Anglo American is one of the world’s biggest mining companies. Originally founded in 1918 in South Africa the company moved its offices to London in 1999. It has operations in many countries, including South Africa, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Canada and Australia. Its global production is diverse, taking in copper, iron, nickel and manganese as well as coal and diamonds (for many years Anglo American was a major owner in the De Beers company). It is also the world’s biggest producer of platinum.
In 2019 this company registered an incredible figure of $29.9 billion in revenues and $6.2bn in operating profits.
Anglo American’s executive director is the Australian Mark Cutifani, ex-director (2007-13) of South African gold mining company AngloGold Ashanti. Cutifani also worked for mining giant VALE and is a member of French gas and petrol company TOTAL. Between 2017 and 2018 his salary rose by more than $8m to the wildly inflated figure of more than $18m.
As with many mining companies operating in Latin America and the global South in general, Anglo American has its base in Europe and quotes on the London Stock Exchange. London is also where it holds its Annual General Meeting, which this year took place on May 5th. However, due to the Covid19 pandemic, Anglo American decided to hold the AGM behind closed doors, with a quorum reduced to two shareholders, and only dealing with a selection of questions online.
A coalition of communities, human rights and climate justice organisations based in the UK, Ireland and Latin America looked to use this opportunity to put a spotlight on the company for the impacts of its operations in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil. Moreover, they questioned Anglo American’s handling during the Covid19 crisis, and the false “green” face it presents to the world. This initiative was led by London Mining Network (LMN), a solidarity network which monitors and campaigns on the activities and impacts of mining companies registered in London.
Impacts in Latin America and management of Covid19
Over the years, Anglo American has seen itself involved in a range of socio-environmental conflicts in the territories where it operates, including in Latin America. In Colombia, Anglo American exploits the deposits of El Cerrejón, the world’s largest open-cast coalmine, whose ownership it shares with two other mining giants, BHP and Glencore.
The Colombian region of La Guajira, where the mine is situated, is dry and hot and water there is precious. The area is home to indigenous Wayuu and afro-descendant communities, who for many years have been denouncing the impacts of this mine in their territory, including the diversion by Cerrejón of the Arroyo Bruno waterway in order to expand their coal operations.
Luis Misael Socarras, of Indigenous association Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu, said: “Coal is not a human right, we can live without the exploitation of coal, but we cannot live without water and culture.”
For her part, Diana Salazar, a researcher with London-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign, told us “Thousands of Indigenous Wayuu children have died of malnutrition and thirst in the region where AngloAmerican is third-part owner of Cerrejon, a huge open-cast coal operation that consumes vast quantities of water. During the Covid-19 crisis the company has been delivering food parcels, yet it plans to restart operations in an area where there is little access for communities to health facilities, exposing indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to a higher risk of infection.”
Quellaveco is a copper mine owned by Anglo American in Moquegua, in the south of Peru. In a move similar to what took place in La Guajira, the company decided to divert the natural course of the Asana river through a tunnel in order to make their mining project viable. Aldo Orellana of organisation TerraJusta affirmed that there were conflicts in the area in 2019 and that Anglo American “stands accused of contamination of the Asana-Tumilaca river during the construction phase of the Quellaveco mine”. Communities further down the river fear that the mine could be affecting the water that they need for agricultural production. What is more, the Peruvian Ombudsman already warned in 2018 that this project could generate new conflicts due to the use of water by the Quellaveco mine potentially causing a scarcity in the river basins of Tambo (Moquegua and Arequipa) and Locumba (Tacna).
Anglo American has also had problems in Peru in relation to its crisis management during the sanitary emergency brought about by Covid19. Orellana related how, “On March 19th, a bus carrying 32 workers from Anglo American’s Quellaveco mine in southern Peru was detained in Cajamarca in the north of the country for being in violation of the general quarantine decreed by the government. The Governor of Cajamarca has initiated a criminal case against the company for putting the population of Cajamarca in danger, describing their actions as “careless and irresponsible”.
Heading further south, to the neighbouring country of Chile, we find Anglo American operating Los Bronces and El Soldado, two major copper mines. Javiera Martinez of London Mining Network explained that, “For the last decade, Chile has endured severe drought. This situation is much worse in territories where mining is also present. This is the case for the communities of El Melón and Lo Barnechea who live near Anglo American’s El Soldado and Los Bronces mines. For these communities, mining has brought pollution, water scarcity, disease, land degradation and the destruction of glaciers and native species.”
In relation to the pandemic, Martinez also pointed out that these communities “do not have access to drinking water and live in fear because they cannot prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
Anglo American isn’t only in the western region of South America, but also in Brazil, where it operates the Minas Rio iron ore mine in the State of Minas Gerais. However, what most attracts attention about their presence in the country at this time is its search for gold deposits. In March this year, following an investigation by Brazilian journalists published in Mongabay, London Mining Network has been helping expose revelations that Anglo American and its two Brazilian associates have presented nearly 300 applications to mine gold and other minerals in the Brazilian Amazon, a critical ecosystem for the world in the fight against climate change.
Andrew Hickman of LMN says: “The investigations reveal that the company – which refused to answer questions from journalists – has exploration interests that overlap with the territories of indigenous peoples being repressed by a Brazilian government that is seeking to open the Amazon to extractive industries. In order to grant Anglo American and others exploration permits in these territories the Bolsonaro Administration is seeking to create a new law, in contravention of the Brazilian Constitution.”
Without doubt we are looking here at a very sensitive potential conflict that calls for global attention, and which could lead to the plundering of indigenous communities in this crucial ecosystem.
Anglo American likes to present itself as a modern company looking to the future and having ‘the utmost consideration for our people, their families, local communities, our customers and the world at large’. The impacts that it generates in Latin America – including its search for gold in one of the most ecologically critical places on the planet and in cahoots with a Brazilian government widely seen as unstable, militarist and antidemocratic – is hard to fit with this image. Critical observers of the mining industry will not, however, be surprised.
The decision by Anglo American to hold its AGM behind closed doors, more than the emergency situation generated by Covid19, responds to the company’s attempt to evade its responsibility and reply to the difficult questions about its controversial operations around the world. However, the false greenwashed mask which Anglo American presents to the world is slipping under the weight of the multiple historic and current examples of its irresponsible behaviour in Latin America, in reference as much to its mining operations as to its handling of the crisis brought about by the pandemic.
“The attempt by mining giant Anglo American to rebrand their destructive practices as being somehow ‘ethical’ rings hollow with the continued failure by its AGM to ensure effective scrutiny and accountability. For those communities already facing the deadly impacts of their operations year on year, and who now face a public health crisis, this is not just an insult, but will have lethal consequences”, says Asad Rehman, Executive Director of London-based global justice NGO War on Want.
As such, this international coalition sought to use the Anglo American AGM to shine a light on how this company continues to push forward its operations in the region and capitalise on the emergency situation brought on by Covid19, seeking operating licenses and presenting itself as a solution-bearer to the problems of water scarcity, inequality, malnutrition and illness which its own mining activities have helped to create. However, this is just one example among many of the behaviour of mining companies in Latin America, which already has widespread consequences in countries like Peru, for example, where 260 cases of Covid among mineworkers have already been reported – a fact which puts their own families at high risk, but also the communities who live near these mining operations.
Hannibal Rhoades, European Regional Coordinator of the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network, adds: “As the pandemic crisis deepens, mining companies like Anglo American are jumping at the opportunity to gain good PR. But dropping parcels of food or hand gel in communities cannot solve the chronic health and ecological problems created by mining in the first place. The pandemic is making it abundantly clear that the needs of communities, not mining corporations, are essential.”
This article is based on a press release by London Mining Network, War on Want, TerraJusta, Colombia Solidarity Campaign y Stop Blood Coal Ireland. London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups who work for greater accountability by mining companies based in London for the impacts of their operations on communities.