Glencore: A History of Rights Abuses
Glencore, a Swiss corporation, is alleged to have committed grave human rights abuses across the world—violations have occurred in the United States, Canada,[i] Australia,[ii] Colombia,[iii] Bolivia,[iv] Peru,[v] the Philippines,[vi] and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[vii] Now, Glencore’s money and corporate interests have entered Minnesota. Glencore has invested a significant amount of money in the Polymet Mining Corporation.[viii] Glencore has a history of violating the labor rights of its workers, regardless of union affiliation.
Labor Rights Violations
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” —Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23
Sherwin Alumina Co., Gregory, TX
Glencore acquired Sherwin Alumina (Sherwin) in 2007.[ix] In 2014, Sherwin proposed substantial cuts to workers’ income and benefits, the cuts eliminated overtime pay for scheduled days off and wage increases, increased employee contributions to healthcare, and, for new workers, eliminated pensions, disability, early retirement, and widow’s benefits.[x] The United Steel Workers rejected these cuts and were then locked out of the mine for two years.[xi] In January 2016, Sherwin filed bankruptcy.[xii] Several months later, Sherwin announced the plant’s closure.[xiii]
“It’s extremely disheartening. A lot of guys. . . gave what they had to the company over the years. I’m not against a company making money, but they tore the heart and soul out of the company when they locked us out.” —Donnie Setterbo, operator at Sherwin Alumina Co. in Texas, which was owned by Glencore
Columbia Falls Aluminum Company, Columbia Falls, MT
Glencore purchased the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC) in 1999.[xiv] Between 1999 and 2016, operated at a fraction of its capacity, production was halted, Glencore permanently closed the plant, and it was declared a Superfund site.[xv] Between 2009 and 2015, Glencore led hundreds of laid-off workers to believe that the plant would be reopened or that they would receive severance pay.[xvi] However, the plant was never reopened, and the discovery of hazardous materials in surface and groundwater, soil, and a nearby river led to the EPA designating CFAC a Superfund site.[xvii]
“Nobody thought it was going to shut down. It’s a sad deal. My dad started here in 1955. I started here and raised my family. And then I was one of the guys shutting the doors. This is my life. This has been my life for 35 years. It’s just a shell of what it once was, but it was the livelihood for a lot of people for a lot of years. But to Glencore, we’re just a number. They don’t know who we are, and they don’t care.” —Brian Doyle, president of the Steelworkers Local 320, former employee of Columbia Falls Aluminum Company in Texas, which was owned by Glencore.
Time and again, Glencore operations across the world have caused hazardous and irreparable environmental damage. Glencore repeatedly refuses to take responsibility, does not clean up the messes it creates, and leaves cities and countries with the task of funding and completing cleanup efforts.
In Australia, mine employees were directed to pump more than 180 tons of concrete into a nearby tributary, and in 2013, the mine’s tailings dam spontaneously combusted. At a copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo operated by Glencore, waste and acid was dumped into a nearby river and children as young as 10 were found working in its mines. At a coal mine in Colombia, environmental effects range from riverbed diversion to air contamination levels that exceed the legal limits. In Peru, Glencore operates a copper mine with two tailings dams. High levels of mercury and lead have been found in surrounding water and abnormal levels of contaminants such as aluminum, arsenic, copper, iron, lithium, and manganese have been found in soil samples.
[i] Mining and Human Rights in BC: Mt Polley Disaster, Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/business-and-human-rights/human-rights-at-mt-polley-mine.
[ii] Report Urges Government Inquiry into Glencore Australia Zinc Mine Clean-Up, Reuters (Aug. 22, 2016, 3:21AM), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-glencore-australia-environment/report-urges-government-inquiry-into-glencore-australia-zinc-mine-clean-up-idUSKCN10X0P9.
[iii] John Sweeney, Panorama Questions over Glencore Mines, BBC News (Apr. 16, 2012), http://www.bbc.com/news/17702487. See also Prodeco’s Operations in Colombia, Glencore, http://www.glencore.com/public-positions/supporting-development-in-colombia/prodecos-operations-in-colombia/ (last accessed Nov. 25, 2017).
[iv] Glencore’s Bolivian Zinc Operations Nationalized, Business Insider (July 2, 2012, 7:15AM), http://www.businessinsider.com/glencores-bolivian-zinc-operations-nationalized-2012-7.
[v] Mining in the Andes: Complaint and Lawsuit Filed Against Swiss Firm Glencore, Switzerland and Peru, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, https://www.ecchr.eu/en/our_work/business-and-human-rights/glencore.html.
[vi] Commodities Giant Glencore Jeopardises Human Rights Situation in the Philippines, Information Platform Humanrights.ch (June 19, 2013), https://www.humanrights.ch/en/switzerland/foreign-affairs/foreign-trade/transnational/commodities-giant-glencore-jeopardises-human-rights-situation-philippin.
[vii] Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo, BBC News (Apr. 16, 2012), http://www.bbc.com/news/av/business-17726865/glencore-linked-to-acid-waterfall-in-dr-congo.
[viii] Questions & Answers, PolyMet Mining Ownership, Go PolyMet, http://gopolymet.com/frequently-asked-questions/polymet-mining-ownership-fact-sheet/.
[ix] Chris Ramirez, Sherwin Alumina Co. Plans to Close Gregory Plant, Corpus Christi Caller Times (Aug. 1, 2016), http://archive.caller.com/news/energy-effects/sherwin-alumina-co-plans-to-close-gregory-plant-390491d0-d67e-74c2-e053-0100007f000f-388841571.html/.
[x] Sherwin Alumina Fact Sheet, The United Steelworkers (Oct. 13, 2014), https://www.usw.org/act/campaigns/SherwinFacts101314.pdf.
[xi] Id.; Sherwin Alumina to Shut Plant, Ending its Two-Year Lockout, United Steelworkers (Nov. 4, 2016), https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/releases/2016/sherwin-alumina-to-shut-plant-ending-its-two-year-lockout.
[xii] Sherwin Alumina Files for Bankruptcy, Corpus Christi Caller Times (Jan. 11, 2016), http://archive.caller.com/business/local/sherwin-alumina-files-for-bankruptcy-2915890b-0115-7114-e053-0100007fe013-364910291.html/.
[xiii] Chris Ramirez, Judge Oks Sherwin Alumina Plant Closure Agreement, Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Nov. 4, 2016, 5:34PM), http://www.caller.com/story/money/business/local/2016/11/04/judge-oks-sherwin-alumina-plant-closure-agreement/93290838/.
[xiv] Dillon Tabish, the Rise and Fall of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant, Flathead Beacon (Sept. 14, 2016), http://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/09/14/rise-fall-columbia-falls-aluminum-plant/.
[xv] Dillion Tabish, Columbia Falls Aluminum Company Property Declared a Superfund Site, Flathead Beacon (Sept. 7, 2016), http://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/09/07/epa-declares-cfac-superfund-site/.
[xvii] Tristan Scott, Union Officials: Glencore’s Promises to Reopen Were ‘A Sham’, Flathead Beacon (Mar. 11, 2015), http://flatheadbeacon.com/2015/03/11/union-officials-glencores-promises-to-reopen-were-a-sham/.