Anglo-American and the finance sector: exporting abuse

We need to be aware of the impact our government’s policies have well beyond our shores.

 

The helicopters that hovered over London on Wednesday during Thatcher’s funeral had the best birds-eye view of her staggering legacy, including the City of London and Canary Wharf, the latter which she described as being one of the most exciting projects she had ever known.

Julian Coman in the Guardian describes how within six months of her election, exchange controls were lifted and foreign capital flooded into Britain, while the  deregulation of the Stock Exchange in 1986 set in motion the type of unfettered capitalism we know today, with London at its heart.  

But those exchange controls didn’t just lead to foreign capital flooding Britain – it enabled her policies to flood the world in a grand de-regulated tsunami, with British capital riding the wave, often causing undue harm half-way around the world.  

Friday sees the AGM of British mining giant Anglo-American, perfectly facilitated by such policies which enabled the company to ride rough-shod over human rights and the environment. Last month Anglo-American signed a $5bn loan agreement with 28 banks, including the five biggest UK banks: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, RBS and Standard Chartered. With the company’s annual revenue almost reaching $33bn last year, this new injection of cash will increase Anglo American’s destructive capacity by 15 per cent.

Anglo-American, alongside BHP Billiton and Xstrata, owns Latin America’s biggest coal mine, the Cerrejón mine in Colombia. The mine was established on the land of indigenous and Afro-Colombian people without their consent, and the residents of several villages were evicted without compensation. Cerrejón continues to pollute the land of people living in the area, destroying their livelihoods, health and well-being. The company was recently forced to shelve plans to expand the mine and divert the region’s only major river following protests by local people and by mine workers. Coal mining projects such as Cerrejón also cause huge carbon emissions.

In South Africa, where Anglo-American has mined gold for many decades, with almost complete impunity, the company is currently facing three separate legal cases brought by miners suffering from the lung disease silicosis.  

The oxygen that mining companies like Anglo-American rely on is the finance provided by the high street banks and our pension funds in which most people in this country invest their money. Through our Thatcher-inspired aspirations of growth and competitiveness, we are unwittingly funding the eviction of indigenous people, the destruction of miners’ health, and the perpetuation of an unsustainable high carbon economy.

Coming to the belly of Thatcher’s beast, representatives of both the South African miners and the Colombian communities affected by the Cerrejón mine are in London to attend the Anglo-American AGM today (Friday), to speak to its shareholders directly about their plight. Will Thatcher be listening from her grave?

We’ve been quite reflective in the UK about the decline of the welfare state, sparked by Thatcher’s legacy. But we also need to be aware of the impact her government’s policies had well beyond our shores, policies that we blindly allow agents working just steps from the doors of St Paul’s Cathedral to continue. If we are to tackle the abuses of companies abroad, we have to continue our pressure to reign in the power of one of Thatcher’s greatest “achievements” – the finance sector as we know it today.

Deborah Doane is director of the World Development Movement

 

Trucks loading coal at the Cerrejon coal mines. Photograph: WikiCommons
GETTY
Show Hide image

Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496