Global metals and mining giant Rio Tinto came under fire today from unions and protesters angry over links with the Olympics, harsh labour policies and potential environmental disasters.
Unions, environmental and human rights demonstrators targeted the annual general meeting of Rio Tinto in central London.
Some were wearing gas masks and token Olympic medals to highlight massive amounts of air pollution being caused by the firm’s Bingham Canyon mine in Utah where most of the medals are coming from.
The protest was led by Workers Uniting, – the global union created by the United Steel Workers in the USA and Canada and the UK and Ireland’s Unite and they were joined by the International Transport Federation and the Dutch union FNV all supporting 780 workers at the Alma aluminum smelter in Quebec who have been subject to a four-month lockout in a dispute over Rio Tinto’s plans to replace retiring employees with contract workers.
Several USW and Unite members attended the AGM to argue the case of the locked out workers.
The Free West Papua Campaign was flying West Papuan flags – the raising of which leads to long prison sentences in Indonesian-occupied West Papua – to protest against Rio Tinto’s involvement in the Grasberg copper-gold mine which has a long history of violation of land rights and sacred sites.
Utah Moms for Clean Air carried and burst black balloons symbolising deaths they claim were attributable to the company’s contribution to air pollution in the Salt Lake City area.
It has been an embarrassing week for Rio Tinto after the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign nominated the company as one of the three “worst” corporate sponsors of the Olympics.
Rio Tinto is providing 99 per cent of the metal for the London Olympic medals and Unite is calling for the International Olympic Committee to drop the company. On Monday a new web based campaign dubbed ‘Off The Podium’ was launched by Workers Uniting and support groups.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “Its actions go completely against the Olympic values of ‘friendship, solidarity and fair play’. The USW and Unite have created Workers Uniting – so the members in Canada are our members – so they are entitled to our support.”
You can watch a webcast of today’s Rio Tinto AGM is available here. You have to register though – click on Q&A – its worth it!
Highlights from the Q&A are: USW’s Guy Farrell who identifies himself as “from the United Steelworkers and Workers Uniting” calling Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese out for worker abuses in Alma, Canada. Guy also corrects Albanese’s statement (54:00 – 59:30.)
When Rio Tinto Chairman Jan du Plessis tries to shut down the Q&A after having ignored USW Local 9490 President Marc Maltais efforts to raise a question during the whole Q&A, Tom Grinter of ICEM stands up and forcefully straightens out Plessis out and tells him what kind of chair he can sit on for not letting the union have a say at the meeting. That’s from 2:43:45 – 2:45:20.
Back story – click here.