groups,” the destruction at Juukan Gorge is noticeably absent.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/26/rio-tinto-blasts-46000-year-old-aboriginal-site-to-expand-iron-ore-mine

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-11/rio-tinto-boss-jean-sebastien-jacques-quits-over-juukan-blast/12653950

https://londonminingnetwork.org/2020/07/strip-rio-tinto-of-human-rights-ranking/

2020 – Human Rights complaint against Rio Tinto for Panguna legacy

On behalf of 156 indigenous residents of Bougainville, the Human Rights Law Centre files a complaint with the Australian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises in The Australian government. It aims to hold Rio Tinto accountable for its toxic legacy as waste from the Panguna mine continues to cause serious health problems and has severely affected people’s livelihoods.

 

https://complaints.oecdwatch.org/cases/Case_575#:~:text=The%20complaint%20alleges%20that%20Rio,OECD%20Guidelines%20for%20Multinational%20Enterprises

2021 – Trump fast-tracks Resolution Copper project

In order for the land transfer to happen and mining to begin, the US Forest Service has to publish its environmental impact assessment of the Resolution Copper project, which is expected at the end of 2021. As one of its last acts, the Trump administration drastically speeds up the process in order to give Resolution Copper control of the land before the Biden administration can halt it.

 

In January 2021, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is published almost a year ahead of schedule, after which the land transfer is required to happen within 60 days, before March 15. This fast-tracking of the project results in an outcry and hundreds of groups urge President Biden to revoke the deal. Three lawsuits are filed by the Apache Stronghold, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and a Coalition of Tribal and Conservation organisations.

On March 2, the FEIS is rescinded, putting a temporary stop on the project. A new and complete FEIS is expected to show that the Resolution Copper project is not viable and must be abandoned.

 

The widespread resistance against the Resolution Copper project is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/16/sacred-native-american-land-arizona-oak-flat

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/02/arizona-oak-flat-biden-administration-pauses-transfer-native-american-site-mining-resolution-copper

2021 – Rising costs force renegotiation of Oyu Tolgoi

The Oyu Tolgoi mine was predicted to become a key driver of the Mongolian economy with its copper and gold production accounting for a third of Mongolia’s GDP by 2021. Instead, the Mongolian government has missed out on over US$200 million in taxes while the expansion project is delayed by two years and costs $1.5 billion more than expected. This has prompted Mongolia to demand a renegotiation of the deal with Rio Tinto. Meanwhile, herders from Khanbogd are still demanding that Rio Tinto fulfils the promises it made 10 years earlier to not disrupt access to safe and sustainable water sources in their traditional pastures in the Gobi Desert.

 

The many problems and objections to the Oyu Tolgoi mine are noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline.

 

2021 Investor Briefing

The Corporate Capture of Mongolia by SOMO

https://www.mining.com/rio-tinto-mongolia-reach-deal-to-replace-oyu-tolgoi-expansion-plan/

https://www.ft.com/content/56f90eba-2485-430b-ac16-0063ea2e7895

Further resources

Alternative timeline – a timeline of conflicts and controversies since Rio Tinto’s founding

Cut and Run – 2020 report on Rio Tinto’s destructive legacy in Bougainville and West Papua

Martial Mining – 2020 report on the links between extractivism and militarism, including Rio Tinto’s role in them.

Notes on Rio Tinto’s 2020 AGM

Protest outside the 2012 Rio Tinto AGM in London
Protest outside the 2012 Rio Tinto AGM in London