Fanning the Flames: The role of British mining companies in conflict and the violation of human rights

British mining companies are abusing human rights all over the world at the same time as making record profits and exploring new ‘frontiers’ in territories plagued by conflict. A report I’ve just authored for the NGO, Want on Want, documents the impacts of large-scale mining on communities in twenty countries. London is the centre of the world’s mining industry and many of the world’s largest mining companies are either UK-based or part-British, notably Anglo American, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata.

The report shows that these largest four British companies made profits of around £14 billion in 2006. Much of this wealth is simply being extracted from poor countries, with the complicity of Southern governments, due to low tax rates and profit repatriation allowances; there is also evidence that some companies are using creative accounting techniques to avoid paying taxes.

The report includes analysis of the following cases:

  • Two junior British mining companies are working in joint ventures with Chinese companies in Chinese-occupied Tibet, almost certainly illegally extracting that country’s rich natural resources.
  • Some of the big British companies are fanning conflict by mining in countries such as Colombia and exploring on the Philippines island of Mindanao, where the military is eradicating opponents of mining to make way for the companies.
  • In Uzbekistan, the British government is backing a gold mining company’s joint venture with the Uzbek regime, one of the region’s most repressive states.
  • British mining operations have provoked massive local opposition in countries such as Bangladesh, Peru, South Africa and India, notably for forcing people off their land, while receiving virtually no media coverage in the UK.
  • Severe environmental destruction, notably water pollution, is being caused in various countries including Ghana, Argentina, Papua New Guinea and Zambia

All this is being done with the active support of the British government, which continues to press for ‘favourable investment climates’ in developing countries while involving mining company leaders in various ‘corporate social responsibility’ initiatives and rejecting calls for increased regulation of corporations. Whitehall has close personal connections to the big mining companies. A director of Rio Tinto, for example, sits on the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Management Board, which is responsible for ‘success in the military tasks we undertake at home and abroad’.

The full report can be seen at: