British mining companies face challenge on unjust practices

Date of publication: 
8 April 2009

Representatives of communities in Colombia, West Papua and the USA are in London to challenge the claims of two of Britain’s biggest mining companies that their operations are sustainable and fair. Critics say that in reality they are violating human rights and causing irreversible environmental damage.

They lobbyists will speak at a press briefing at Amnesty UK’s Human Rights Action Centre the evening before both companies hold their shareholders’ meetings.

Mining stocks have plummeted in recent months and both Rio Tinto and Anglo American have suffered major writedowns in their market capitalisation. The Church of England is a major shareholder in both companies and had a combined investment in the two companies of £120 million according to the last annual report and accounts from the Church Commissioners.

Less well-known in Britain are the impacts of the companies’ activities on the people around their operations, say campaigners.

Anglo American continues to be criticised for the way in which it has removed farming communities from their lands in Colombia and South Africa; for its failure to gain the indigenous peoples’ permission to operate on their land in the Philippines; for the potential impacts of its proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska on water quality and salmon fisheries; and on the potential impact of its water use in Peru.

Rio Tinto is under fire for its part in the massive damage done by the Grasberg copper and gold mine in West Papua and the multiple violations of human and indigenous rights carried out by the Indonesian military to protect the mine; for its involvement in a joint venture with Muriel Mining in Colombia which is exploring for copper and gold on indigenous land against the express wishes of indigenous people,against a background of militarization and human rights abuses; for pollution round its subsidiary Kennecott’s copper mine in Utah and the potentially catastrophic impact of its proposed Eagle Mine on water quality in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and for the legacy of its Capper Pass tin smelter in Hull.

The London Mining Network (LMN), a coalition of environmental, development and human rights groups, is calling on the UK government to ensure that all UK businesses are accountable for their impact on communities around the world. LMN is concerned about the power exerted by UK mining companies over their host countries’ governments and local communities.

London is the mining capital of the world: it is home to many of the largest mining companies’ headquarters and the backdrop to the majority of both their investment and metals trading activity.

“The Rev Jon Magnuson and I feel compelled to travel to London to speak before the Rio Tinto board because the company continues to push its Eagle Mine project through despite wide-spread opposition from the people of the Great Lakes region. Our community remains steadfast in challenging the company’s fraudulent and ill-designed mine application and the company’s complete disregard for human health, freshwater, and Native American treaty rights,” said Gabriel Caplett from Michigan.

Magnuson, an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ECLA) pator who is director of the Cedar Tree Institute in Michigan, said: “Around the world, there’s a new unprecedented consciousness rising up about human rights, ethics, and the environment. Rio Tinto and its Kennecott mining operations in Michigan, in its cavalier dismissal of the claims of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, represents a dying world of one dimensional reality, bad science, old colonialism, and unfettered capitalism: a culture of death.”

He continued: “We’ve traveled here with a message from 10,000 citizens and 100 community leaders from 10 faith traditions to say ‘No thank you. There’s a better way’.”

Another member of the delegation is Fr Henry Ramirez Soler from the Colombian Inter-church Committee for Justice and Peace. The Committee works with indigenous communities affected by exploration for copper and gold in the province of Choco, Colombia, in which Rio Tinto is also controversially involved.

Richard Solly, Secretary of the London Mining Network commented: “Mining companies have to clean up their act. They are better at talk than action. The UK Government has to hold to account companies based here or raising money on the London Stock Exchange. Everybody now knows the disastrous consequences of under-regulation of financial services. Well, much of the damaging investment that banks, insurance companies, pension funds and hedge funds have made has been in destructive mining projects.”

News and critiques of both companies are available at and

London Mining Network is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. Members include Action for Southern Africa, CATAPA (Comite Academico Tecnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales), Colombia Solidarity Campaign, The Corner House, Down to Earth (the campaign for ecological justice in Indonesia), Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme, Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries), Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links, TAPOL (the Indonesia human rights campaign) and the Society of St Columban. Observers include leading human rights, environmental and development organisations.

British-based mining companies deliver two thirds of global iron ore output, the majority of the world’s diamonds, platinum and titanium and a significant proportion of other metals and minerals. London is the world’s biggest centre raising money for the minerals industry. British high street and investment banks like Barclays, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Citibank and Standard Chartered, invest hundreds of millions of pounds a year in scores of mining projects across the globe.

The mining industry’s key lobbying organisation, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is based in the UK capital, as is the world’s most important metals price fixing mechanism, the London Metal Exchange (LME), and the premier “over the counter” precious metals trader, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA).