Rio Tinto face a broad front of protestors


Various sources, with commentary

Date of publication: 
16 April 2014

This year’s Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting, held on 15 April 2014, had the characteristics of a long war of attrition. Numerous shareholders raised issues which were dealt with at length, so it ended up as an almost three hour meeting.

Numerous issues were raised. Below is a small selection of articles on those issues. More are available at:

IndustriALL launched a report on the company before the meeting, which can be read here:


Rio Tinto heavily blamed by protesters over 41 mine worker deaths

Global trade union IndustriAll accuses Anglo-Australian firm of ‘very wide breaches of fundamental rights’ in failure over safety

Rupert Neate

The –

15 April 2014

Protesters and unions from around the world heavily criticise mining company Rio Tinto on Tuesday over alleged lapses in safety leading to the deaths of 41 people and a string of claimed environmental abuses.

Global trade union IndustriAll, which represents 50 million industrial workers across the world, accused Rio of “very wide breaches of fundamental rights” and said the Anglo-Australian mining company could have done more to prevent the 41 deaths last year.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriAll, said the deaths of 33 gold miners when a tunnel collapsed at a Rio joint venture mine in Indonesia last May could have been avoided.

He claimed that the Indonesian human rights commission found that the operators of the Grasberg mine, owned with US company Freeport, “had the ability to prevent this from happening but didn’t”.

“The lack of effort jeopardised the lives of others. The gravity of this case is serious,” he quoted Indonesian human rights commissioner Natalius Pigai as saying in a report into the incident.

Jan du Plessis, Rio’s chairman, described the Indonesian deaths as a “tragedy” and said the company was doing all it could to improve safety. “We’ve got to be [by far] one of the leaders in this field [safety],” he said at the company’s annual meeting in London.

He admitted that the Grasberg mine, the world’s largest gold mine, was “far from perfection”. But said Rio’s board believed both safety and environmental issues would not be improved by the company pulling out of the operation in Papua.

Well-known private shareholder John Farmer said it was unacceptable for the company to “gloss over 33 deaths just because it [the mine] is managed by someone else”.

A company spokesman later said: “Rio Tinto does not manage the Grasberg operation, but we do not stand aside when fatalities occur. We are working with Freeport, the managers of the mine on safety, as well as community, human rights and other issues.”

Native Papuan people protesting against the Grasberg mine, which has also been at the centre of alleged environmental abuses, were joined by others complaining about alleged human right and environmental abuses in Madagascar, Australia, Namibia and the US.

Perle Zafinandro, the leader of a community protest group against Rio’s majority-owned coastal forest mine in Madagascar, accused the company of “land grabbing and environmental devastation”.

Sam Walsh, Rio’s chief executive, apologised for poor communication and promised better engagement with local people. He said the level of compensation for people displaced by the QIT Madagascar Minerals mine was negoitated by the Madagscar government, which owns 20% of the mine, not Rio.

Walsh also committed to “turning the area back to what it was” and has employed a “team running a [plant] nursery to be able to fully rehabitualise the area”.

Zafiandro said: “How are you going to get these trees to grow on the dead sands left behind?”

Rio has employed horticulturists from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to advise it on how to restore the unique and highly endangered littoral [coastal] forest in the southeast of the island.


Exposing the ugly truth about Rio Tinto

15 April 2014

IndustriALL Global Union has produced a report released today; “Unsustainable: The Ugly Truth about Rio Tinto” highlighting the multinational’s global practices. And today, workers from numerous countries will stage a protest outside Rio Tinto’s AGM over the ugly truth behind its global operations.

IndustriALL Global Union has produced a report, to be released in the morning of 15 April; “Unsustainable: The Ugly Truth about Rio Tinto” highlighting the multinational’s global practices. IndustriALL is calling for Rio Tinto to live up to its claim to be a sustainable company including by respecting workers’ rights.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL says:
Rio Tinto’s blind pursuit of profit at any cost has caused disputes with numerous unions as well as environmental, community and indigenous groups. IndustriALL has launched a campaign working with civil society organizations to defend against Rio Tinto’s abuses. Through demonstrating that Rio Tinto does not operate in a sustainable manner, we aim to force the company to live by its own claims.

The report exposes Rio Tinto’s performance on areas including environmental, economic, social and governance issues which the company claims to be key areas for its sustainable development.


Rio Tinto took huge losses on its investment in Mozambique, while at the same time forcing people off their land. Rio Tinto took huge losses on its Alcan acquisition, while at the same time laying off thousands of workers and provoking a costly labor dispute.


40 workers were killed at Rio Tinto fully or partially owned operations in 2013. In the case of a disaster in Indonesia that killed 28 of the workers, a national human rights commission found it could have been avoided. Over one-third of the company’s workforce is continually exposed to work noise levels at which hearing loss can be predicted.


Rio Tinto consistently refuses to seek free, prior and informed consent from communities before mining. Rio Tinto says that closure costs of its operations represent a significant financial liability, however they publish little detail on how they calculate those liabilities.


In a single month last year, Rio Tinto had uranium spills at both of its uranium operations.

The protest will take place at 10 am, Tuesday 15 April, at the Rio Tinto AGM, The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, London.


Rio Tinto’s shareholders are green and angry

by Suzie Neuwirth

City AM –

15 April 2014

A shareholder at Rio Tinto’s annual meeting today accused the company of “getting as bad as BP”, referring to its health and safety record due to 33 deaths at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia last year.

The two companies make an interesting comparison, BP having had its own annual meeting last week.

While both are multinational, multibillion-pound resource firms that have had their fair share of controversies, there was a marked difference between the two AGMs.

BP’s investors were mostly interested in executive pay, but Rio Tinto’s shareholders hardly brought this up – despite chief executive Sam Walsh taking home over £5m last year.

The key focus of Rio Tinto’s annual meeting was environmental and social issues – and lots of them. There were calls for Rio Tinto to divest its stake in Grasberg; to sell off dirty thermal coal; to stop trying to mine under Arizona’s Oak Flat; criticism for developing the Ranger uranium mine.

There were also questions about a lack of tax paid in Mozambique (Rio generated huge losses here, hence no corporation tax) and the environmental impact of its mines in Madagascar.

There was even a question about the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia and controversy in the 1970s.

In fact, the one environmental plaudit Rio received was for pulling out of the Pebble Mine in Alaska.

To his credit, chairman Jan du Plessis let everyone have their say without cutting them off. Even the shareholder who called for the annual report to be in a different font and ink colour as it was making him squint.

There really wasn’t much corporate news to come out of the meeting – a bit of chat about aluminium (“The aluminium industry globally has experienced headwinds of the kind of force that no one could have envisaged at the time”) and mention of an audit tender (by 2019 at the latest), but this AGM was most definitely about the environmental impact of Rio Tinto the resource reaper.

Looks like BP shareholders need to up their game for next year’s meeting.


Uranium workers dying after time at Namibia mine, report warns

Miners who dug ore to supply the military found to be dying of cancers and other illnesses at Rio Tinto’s Rössing mine

John Vidal

The Guardian -

15 April 2014

Miners who dug uranium ore that supplied the British and US military in the 1970s with the raw material for bombs and civil nuclear power are reported to be dying of cancers and unexplained illnesses after working in one of Africa’s largest mines.

A study based on questionnaires of current and former workers at the giant Rio Tinto-owned Rössing uranium mine in Namibia says that everyone questioned was aware of people who are now suffering lung infections and unknown illnesses thought to be linked to their work.

The mine, in the Namib desert, produces around 7% of the world’s uranium but was operated with rudimentary safety when it opened in 1976. “People get sick. We are seeing it in people that have worked for Rössing for a long time. They just go back and die after working at Rössing,” one man told researchers working with Earthlife Namibia and the Labour Resource and Research Institute.

The study, which is expected to be published this week, accepts that working conditions in the mine have greatly improved but says that all workers questioned said that they were exposed to high levels of dust.

“Two current workers are on sick leave since 2000 and 2003. One worked as a laboratory technician for 24 years and claims to have proof he was radiated,” says a summary of the paper seen by the Guardian.

Rössing, which mines millions of tonnes of rock a year to extract uranium, employs more than 1,500 people. “Most workers stated that they are not informed about their health conditions and do not know if they have been exposed to radiation or not. Some workers said they consulted a private doctor to get a second opinion,” say the authors.

“The older workers all said they know miners dying of cancers and other illnesses. Many of these are now retired and many have already died of cancers,” says the report.

A spokesman for Rio Tinto said that Rössing has been recognised by independent consultants as one of the world’s safest mines. “The health and safety of our employees is the top priority. We have health management systems in place to make sure that everyone goes home safe and healthy every day. Effective controls ensure that radiation exposures to employees are kept well below the Rössing standard for occupational radiation exposure.

“The company keeps detailed records of the health status of its workforce from the day of employment to the day they leave the company. It therefore does not need to speculate on health issues of its employees.”

One former worker said: “Yes, I have cancer now. In the beginning they [Rio Tinto] did not want to give money for the treatment but later when they referred me to a doctor for an operation they gave me money for treatment.”

“Doctors were told not to inform us with our results or tell our illness. They only supply you with medications when you are totally finished up or about to die,” said another.

During the first years of operation, Rössing operated with a migrant labour system which the International Commission of Jurists declared illegal and said was similar to slavery. Black workers lived on the mine premises and were exposed to dust and radiation 24 hours a day and the mine became the focus for protests by anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear groups.

Shares in the mine are owned 69% by UK-based Rio Tinto, and 15% by the government of Iran. The Namibian government has denied supplying Iran with Namibian uranium which could be used for nuclear weapons.

“Uranium companies generally deny that workers get sick because of exposure to radiation. They blame the bad health conditions to unhealthy lifestyles such as eating habits, tobacco smoking and alcohol,” says the study.

Former Rössing mineworkers and people from communities adversely affected by Rio Tinto mines in west Papua, Madagascar, Namibia, Mongolia and the US will petition Rio Tinto shareholders at Tuesday’s annual meeting in London.

“Rio Tinto is enormous. Its history of attacks on workers’ rights, and environmental destruction has had a particularly damaging impact across the world,” said Richard Solly, co-ordinator of London Mining Network, an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups.


Rio Tinto warns of more economic upheaval at annual general meeting in London

By resources reporter Sue Lannin

ABC News –

16 April 2014

Rio Tinto’s chairman expects financial market volatility to continue this year, warning the global economy is likely to face more challenges in 2014.

Addressing shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in London, Jan du Plessis outlined international issues likely to impact on the company’s operations and results.

“Tensions remain in Europe and the pace of reform and structural readjustments is slow,” he said.

“The combination of low interest rates, low growth and low inflation leaves that continent with considerable challenges … and in the United States, the unwinding of quantitative easing represents unchartered territory.”

Mr du Plessis says he also expects short term ups and downs in China, Rio Tinto’s major customer.

“While the fundamental drivers of the Chinese economy remain intact, we can expect some variability … as authorities endeavour to steer the economy along a more sustainable and steady path of growth,” he said.

China is due to release its latest official growth figures at 12:00pm (AEST).

Chief executive Sam Walsh says he is taking Rio Tinto “back to the future” after a year of cost cutting, increased production and selling off mines.

Mr Walsh took the helm of Rio Tinto from Tom Albanese early last year after billions of dollars in writedowns.

The mining company’s annual report shows Mr Walsh is eligible for a payout of just over $10 million for 2013, up from 2012.

The company took huge writedowns on its aluminium businesses after its ill-timed purchase of Canada’s Alcan just before the global financial crisis.

Mr Walsh says Rio Tinto’s aluminium business will continue to operate in a difficult environment.

“Aluminium will improve over time, but at the moment we are stuck with low LME (London Metal Exchange) prices and we’ve just got to survive through this period,” he said.
No help for Energy Resources of Australia

Rio Tinto has also refused a guarantee to help its subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) rehabilitate the Ranger uranium mine, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

ERA has completed open cut mining and wants to build an underground mine, but it needs to clean up the site first following a toxic spill from a leach tank in December.

Mr Walsh says rehabilitation of the mine site is ERA’s responsibility.

“This is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them,” he said.

“We are clearly shareholders but it’s a matter for all shareholders and a matter for the ERA board.”

The miner says it is continuing discussions with the Mongolian Government over the $7 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine.

Mr Walsh says he is “relatively confident” of reaching agreement despite shareholder issues.

“All parties have requested an extension of the deadline for the project finance, and I’m hopeful we will receive the approval for that,” he said.
Activists and supporters have their say

Environmental groups, pension funds and non-government organisations also attended the AGM to comment on the company’s social and environmental record.

Mr du Plessis defended Rio Tinto’s investment in the giant Grasberg copper mine in West Papua in Indonesia despite the deaths of more than 30 workers last year in a training tunnel collapse, and what he called “significant challenges” in mine waste disposal.

An activist from Madagascar criticised the company’s involvement in a mining project in her country and accused the company of not being transparent about the environmental degradation caused by mining.

Native Alaskan communities praised Rio Tinto for its decision to sell out of the Pebble mine project in south-west Alaska and gift its shareholding to two Alaskan charities.

Kimberly Williams from the Native Alaskan group Caretakers of Our Land told the meeting she was very thankful the company had divested its stake in the copper and gold project.

The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition’s Roger Featherstone called on the company to emulate that decision and abandon plans for a $6 billion copper mine in Arizona.

Mr Walsh responded saying there was broad support for the planned underground mine and the company was committed to “vigorous consultation” on the project.

The Resolution project is part owned by Rio and also by BHP Billiton.

Mr du Plessis says the company has no plans for a share buyback at the moment and it plans to continue paying off debt in 2014.


It’s up to ERA: Rio Tinto sidesteps Ranger uranium open-cut mine rehabilitation costs

ABC Net –

16 April 2014

Mining giant Rio Tinto has distanced itself from the future rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine site in the Northern Territory.

Rio Tinto subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has completed open-cut mining and wants to establish an underground mine.

But before it can do that, it needs to start work on cleaning up the site, which is located within the boundaries of Kakadu National Park, about 200 kilometres east of Darwin.

Uranium processing at the Jabiru mine site has been suspended since December after a toxic spill from a leach tank.

Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh has told the company’s annual general meeting in London that rehabilitation of the mine site is ERA’s responsibility.

“This is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them,” he said.

Question from the floor: “But not for you?”

“We are clearly shareholders, but it is a matter for all shareholders and a matter for the ERA board,” Mr Walsh replied.

“There was a rights issue, and the rights issue developed the funds to cover the rehabilitation.”

For Chief executive Andrea Sutton’s address to the ERA annual general meeting on April 9 go to:-


Ranger mine: ERA attracts ire from local community over uranium rehab

Peter Ker, Resources reporter –

21 April 2014

The relationship between Energy Resources of Australia and a crucial group of indigenous people appears to be deteriorating, after the miner raised doubts about its ability to pay for the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine near Kakadu.

The open pits at Ranger have already come to the end of their working lives, and the only chance of further mining is if an exploration campaign on site, known as ‘‘Ranger 3 Deeps’‘, is successful.

ERA surprised its stakeholders last month when it suggested it might struggle to pay for the rehabilitation if Ranger 3 Deeps did not go ahead.

‘‘If the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area,’‘ the company said in its annual report.

ERA is 68 per cent owned by Rio Tinto, but Rio boss Sam Walsh indicated last week that Rio had already contributed to the rehabilitation costs at Ranger when it participated in a $500 million equity raising for ERA in 2011.

‘‘There was a rights issue at ERA to fund the rehabilitation work and those funds are still sitting within that business,’‘ said Mr Walsh.

‘’[ERA] is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them.

‘‘We are clearly shareholders, but it’s a matter for all shareholders and a matter for the ERA board.’‘

The comments have worried the local indigenous group – the Mirarr people – whose permission is required before ERA can conduct any further mining at Ranger.

Justin O’Brien, who runs the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation for the Mirarr people said the group’s land was being held to ransom by the miners.

‘‘The attitude of Rio and ERA shows that little has changed in more than three decades since [land rights campaigner] Galarrwuy Yunupingu described talks over the Ranger mine as ‘like negotiating with a gun to my head’,’‘ he said. ‘‘The mining giants have made enormous profits at the expense of Mirarr traditional lands and are now holding the World Heritage-listed area to ransom.’‘

ERA has already started some rehabilitation work at Ranger, has made provisions and also has a trust for rehabilitation in place with the Australian government, which was holding $63.9 million at December 31.

A spokesman for ERA said the company’s long-term business plan was to ensure the business could meet its rehabilitation obligations.