The Guardian May 10, 2000


Rio Tinto investors support union resolutions

News from London highlights a new development in the global campaign 
against Rio Tinto' poor labour, human rights and environmental records. 
Shareholders with over L28 billion (A$73 billion) in assets are supporting 
two union-backed shareholder resolutions at the company's AGM.

The resolutions demand that the Rio Tinto board of directors become more 
accountable to its shareholders through the appointment of a single, 
independent, non-executive Deputy Chairman, and that the company adopts the 
International Labour Organisation's Conventions on human rights at work.

Shareholders of the UK-based Rio Tinto plc will vote on the resolutions at 
the London AGM on May 10. The Australian AGM for twin company Rio Tinto Ltd 
will be in Brisbane on May 24.

The Coalition of Rio Tinto Shareholders (CoRTS) launched a three-nation 
(US, UK and Australia) shareholder proxy campaign within the global mining 
giant.

It has written to the top 200 shareholders  mainly large institutional 
investors  asking them to vote yes for the resolutions.

It is the first joint shareholder initiative sponsored by unions in several 
countries focusing on a single multinational and represents the broadest 
international proxy contest to date by any shareholder group.

British Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary John Monks said: "It 
should come as no surprise that shareholders are welcoming our proposals 
with open arms. Institutional investors increasingly see the value of AGM 
resolutions that promote long-term shareholder value.

"We are asking fund managers and trustees to speak out on the risks of 
investing in companies like Rio Tinto, which do not have good standards of 
corporate governance or credible workplace codes of labour practice", Mr 
Monks pointed out.

In Britain, the Co-operative Insurance Society Ltd (one of the largest 
shareholders in Rio Tinto with more than L23 billion under management); the 
West Yorkshire Pension Fund (one of the largest local authority funds in 
the UK); and the South Yorkshire Pension Authority are amongst those 
supporting the resolutions.

In the US, Proxy Voter Services (PVS) is advising clients to vote in favour 
of both resolutions.

In Australia, the Australian Shareholders' Association has backed one of 
the resolutions and at least four industry superannuation funds have 
declared support for the company complying with minimum human rights 
standards in the workplace.

Rio Tinto has a substantial record of employment and environmental abuses:

* In 1998, ten mineworkers were killed after massive subsidence at the 
Lassing talc mine in Austria. According to the Austrian Minister 
responsible, the area was being mined illegally.

* Legal action for former workers at the Rossing Uranium Plant in Namibia 
is still before the courts in the UK. The workers claim they have 
contracted cancer following operations at the plant. Rio Tinto refuses to 
accept it was responsible for the plant even though the London headquarters 
controls Rossing.

* There remain unresolved questions regarding the health and environmental 
impact of the decommissioned Capper Gas smelter in Hull, UK. The Transport 
and General Workers' Union are suing the company on behalf of former 
workers who have contracted cancer.

As part of the investigation, the union and its lawyers wanted to see the 
medical records of former workers at Capper Gas, but the company delayed 
releasing them for over a year. When records were released they were 
woefully inadequate.

The role of big corporations in relation to the state in which they operate 
is also a worry.

It is no secret that Rio Tinto management has played a direct part in the 
drafting of the Workplace Relations Act and the strengthening of the Trades 
Practices Act in Australia, legislation which is in breach of ILO 
standards.

When the Federal Government beats its chest saying that "nobody [meaning 
international bodies like the ILO or the UN] is going to tell us what to 
do", it forgets to mention that it does what big business tells it to do, 
especially when it comes to exploiting working people for private profit.

The union bodies taking part in the campaign include the CFMEU, the ACTU, 
the AFL-CIO, the TUC and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, 
Mine and General Workers' Union (ICEM).

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