The following statement was released by Congressman Grijalva today on human rights violations by Rio Tinto and the Oak Flat land exchange.
Grijalva Calls For Full Investigation of Rio Tinto Human Rights Record Before Lucrative Mining Land Swap
Wednesday December 16, 2009
Washington, DC - Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today questioned the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s decision to vote on the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2009 without investigating the poor human rights record – including alleged illegal payments to a foreign army – of the bill’s main beneficiary, mining conglomerate Rio Tinto.
The bill grants Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton,a lucrative land swap in central Arizona that would give the company mining rights it values at approximately $140 billion over the mine’s projected life span. The company would receive the title to land previously removed from mining activities by President Eisenhower’s administration.
The land swap and mining proposal, Grijalva said, does not address a host of concerns from Arizona’s Native American tribes, environmental groups and area rock climbing organizations. Rio Tinto’s international human rights record “only adds to my already deep concerns,” he said.
“Voting to pass this legislation blatantly ignores Rio Tinto’s troubling human rights record,” Grijalva said, pointing to the Norwegian government’s recent decision to divest itself of approximately $890 million in Rio Tinto stock after deeming the company’s activities overseas “grossly unethical.” The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, by moving the legislation forward without greater consideration of Rio Tinto’s worldwide business practices, has done “a grave disservice to our taxpayers and abused Congress’ role as the guardian of public resources,” he said.
Late last year, the Norwegian Minister of Finance announced that Rio Tinto “is directly involved, through its participation in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, in the severe environmental damage caused by that mining operation.” Because she saw “no indications to the effect that the company’s practices will be changed,” she said, the government decided it could no longer profit from the company’s activities.
Just as seriously, Grijalva said, Rio Tinto is the subject of a recently approved class action lawsuit in Los Angeles on behalf of South Pacific islanders who say the company caused long-lasting environmental damage at its mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The lawsuit also claims that Rio Tinto paid native workers less than whites and contributed to the island’s violent civil war, which killed about 10 percent of the population.
The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said in its ruling allowing the lawsuit to proceed that the alleged crimes – including crimes against humanity, war crimes and racial discrimination – were of such ''universal concern'' that it would hear them under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows U.S. courts to hear human rights cases centering on activity overseas. Islanders claim that Rio Tinto dumped billions of tons of toxic waste from the mine in unsafe areas, causing such extensive health and environmental damage that locals began an uprising that was crushed by troops funded by Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government, which had a 17 percent stake in the mine.
“This company has as bad a record as you’ll find anywhere in the world, yet the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set to approve a deal that would grant it another $140 billion in mineral rights currently held on public land,” Grijalva said. “We as lawmakers owe the public some due diligence before rushing to pass a bad bill in the name of job creation. The economy cannot be jump-started at the expense of the labor, civil rights and environmental laws we hold dear in this country.”
Grijalva said the land swap should be considered in legal and ethical terms just as carefully as in economic terms.
“Like many of my colleagues in Washington, I support fair, sustainable economic growth,” Grijalva said. “This deal is not fair, and Rio Tinto’s business model is not sustainable. I cannot support this measure as currently written, and neither should the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.”