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Multinational Monitor, June 1992

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Book Review

Plunder! By Roger Moody
London: Partizans, 1991, 195 pp.

The Gulliver Files: Mines, People and Land: A Global Battleground
By Roger Moody
London: Minewatch, 1992, 894 pp.

Reviewed by Holley Knaus

RIO TINTO ZINC -- RTZ -- is perhaps the archetypal multinational corporation. RTZ is an enormous, arrogant, anti-worker, racist conglomerate with a neo-colonial mindset and a penchant for leaning hard on governments that refuse to go along with its plans for their countries' land and resources. London-based RTZ operates in more than 40 countries and makes its money by mining, a practice which destroys the earth and uproots communities.

RTZ has not gone unchallenged. Since its founding in the late nineteenth century, the company has met with worldwide opposition to its activities, most notably from environmental groups and organizations of indigenous people fighting to save their land and way of life. People Against RTZ and its Subsidiaries (PARTiZANS) is a global network dedicated solely to fighting the company.

PARTiZANS has published Plunder!, a comprehensive history both of RTZ's misdeeds and of efforts by activists to counter the company's onslaught against indigenous communities, workers and the environment. Plunder! is written by Roger Moody, founder of the London-based Minewatch and a long-time participant in the struggle against RTZ. Moody also wrote the recently published The Gulliver Files, an exhaustive account of the activities of the mining industry worldwide, and another book in which RTZ plays a featured role.

Plunder! traces the history of RTZ's subsidiaries in the Pacific Rim, Africa, the Americas and Europe. While operations vary from region to region, RTZ's methods remains very much the same. In case after case, Moody reveals how RTZ moves in to a country, co-opts the government or mows it over, steals land from its traditional owners, destroys the land, suppresses or buys off indigenous opposition, exploits its workers and gives little or no benefit to the country in which it is operating.

RTZ has perhaps been most arrogant and callous in its dealings with the indigenous communities which live on the land that the company wants to mine. The company's attitude toward land stewardship is best summed up by a remark made by Sir Roderick Carnegie, chair of CRA, an RTZ subsidiary, at the 1984 RTZ shareholders' meeting. "The right to land depends on the ability to defend it," he said.

The forced removal of two indigenous communities at Weipa, Australia to make way for RTZ's bauxite mining operations resulted in devastating social breakdown in the area. At Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, RTZ destroyed vast areas of traditional indigenous rainforest and farmland. At Lake Argyle in Western Australia, the company destroyed sites sacred to the Mirriwung Kijja people. RTZ's uranium mining op- erations at Elliot Lake in Canada have leached poisonous heavy metals and acids into rivers and lakes essential to the survival of the Serpent River Band.

Plunder! also documents RTZ's relationship with the governments of the countries in which it operates. RTZ has never met with much opposition from leaders of pro-foreign investment dictators like Indonesia's Suharto, and was welcomed in the Philippines under Marcos and in Chile under Pinochet.

But even in countries less likely to allow a corporation to run the show on its own, RTZ has managed to exert extraordinary influence over government officials. In 1970, in New Zealand, government officials were offered shares in RTZ subsidiary Comalco the day before they were offered to the rest of the public. In 1979, RTZ subsidiary US Borax discovered vast quantities of molybdenum at its Quartz Hill property in Alaska -- within a 56 million acre area that had recently been designated by President Carter as inviolable under the Alaska National Interest Land Act. RTZ/Borax launched an aggressive, well-funded lobbying campaign. In December 1980, over the opposition of U.S. environmental organizations and Carter himself, Congress passed the National Interest Conservation Act, which waved RTZ into a national park. And in the 1970s, RTZ was a major player in a uranium contract and price-fixing scheme which Moody says consolidated and extended the company's influence over key government personnel in South Africa, Canada and Australia.

Plunder! further reveals the company's appalling indifference to the working and living conditions of its workers. At the Palabora mine in South Africa, migrant black workers for many years received wages far below the minimum set by the South African Institute of Race Relations -- between 1966 and 1971, RTZ paid the miners about 5 million pounds, while pulling in profits of 140 million pounds during the same period. The notorious Rossing uranium mine in Namibia was built by workers separated from their families and housed in temporary camps. South African researchers Gillian and Suzanne Cronje found the Rossing workers' conditions "akin to slavery." In 1989, the General Secretary of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia claimed that "92 percent of all black and 51 percent of all colored workers still remain in the company's lowest income bracket, [which does not] constitute a living wage ... black workers in the Exploration department have no house, no housing allowance. Their conditions in crowded army-style tents are, in fact, the worst in the mining industry."

Moody manages to insert some hope into the book by covering struggles -- a few successful -- against the company. Armed resistance at Bougainville led to the closing of the mine in 1989. International support of the land rights claims of the Guaymi Congress in Panama in the mid-1980s forced RTZ to puts its plans for the Cerro Colorado mine on hold. Recently, a coalition of dairy farmers, environmentalists and Chippewa Indians formed to fight RTZ's mining of the Flambeau copper deposit in Wisconsin.

Plunder! is a valuable resource for groups like these because it makes plain RTZ's strategies and tactics -- one of which is to conquer and divide its opponents. But Plunder! is also an important book for the more general reader because it makes so clear just how much power a multinational company can wield, and to what destructive ends that power is often put.

Plunder! is overwhelming in its meticulous detailing of RTZ's dirty history (the same can be said for the even more comprehensive The Gulliver Files). But, as Moody points out in The Gulliver Files, these books should not be seen simply as references. He writes, "It is hoped that readers will make links between various corporate endeavors, and see for themselves how certain trade practices .. . bring riches to multinationals at the expense of the rest of us."

There is another reason that Plunder! deserves a more general readership. It gives voice to the life-and-death concerns of those people directly affected by the company's mining operations -- workers and members of indigenous communities. One tactic employed by indigenous groups over the years has been to send delegations to RTZ stockholder meetings. Al Gedicks points out in his foreword to Plunder! that their presence at these meetings makes it impossible for the general public to ignore the consequences of mining on native communities. Plunder! provides another opportunity for these voices to be heard.

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