Posted by keith on September 10th, 2008
Incredible, a nation acting in the best interests of the planet. Ok, it’s Norway, and they do have lots of gas and oil, but even so, a snub of this magnitude deserves to be highlighted, especially when it involves one of the most destructive corporations on Earth:
The Norwegian government has launched an unprecedented attack on the UK mining giant Rio Tinto, selling a £500m holding in the company after accusing it of “grossly unethical conduct” relating to environmental damage.
The Norwegian Ministry of Finance released a statement yesterday saying it had “decided to exclude the company Rio Tinto from the Government Pension Fund – Global, due to a risk of contributing to severe environmental damage”.
The government has blocked its $375bn (£213bn) sovereign wealth fund, known worldwide as its “oil fund”, from investing in Rio over its mining operations in Indonesia, in a move that could drive other investors to review their holdings in the group.
The bloody struggle between native West Papuans whose land was stolen from them by the Indonesian government in the 1960s has been well documented, and it is such a stark example of corporate / government injustice that I made a point of highlighting it in A Matter Of Scale:
The tribal people of West Papua live in a manner that is entirely alien to most of modern humanity. According to Bernard Nietschmann: “The people of West Papua are different in all respects from their rulers in [Indonesia]: language, religions, identity, histories, systems of land ownership and resource use, cultures and allegiance.” Imagine, for a moment, living in such a way that you had no concept of outside rules, beliefs and culture; when, suddenly, the land you have nurtured for centuries with delicate care is ripped away from you to be handed to a corporation intent on mining it for metals, leaving the land in tatters and thousands of tonnes of toxic spoil leaching poison into the ground. This is precisely what happened in the years following 1967 under the despotic leadership of President Suharto of Indonesia (who also forcibly took control of the country following a military coup in 1965). Two large mining companies from “democratic” nations; Freeport, based in the USA, and Rio Tinto Zinc, a UK / Australian conglomerate; were handed the mineral rights for a large part of West Papua in return for generous donations to the Suharto regime. Despite Suharto’s bloodthirsty behaviour across his empire, including responsibility for the slaughter of half a million Indonesians in 1965, the CEO of Freeport, James Roberts, called Suharto, “a compassionate man.”
The native West Papuans have never had the land returned to them, primarily because there is no profit to be made in giving a peaceful, nature respecting people stewardship of a region under which there are rich mineral resources to be plundered.
Now go back to the article in The Independent, and read the responses of the Rio Tinto PR machine:
A Rio spokesman said the company felt “surprise and disappointment” at the decision, adding it had come out of the blue after the company had held meetings with the ministry.
Rio countered the claims [of the Norwegian government] in a written statement to the government that it “maintains the highest environmental standards at all its operations wherever they are located, and it contributes technical support to its joint venture partners to ensure that the most appropriate solutions are identified and implemented”.
No mention of human rights abuses, of course — they are totally undefendable — and the “highest environmental standards” must be referring to the industry’s own definition, in which case this is a combination of both an absurd reframing of what environmental protection means, and a phenomenally large pile of greenwash.
Norway, for today The Unsuitablog salutes you!