RIO TINTO AGM 2023 – a week of actions

Raising awareness, amplifying the voice of local communities and promoting human rights around the QMM mine in Madagascar

Ketakandriana Rafitoson (right) of Transparency International Initiative Madagascar holding a banner outside the Rio Tinto office in London, April 5th 2023 (image LMN)

This year’s AGM of the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto marked 150 years of the company’s global operations. As in previous years, the event afforded an opportunity to put questions to the Board and advocate for greater transparency and accountability about the company’s QMM mining operation in southern Madagascar.

Civil society representative Ketakandriana Rafitoson (know as ‘Ke’ – pronounced ‘Kay’), Executive Director of Transparency International Initiative Madagascar, which coordinates the Publish What you Pay (PWYP MG) coalition in Madagascar was supported by London Mining Network to visit London to attend the Rio Tinto AGM, accompanied by, the Director of Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK), Yvonne Orengo.

Working together, and with community representatives, researchers and other campaigners, the PWYP MG and ALT UK advocacy campaign has brought attention to social and environmental problems around the QMM mine site. The most recent challenges that would be brought to the Rio Tinto 2023 AGM were highlighted in an article in the Ecologist in April:-

Read the Ecologist article, HERE

Questions raised at this year’s AGM focused first on human rights violations that have been reported from the ground during a recent compensation process by QMM. In particular, that gagging orders had been placed on local people during the the QMM negotiations, in direct breach of commitments Rio Tinto made after the Juukan Gorge inquiry to cease such gag clauses on traditional owners.

The QMM process was meant to address losses from the hardships and conflict created during a three-month fishing ban in 2022, after hundreds of dead fish appeared following two tailings dam failures and the release of a million cubic metres of mine waste water. Also, to remedy the negative impact of the mine on local livelihoods for more than a decade.

Further questions brought pressure on the company about the ongoing water quality issues and dam safety, central to community and environmental concerns around the QMM operations.

A Briefing paper was circulated to investors to summarise the key points, weeks before the AGM:

Download the Investor Briefing on QMM Madagascar HERE

The key demands of PWYP MG /ALT UK to Rio Tinto at the 2023 AGM: independent audits must be undertaken of the QMM compensation programme, water quality and dam safety.

QMM mine aerial view 2023 (image, Andrew Lees Trust)

Hear the questions and answers in the AGM recording: HERE reference points to the Q& A in the recording are : (1) PWYP MG question at 1.12.01 – 1.20.30 ( including response from Rio Tinto and follow up question) then (2) ALT UK question at 2.05.48 to 2.15.05 (including response)

Questions were also raised at the AGM about the competence levels at QMM by the Jesuit Missions ( See recording at 1.50.14), and also by the Local Authorities Pension Fund Forum (recording at 1.39.55) referring to the gagging clauses mentioned above.

The issues and demands from PWYP MG and ALT UK were taken to the Rio Tinto AGM in Australia a month later on May 4th (called in online), again pressuring the company to agree to independent audits.

Listen to the recording of the Rio Tinto Australia AGM : HERE with ALT UK Q&A at 54.36 – 57.08 including response

The company is declining to agree to independent audits while insisting its own internal processes are adequate.

At both the April (London) and May (Australia) AGMs, the new Chair of the Board, Dominic Barton, responded to the questions and made assurances that the company took the concerns about QMM seriously. He publicly asserted that when he joined the Board and heard the AGM questions about QMM last year, he prioritised to go and see the QMM mine in person and had met with communities in Anosy.

Rio Tinto’s response to PWYP MG/ALT UK Investor briefing: – See link on their QMM website page HERE

In London, Mr Barton asked the CEO of Minerals, Sinead Kaufman, to respond to the questions in detail. Ms Kaufman also met with PWYP MG and ALT UK the morning of the London AGM and expressed the position that the company wanted to conduct its own internal review of the compensation process at QMM before agreeing to any independent audit.

In Australia, Mr Barton mentioned that Rio Tinto had now created a written response to the issues raised (see link above). On the water issues, he explained that the company had “different views” about the water quality and ‘different data” but was committed to sharing data and to discussing the differences.

Hear the full Q&A using the London AGM and to the Australia AGM, and read the company’s written response using the links above.

A week of actions….

Campaigners and community activists hold banners outside the Rio Tinto offices, April 5th 2023 (image LMN)

During the week before and for some days after the London AGM, Ke’s visit to the UK afforded opportunities to meet with a number of investors and other organisations including the Church of England Pensions Board who, with UNEP, launched the Global Tailings Management Institute in January 2023. This afforded an opportunity to present the human rights issues around QMM’s compensation process and follow up on questions raised by ALT UK at the Global Tailings Summit about QMM mine tailings management.

Meetings were also held with the Publish What You Pay Secretariat based in London; Jesuit Missions, and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights.

With Nicole Piche of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights (third from right) at Portcullis House. Right to left: Ketakandriana Rafitoson of TI MG/PWYP MG, Yvonne Orengo of ALT UK, Roger Featherstone of Arizona Mining reform Coalition USA, Nicole Piche, then Zoe Lujic of Earth Thrive Serbia and
Nebojsa Petkovic of the Jadar Citizens Organisation Serbia. (image LMN)

Other events organised by London Mining Network took place with activists from Serbia and Arizona including a presentation at Amnesty International and a ‘mock trial’ outside the offices of Rio Tinto in London.

See the presentation at Amnesty HERE

Presentation about QMM impacts by Ketakandriana Rafitoson of TI MG (second from right) and Yvonne Orengo of ALT UK (right) at Amnesty in London, April 5th 2023 (image LMN)

See Ke at the Mock Trial HERE

Ketakandriana Rafitoson outside the office of Rio Tinto, 5th April 2023 (image LMN)

An interview took place with the Director for International Development at the Laudato Si Institute where Ke explained how her work sits within her beliefs as a practising catholic and the work of Jesuits advocacy project: Justice in Mining.

Read the interview with Ke HERE

Ke also engaged with media while in London and provided her thoughts about the QMM operation to the online magazine Mongabay, asking the question “what is QMM is willing to do in order to repair what they have destroyed?”

Read the article by Ke published by Mongabay in May 2023 : HERE

with LMN members during the week of action (image LMN)

We were very sad that Malagasy community representative Tahiry Ratsiambohatra, who was also meant to join the campaign in the AGM week, was unable to travel to London due to illness. Together with PWYP MG and ALT UK, Tahiry met with Rio Tinto executive in July 2022 and this was an opportunity for him to follow up on issues raised then and for new questions to be aired. Tahiry actively contributed to discussions and preparations for the activities in London with LMN and was missed.

London Mining Network (LMN) actions see here:

Huge thanks to London Mining Network and their team for all their work – and the photos above – and to all the helpers and participants at the London actions, as well as fellow activists and campaigners from Arizona and Serbia!

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