Rio Tinto Warned Of Costs If Company Won't Respect Communities, Environment Or Workers

Rio Tinto was again warned today of growing financial exposure if the company refuses to respect communities, the environment and workers.

Comparing the company to the mining interests in the film Avatar, protesters in costumes from the film stood with workers outside Rio Tinto’s Melbourne headquarters, alerting the public to on-going abuses of the environment, indigenous people and workers.

The action came days after Rio Tinto’s annual general meeting in London was dominated by concerns over how people were treated, from China to California.  The company’s behaviour also comes with a financial cost.

It lost almost $900 million in investment after Europe’s largest equity firm, owned by the Norwegian government, pulled funds on environmental grounds.  And the company shelled out $25 million in damages to workers in New South Wales in Australia’s biggest unfair dismissal case.

It is also facing potentially huge liabilities in a class-action suit before American courts, alleging crimes against humanity in its operations in Papua New Guinea.

“Investors and courts expect Rio Tinto to change,” said Willie Adams, a representative of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States.  “Refusing to respect communities, the environment and workers comes with real financial costs.”

Mr Adams pointed to the current lock-out of almost 600 workers in Rio Tinto operations in California.  Not content with having Australia’s longest-ever labour dispute, Rio Tinto is under investigation from the United States government for asking workers to sign an allegedly illegal document.

“In the middle of America’s worst economy in 70 years, Rio Tinto has locked the doors to our workplace to try and turn full-time jobs into part-time jobs that can’t support families,” said American worker Terri Judd, who worked at the mine before being locked out.

“Around the world, Rio Tinto’s disrespect of workers is legendary.  From sacking Australians unlawfully to locking us out in America to abandoning executives in China, Rio Tinto sees people as disposable,” she said.

The story is the same in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, where years of polluting the environment and attacking indigenous people have caught up to Rio Tinto.  Its environmental degradation of rivers in Indonesia caused Norway’s government to pull almost $900 million in investment, while abuses in PNG years ago expose the company to harsh U.S. court judgments.

“Rio Tinto’s appalling treatment of indigenous people and their land is well-known around the world, but its Asia-Pacific operations are particularly bad,” said Bob Patchett from the Maritime Union of Australia.  “Whether it’s workers, the environment or indigenous people, it’s time this company changed.”

For more information:

Zoe Reynolds, Maritime Union of Australia, 0417.229.873

Media, EMC, 0432.828.005