FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Tinted with Blood

Rio Tinto’s attempt to rinse its red blood of any association with the practices of its former employees Stern Hu (an Australian national) and Chinese nationals Liu Caikui, Wang Yong and Ge Minqiang, is troubling.  Business in the international mining sector is a ruthless and vicious activity, and the stakes are high when it comes to dealing in the Chinese commodities market.  The consumer is king, and Rio Tinto is keen to polish the crown.  But amongst all of this, one should not forget that this iron ore giant is far from genteel.  Observers of this company’s history will be able to bring forth a series of sins perpetrated by the company, corruption being simply one of them.

Rio Tinto has been adamant that their employees, charged by the Chinese authorities last year of economic espionage and bribery, undertook measures that were inappropriate.  The Australian government has not been sure, fearing the implications that such a case might have on the commodities market.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang expressed ‘serious concern about the Australian statements on the Rio Tinto case.’  Canberra, he warned, ‘should respect this outcome and stop making irresponsible comments’ (ABC Radio Australia, Mar 31).

The company has made it clear that the four employees are to carry the can of legal responsibility.  What is unsurprising is Rio Tinto’s insistence that their own practices, in the main, were above board.  It just so happened that a few rotten apples in the barrel needed turfing out.  And the treatment meted out to these particular rotters was nothing short of savage. Sentences for corruption and corporate espionage ranged from seven to fourteen years.  Hu’s own sentence was a biting ten years.

The company had initially fronted for its employees, showing a surprising degree of solidarity.  In July last year, the company’s iron ore chief Sam Walsh was convinced that ‘the allegations made in recent media reports that employees were involved in bribery of officials at Chinese steel mills are wholly without foundation’ (Sydney Morning Herald, Jul 18, 2009).  Now, the company has reassessed its options, fearing that its ties with the Chinese market might be fraying.  Walsh, after having initiated what he claims to have been a thorough (or ‘forensic’) internal assessment of the company’s activities, concluded that the activities of the gang of four did not conform to company regulations.  Their behaviour had been ‘deplorable’.

But who is to know?  The internal review remains just that, shrouded in the jargon and nomenclature befitting a lost, archaic age.  If it is corruption they were worried about, surely their own employees might have reminded them of the infamous Grasberg mine in West Papua.  Their conduct towards the environment was deemed so reprehensible it persuaded the Norwegian government to abandon its $1 billion worth of shares in the company.  An investigation into the company published in 2005 by the New York Times subsequently revealed the insidious ties between company officials and the local government and military junta.

That Rio Tinto was oblivious the activity of Hu and his co-workers in the first place, set in the highly charged iron ore market, is surely inconceivable.   Even more to the point, Rio Tinto is smarting over suggestions, pointedly made by the judge, that it damaged its own efforts in the 2009 iron ore price negotiations.  The collapse left Chinese steel companies in the lurch, making them pay more than their competitors.   The authorities wanted blood, and it was to be of a particular, red variety.

Chief executive Tom Albanese, as a consequence, was singing a somewhat different, discordant tune from the merry note of support struck last year.  ‘I am determined that the unacceptable conduct of these four employees will not prevent Rio Tinto from continuing to build important relationships with China’ (The Age, Mar 29).  That is the music of authority, demonstrating, as Clive Hamilton points out, the company’s ‘long history of forming cosy relationships with dictatorial regimes’ (Crikey, Jul 24, 2009).  Hamilton reminds us of Rio Tinto’s association with Spain’s General Franco in 1937, warmed by the latter’s effectiveness in eliminating the Republican Forces from Rio Tinto’s area of operations, where the company took its name.  Miners who engaged in ‘troublemaking’ and were found guilty, as the company’s chief Sir Auckland Geddes explained with satisfaction, would be court-martialled and shot.

The current attitudes of this Red River proprietor have hardly changed, whether it be human rights violations at the PT Kelian gold mine in Kalimantan, Indonesia, or its past dealings with the Pinochet regime in Chile and South Africa’s apartheid administration.  Hu and his colleagues were ultimately deemed necessary sacrifices.  The company will be casting an eye to more pressing matters.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

WORDS THAT STICK

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Went On Hunger Strike and Occupied Pelosi’s Office
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
Martin Billheimer
Knight Crawlers
David Yearsley
Kanye in the West
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail