By Dina Gilio-Whitaker - Indian Country Today, July 24, 2015
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.
As opposition to the land-exchange deal that gave control of the Apache sacred site of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper Mining intensifies, a protest march has passed through New York City and arrived in Washington.
The land swap, slipped into the National Defense Authorization Bill in December 2014, could still be repealed, if a countermeasure introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva takes hold.
Resolution Copper Mining, beneficiary of the last-minute measure, is owned by Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton. Both parents have dismal human rights and environmental records. The subsidiary’s website recites such values as “accountability, respect, teamwork and integrity.” Front and center is its Native American Engagement campaign, which among other things provides scholarships to Native youth. (Sound familiar? Think Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation).
But what do we really know about the company behind the project?
“Rio Tinto has an established record of respect and partnership with the indigenous people who are connected to the land where we operate,” claimed Project Director Andrew Taplin to San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler in a March 2014 letter inviting him to meet with a Rio Tinto executive.
Rambler, however, has said that the tribe is against engaging with the mining behemoth, especially regarding public lands.
“They asked to meet with us, but as a council we decided that our relationship and our trust responsibility lies with the federal government,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in a recent interview. “And this is public land with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—it’s Tonto National Forest.”
In its corporate handbook, Rio Tinto professes to “support and respect human rights consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and actively seek to ensure we are not complicit in human rights abuses committed by others” and “respect the diversity of indigenous peoples, acknowledging the unique and important interests that they have in the land, waters and environment as well as their history, culture and traditional ways.”
A closer look, however, reveals that Rio Tinto, which owns 55 percent of Resolution Copper, has a long history of colluding with governments that undermine the rights of workers and indigenous peoples in order to exploit resources. That those resources often exist in indigenous territories means that Indigenous Peoples are subject to a sort of double jeopardy in which they are expected to form a labor pool, and further expected to be happy to be employed in the ripping up of their ancestral lands.
With $47 billion in revenues generated in 2014 alone and $83 billion in assets, Rio Tinto is considered one of the top three largest mining companies in the world, according to Statista.com. Rio Tinto mines many types of ore, including iron, bauxite, gold, diamonds, uranium, copper, coal and aluminum. Although based in Australia and London, Rio Tinto operates on six continents and works hard to project an image of environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
Rio Tinto claims to abide by the Global Reporting Initiative, a voluntary set of standards used by more than 6,000 companies internationally. The international labor rights group IndustriAll Global Union found, however, that just 60 percent of Rio Tinto’s sustainability claims were accurate in the social, environment, governance and economic categories. A study conducted by the group revealed that Rio Tinto had excluded controversial projects and community stakeholders from its claims, thus skewing the data.
In short, accounts of Rio Tinto’s unethical business practices could (and has) filled volumes. Here we list some of the most egregious, notorious transgressions against both Indigenous Peoples and labor rights—and often, both—worldwide.