Olympic medal pollution protesters disrupt Rio Tinto meeting

Date of publication: 
19 April 2012

Protesters claim ‘life-threatening’ air pollution is produced by mines supplying metal for London 2012 Olympic medals

Protesters, some wearing gas masks, gathered outside Rio Tinto’s annual meeting near Parliament to highlight claims of “life-threatening” air pollution from mines producing metal for the London 2012 Olympic medals. A coalition of unions, including the United Steelworkers and Unite, also called on the International Olympic Committee to drop Rio Tinto as its official medal provider over claims of ill treatment of some of its miners.

Union members handed out medals inscribed with “Don’t let Rio Tinto tarnish the Olympic Games” to shareholders in an attempt to highlight a four-month industrial dispute at its Canadian Alma aluminium smelter.

Guy Farrell, USW’s assistant director for Quebec, said: “Locking out its workers in Quebec is a violation of Rio Tinto’s obligations to fair play under the Olympic Charter. The effort by this company to drive down living wages at one of the most profitable aluminium smelters in the world is a dangerous precedent for workers and families everywhere.

“Rio Tinto is not Olympic calibre in its behaviour towards its own workers and their families. The company demands unrealistic concessions from employees, and locks them out when they don’t concede. It pollutes the air and water in communities around the world. It has no place alongside the world’s greatest athletes – it’s time to get Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium.”

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “Its actions go completely against the Olympic values of ‘friendship, solidarity and fair play’.”

Tom Albanese, Rio’s chief executive, said the company is willing to enter into talks with the union. “We have come to solutions all the time before [regarding collective work agreement], it’s just about being reasonable,” he said.

Meredith Alexander, who quit as a commissioner of the London 2012 sustainability watchdog to launch the Greenwash Gold campaign against sponsorship of the games by Rio, BP and Dow Chemicals, also raised environmental concerns.

Albanese said: “We have rigorous standards for air quality, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate change, the use of energy, land and water and waste disposal. Before we even open a mine we plan for its closure and how to restore the land.”

Rio is providing the 4,700 medals for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, including 8 tonnes of gold, silver and bronze from mines in Utah and Mongolia.

Protesters also raised concerns about plans by Rio and its fellow company Anglo American plans to start mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Pebble project is one of the world’s largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits, but activists claim it could harm an important salmon spawning habitat.

Cynthia Carroll, Anglo’s chief executive, said the company had already spent $120m on a 25,000-page scientific study and would only press ahead with the mine if its proposals were cleared by regulators and scientists.

She hit back at campaign groups’ “outlandish claims” of the damage the mine would do when it has not yet defined the scale and scope of the proposed mine.

Sir John Parker, Anglo’s chairman, said the company had already gone “way beyond compliance” in its efforts to ensure the proposed mine would not affect the area’s fragile ecosystem. “Fishing and mining can live together,” he said.

Parker also said Anglo had the “deepest sympathy” with 1,200 South African gold miners who are suing the company for allegedly failing to provide protection from dangerous levels of dust created by deep-level gold mining between the 1960s and 1990s. “We will do what we can to push this subject along,” he said.

Protesters picket Rio Tinto meeting over mines behind Olympic medals

Tom Bawden

London Evening Standard

19 April 2012

Mining giant Rio Tinto faced a protest today from a broad coalition of unions, social and environmental groups from as far afield as Mongolia over its role as a key sponsor and sole provider of gold, silver and bronze for the 2012 Olympic medals.

Gathered outside the company’s annual general meeting in London, at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre around the corner from Parliament, protesters complained that Rio Tinto’s social and environmental record was “tarnishing” what Lord Coe has claimed will be the greenest and most sustainable Olympics ever.

The protesters had a range of beefs with Rio Tinto, ranging from poor treatment of its staff to disregard for the communities around the mines that produce the Olympic metals. The company is providing material for 4700 medals – a total of eight tonnes of gold, silver and bronze from its mines in Utah and Mongolia.

Meanwhile, a separate pressure group took out full-page newspaper advertisements this morning opposing Rio’s plans to start mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Meredith Alexander, a campaigner against the miner’s sponsorship of the Olympics, said: “The impact that Rio Tinto has had in terms of the environmental and social problems that are associated with its mines around the world is really shocking.

“The case they need to answer is how long they can continue to operate in a way that can bring such devastation to communities when mining assets that morally belong to them,” added Ms Alexander, head of the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign, a coalition opposed to some of the sponsors of the Olympics, including Rio Tinto.

Ms Alexander is the former Olympics “ethics tsar” who in January resigned from the Commission for a Sustainable London over problems with Games sponsorship.

Rio chief executive Tom Albanese and chief financial officer Guy Elliott waived their “short-term” bonuses in 2011 as retribution for their disastrous acquisition of the Alcan aluminium business. Rio Tinto took an $8.9 billion (£5.5 billion) charge against that acquisition last year as the aluminium market remained tough.

However, Mr Albanese still collected £1.95m worth of so-called long-term incentive plan awards.

Unions push to get Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium

Union members and workers handed out replica Olympic medals to Rio Tinto shareholders saying ‘Don’t let Rio Tinto tarnish the Olympic Games’ and raised questions at the company’s annual general meeting in London today, April 19, 2012.

Anita Gardner

IMF union website

19 April 2012

GLOBAL: Mining and metal workers’ unions from around the world are campaigning to stop mining multinational Rio Tinto supplying the gold, silver and bronze for medals at the London Olympics in June.

Rio Tinto, sponsors of the 2012 London Olympics, is providing 99 per cent of the metal for minting the London Olympic medals, tarnishing them with the company’s reprehensible labour practices.

Protesting at the Rio Tinto Annual General Meeting in London Marc Maltais, President of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9490 representing locked out workers at a Rio Tinto smelter, said, “World class athletes deserve medals that aren’t tainted by Rio Tinto’s brutal treatment of its own workers and communities.”

The campaign (http://www.offthepodium.org/) has been developed in support of nearly 800 Canadian metalworkers and members of the USW locked out of a profitable smelter by Rio Tinto because they refused a plan that put new starters on insecure work arrangements with half the pay.

The workers in Alma, Quebec, have been locked out of their jobs since December 30 as the smelter sits idle, said Ken Neumann, Canadian National Director for the USW.

A LabourStart campaign is also running in support of the workers.

Locking out these workers in Quebec is a violation of Rio Tinto’s obligations to fair play under the Olympic charter, said Manfred Warda, General Secretary of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Union (ICEM).

“Rio Tinto would like to bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic Games, but it has a black record on the treatment of its own people,” said Warda.

Part of the delegation of USW and international trade union representatives participated in the AGM which can be viewed here, raising questions and challenging the management about its lockout of the workers.

David Cockroft, International Transport Workers’ Federation General Secretary, who was at the protest, said: “Rio Tinto is one of the most aggressively anti-union businesses in the mining industry and deserves to be the subject of ongoing scrutiny and action by unions and workers throughout Rio Tinto’s global supply chain.

“At the AGM, Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese did, however, say that the company was now willing to negotiate with the unions. Let’s see if he keeps to this promise.”

Supporting the action at the Rio Tinto AGM in London, Unite also arranged for union-friendly Members of Parliament to submit an Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament.

Meanwhile, unions attending an international mining conference in Sydney, Australia from April 17 to 19, decided to mount a global campaign against the company. A resolution passed at the ICEM World Mining conference in Sydney noted that Rio Tinto, like many transnational mining companies, was recording strong profit growth while engaging in brutal and unethical practices.

“In a strong field of anti-worker, anti-environment companies in the global mining industry Rio Tinto is worst of all,” said Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of the IMF.

“This campaign against Rio Tinto is only the beginning. Unions around the world have resolved at an international mining conference today to build a sustained global campaign against Rio Tinto and its anti-worker and anti-union ways,” said Raina.