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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What it’s like to be a Syrian refugee in Paris

“We fled from terror and it found us again here. It feels like it is always behind us, stalking us.”

Walid al Omari arrived in Paris a little less than a month ago. Having fled the slaughter of his homeland and undertaken the long and dangerous journey, like tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees, to western Europe, he was finally safe.

Ten days later, a wave of brutal violence tore through the French capital as gunmen and suicide bombers put an end to the lives of 130 people who had been out enjoying a drink, dinner, a concert or a football match.

“It felt like terrorism was everywhere,” recalls the 57-year-old Walid, a former small business owner and journalist from the suburbs of Damascus.

“We fled from terror and it found us again here. It feels like it is always behind us, stalking us.”

Syrian refugees, not just in Paris but across Europe and North America, have since found themselves caught up in a storm of suspicion. The backlash started after it emerged that at least two of the attackers arrived in Europe among refugees travelling to Greece, while a Syrian passport was found next to one of the bodies.

It has not yet been confirmed if the two men were really Syrian – all suspects whose identities have so far been made public were either French or Belgian – while the passport is widely believed to be a fake. But, already, several US states have said they will not accept any more refugees from Syria. In Europe, Poland has called for the EU’s quota scheme for resettling refugees to be scrapped, while lawmakers in France, Germany and elsewhere have called for caps on refugee and migrant numbers.

“I fear the worse,” says Sabreen al Rassace, who works for Revivre, a charity that helps Syrian refugees resettle in France. She says she has been swamped by calls by concerned refugees in the days following the attacks.

“They ask me if the papers they have been given since they arrived in France will be taken away, if they’ll be sent back to Syria,” she says.

Anas Fouiz, who arrived in Paris in September, has experienced the backlash against refugees first hand.

“One waiter at a bar asked me where I was from and when I said Syria he said that I must be a terrorist, that all Arab people are terrorists,” says the 27-year-old from Damascus, who had been a fashion student before leaving for Europe.

The irony is that the terrorist organisation that claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, the Islamic State, is, along with Bashar al Assad’s army and other militant groups, responsible for the long list of atrocities that prompted many like Walid and Anas to flee their homes.

“As a man in Syria you have the choice of joining the Syrian army, the Islamic state or another militant group, or you run away,” says Anas.

He remembers seeing news of the attacks unfold on television screens in bars and cafés in the Bastille area of Paris – close to where much of the carnage took place – as he drank with a friend. Desensitised by having seen so much violence and death in his home city, he didn’t feel any shock or fear.

“I just felt bad, because I know this situation,” he says. “You just ask yourself ‘why? Why do these people have to die?’.”

Perhaps a more pressing cause for concern is how easily extremists in Europe can travel to Syria and back again through the porous borders on the EU’s fringes – as several of the Paris attacks suspects are thought to have done.

Both Anas and Walid speak of the lax security they faced when entering Europe.

“Turkey lets people across the border for $20,” says Walid.

“In Greece, they just ask you to write your nationality, they don’t check passports,” adds Anas. “It’s the same in Hungary and Macedonia.”

Nevertheless, and despite his experience with the waiter, Anas says he is happy with the welcome he has received by the vast majority of the French people.

In fact, at a time when fear and violence risk deepening religious and social rifts, Anas’s story is a heartening tale of divisions being bridged.

Upon first arriving in Paris he slept on the streets, before a passer-by, a woman of Moroccan origin, offered him a room in her flat. He then spent time at a Christian organization that provides shelter for refugees, before moving in with a French-Jewish family he was put in touch with through another charity.

He says the biggest problem is that he misses his parents, who are still in Damascus.

“I speak to my mum twice a day on the phone,” he says. “She asks me if I’m okay, if I’m keeping safe. She’s worried about me.”