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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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”