Executive Director of Transparency International Initiative Madagascar (TI-MG), Ketakandriana Rafitoson (Ke), who also leads the Publish What You Pay coalition in Madagascar (PWYP MG), was in London this past week to attend the 2023 Rio Tinto AGM.
Ke – along with TI-MG and PWYP MG teams – has been working in close collaboration with the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK) and with the generous support of London Mining Network (LMN) in order to bring community issues directly to the company’s Board of Directors, investors and shareholders in London.
The AGM event, and multiple meetings around it, have provided the opportunity to raise questions and concerns about human rights violations caused by the Rio Tinto mine in Madagascar, and with a specific focus on the transparency and accountability of the compensation process that has recently delivered to address livelihood losses experienced by local communities affected by the mining giant’s subsidiary, Qit Minerals Madagascar (QMM).
It is just over year since two mine tailings dam failures at Rio Tinto’s QMM mine brought local fisherfolks’ lives to a halt when the appearance of hundreds of dead fish in downstream lakes precipitated a fishing ban.
Villagers were plunged into food insecurity and hardship, and the events led to months of conflict.
When resolution was finally brokered, in May 2022, it was agreed that QMM must compensate not just for losses caused by the fishing ban, but also for up to thirteen years of reported losses as a result of mining related activity at QMM.
A total of 8778 villagers submitted claims against QMM. The compensation process began in September 2022.
Months later, reports emerged that a number of human rights violations had occurred around QMM’s compensation to villagers, in particular that there had been intimidation and coercion at the start of the process, and an unexplained illegal detention of villagers at a local police station when they had gone to join negotiations.
ALT UK and PWYP MG have been writing to Rio Tinto since last November, questioning the compensation process and raising multiple concerns about human rights violations.
In February 2023, the company finally responded to inquiries sent in a joint letter from PWYP MG and ALT UK in December 2022. The company asserted that the presence of a notary and mediator had ensured the QMM compensation process was acceptable to villagers.
However, an increased number of human rights violations were reported as the process advanced, and another letter outlining these was submitted to the company in March 2023
Based on current reports from the field PWYP MG and ALT UK, are demanding an independent audit of the QMM compensation process. Also for the tailings dam failures and water quality that are the central problems to villagers loss of livelihoods and reports of health impacts from the QMM mine.
Rio Tinto’s Board faced questions from Madagascar, Serbia, Arizona and Mongolia, where communities are struggling to deal with the ongoing power asymmetry that accompanies Rio Tinto’s mining projects, and the inevitable social and environmental consequences that follow, all of which require greater transparency and accountability.