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
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“Journalists are too scared to come”: Refugees on the forgotten war in Yemen

Only the few who have managed to flee the war-torn country can reveal the suffering of those left behind.

Last weekend’s BBC Our World report on the humanitarian crisis caused by the Yemen civil war highlighted that not only is the conflict a forgotten war, it is also an unknown war. Since war broke out 18 months ago in March 2015, surprisingly little has been written about the conflict, despite its similarity to ongoing and widely-reported other conflicts in the region, such as the Syrian crisis.

The main conflict in Yemen is taking place between forces allied to the President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and those loyal to Zaidi Shia rebels known as Houthis, who forced Hadi to flee the capital city Sana’a in February. The loyalties of Yemen’s security forces are split, with some units backing President Hadi and others his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is seen as the leader of the Houthi forces.

While these two forces have been at war, separate terrorist groups have been gaining more and more influence on the ground. Opposed by both the Houthis and Hadi’s forces, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have staged deadly attacks from strongholds in the south and south-east. They are also opposed by Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings in Sana’a.

After rebel forces closed in on the president's southern stronghold of Aden in late March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Hadi to intervene and launched air strikes on Houthi targets.

I have spent the last couple of months working in the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, home to refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia – to name just a few. Having heard very little about the civil war, I was surprised to meet a handful of Yemeni men living inside the camp.

Hussein*, 28, is a film producer and dancer from Yemen who fled the country two years ago and has travelled through 11 countries to reach the Calais camp, where he has been living for just over a month. In a mixture of English and French, he tells me how groups of Houthi militia forcibly try to confiscate cameras and notebooks from both local and international journalists. He knows local journalists, friends of his, who have been threatened, tortured and even killed by Houthi forces.

He pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of his friend, Mohammed, who worked as a photojournalist, documenting brutality as a result of the war. Mohammed’s friends and family have not heard from him since April; the best-case scenario is that he is being detained, but Hussein seems pretty certain that he is dead. As a result, many who otherwise would have reported on the conflict have fled from besieged cities such as Sana’a, Aden and Taiz to the relative safety of the countryside in the north of the country, or have left Yemen altogether.

His friend Jamil, with whom he shares a tent, adds: “from other countries journalists [they are] too scared to come”. He claims that there are only “five or seven” foreign journalists in the capital city, Sana’a and tells me about journalists from the UK, France and the US who, after spending days being held up by countless militarised checkpoints while trying to reach the main cities, are then interrogated and detained by Houthi forces. If they are let go, they are harassed throughout their visit by National Security officers.

After watching his mother die during an airstrike in the city of Hodaida in January, Jamil took the decision to flee Yemen and claim asylum in Europe. He is worried about his father and his friends who are still in Yemen, especially after hearing reports that random border closures and cancelled domestic flights have been preventing crucial aid convoys of food, medical supplies and trained aid workers from accessing the citizens who are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. Jamil reminds me that Yemen was in economic crisis even before war broke out, with widespread famine and limited access to healthcare or clean water.

Movement within the country is restricted and dangerous, and in the last twelve months alone, four Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) facilities have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes. Writing on 15 September 15, MSF head of mission in Yemen, Hassan Bouceninem spoke of:

“Other health centers, schools, markets, bridges . . . [that] have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes, shelling, or bombs. Such attacks create direct victims but the war (economic failure, access problems, closing of hospitals, no health staff etc.) also causes a lot of indirect victims within the population.”

Such widespread instability and the resultant lack of access for journalists and aid workers means that it is difficult for the world to know how much Yemen is suffering. Only by speaking to the few who have managed to flee can even begin to grasp the realities of daily life for those left behind.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of our sources.

Neha Shah has been volunteering in the Calais camp.