Community visits

“We thank you infinitely for your valuable work, dedication, accompaniment and care that we received from each one of you. We wove bonds of infinite affection that we hope will continue to grow despite the distances…. Everything went very well thanks to all your efforts. We do not have any complaint…. A thousand and a thousand thanks…. As far as possible we try to be the voice of those who need to be heard in the face of the impunity and misfortune caused by the company.”

Rosa Maria Mateus, CAJAR lawyers’ collective, reflecting on the BHP speaker tour in 2018.

We invite members of communities or people from groups or organisations representing communities to the UK around twice a year. These visits coincide with the annual general meeting (AGM) of the London-listed mining company they are resisting against.

We are not able to host people for every London-listed AGM due to lack of funds and capacity but in recent years we have invited over: community activists from Marikana in South Africa, along with community representatives, who are resisting mining company Lonmin, representatives from Indonesia or West Papua resisting Rio Tinto, who part own Grasberg mine, and representatives from Colombia, Chile and Brazil, resisting BHP’s part ownership of mines in these three countries. We also invited community activists from three countries for London’s Mines and Money conference in 2017, held every November.

Marikana community visits

In August 2012, 34 striking mine workers at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, South Africa, were gunned down and killed by South African police. Their families have yet to achieve justice. We have been working with Bishop Jo Seoka of the Benchmarks Foundation in South Africa, with community women’s organisation Sikhala Sonkhe, with the German Ethical Shareholders Association, as part of London-based Marikana Solidarity Collective and with LMN member group War on Want to try to attain that justice.

Under pressure from its critics, the company has made commitments which it has not yet kept, and now another company, Sibanye Stillwater, which has the worst record on mine worker deaths in South Africa, wants to take it over. If it does, we have to make sure that commitments made to workers, the bereaved families and the community at Marikana are fulfilled rather than dumped.

In March 2018, we hosted Bishop Jo Seoka from the Benchmarks Foundation, Thumeka Magwangqana from Sikhala Sonkhe and Andries Nkome, a lawyer representing mine workers, so that they could present demands to Lonmin’s board and shareholders at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and push for accountability ahead of the takeover. We worked with German Ethical Shareholders’ Association and documentary maker Zoe Broughton to film the events. The South African delegation also met with parliamentarians, seeking support to ensure that Lonmin plc, as a company trading on the London Stock Exchange, cannot avoid accountability for its obligations to those affected by the Marikana massacre.

Grasberg community visits

LMN member groups Partizans and TAPOL, and individual activists within LMN, have been working for many years on the conflicts and environmental damage caused by the Grasberg copper and gold mine in West Papua, a territory annexed by Indonesia in 1975 and in which an independence struggle has been conducted ever since. British multinational Rio Tinto has been deeply involved in this mine, operated by PT Freeport Indonesia, and has had an ‘offtake agreement’ enabling it to profit from its operations in return for investing in its expansion.

In April 2018, LMN hosted Pius Ginting, an environmental activist from Indonesia, for the Rio Tinto AGM. He brought evidence of the appalling environmental damage being done by the Grasberg mine and spoke of the killings which continue to occur in the area as a result of Indonesian military involvement. He called for Rio Tinto to pull out of the project.

We succeeded in conveying information about the environmental and social impacts in the downstream area of Freeport mining. Rio Tinto Board of Directors admitted that they do not know the story of the impacts of mining and human rights. … We succeeded in meeting one of the shareholder owners, that is the Church of England. They will review whether its investment in line with the safeguard policies on mining. We gave the message that should there be any further discussion with the company, impacted communities should be given a channel to voice their grievances, to avoid partial information about the environmental and social impacts of the company.”

Pius Ginting, reflecting on the Rio Tinto speaker tour in 2018.

The company tried to avoid taking responsibility for the conflict which this mine has caused. Although it is now pulling out as a result of Indonesian legislation on local ownership, the company must not be allowed to evade responsibility for the consequences of its historic involvement. Our role will continue to be that of publicising the impacts of the company’s activity and supporting colleagues in Indonesia and West Papua in their search for justice.

Community visits from Latin America

BHP is the world’s largest mining company, and despite the fact that it enjoys a reputation for good corporate ethics, there are multiple concerns around its operations in a number of countries. LMN and several of our member groups have been working for many years to hold BHP accountable for its activities.

In October 2018, we hosted a speaker tour, Beyond BHP, by representatives of communities affected by the company’s operations in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the USA. The visitors had meetings with the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, journalists, NGOs, students and members of the public, as well as attending the company’s AGM.

Wayuu Indigenous representative Misael Socarras from La Guajira in Colombia and Rosa Maria Mateus from lawyers’ collective CAJAR in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, presented concerns about the Cerrejon coal mine (one-third owned by BHP along with Anglo American and Glencore). They visited communities opposing opencast coal mining in north eastern England, along with Aldo Amaya, leader of Sintracarbon, the mine workers’ union at the Cerrejon mine, who was in England for a meeting of global union IndustriALL’s network on BHP.

Leticia Oliveira, from Brazilian social movement MAB, Movimento do Atingidos por Barragens, Movement of People Affected by Dams) spoke about the continuing impacts of the Samarco mine waste dam disaster in November 2015 and the inadequacy of the company’s response.

Since early 2016, LMN has been working with MAB, the Churches and Mining Network and other Brazilian organisations, and with LMN member group War on Want, to ensure that BHP fulfils its legal and moral responsibilities to those affected. People are demanding adequate compensation for loss of land, livelihood and access to clean water. Our colleagues in Brazil say that the mining companies’ efforts to date have been inadequate and that the companies should be held liable for a major environmental crime.

Thiago Silva from Brazil, outside BHP’s AGM in 2017.

Why community visits?

Our role has been to enable community representatives from the countries mentioned above to speak to company directors, management and officials at London-based AGMs and to build support among organisations and members of the public in this country for justice for those affected by mining projects.

The community representatives whom we host on our speaker tours always discuss with us the usefulness of their visits. All of them value the opportunity to share their communities’ experiences with each other, with activists and other potential supporters in this country and with journalists, investors and parliamentarians. Most also believe that, despite the unjust power imbalance between their communities and the mining companies on show at company AGMs, it is worth continuing to press the companies publicly in these annual forums and to insist that they keep commitments and assurances already made.