Switzerland under pressure from unions worldwide over Glencore


IndustriALL Global Union affiliates across four continents targeted Switzerland last week to pressure the country into holding mining giant Glencore responsible for worker violations abroad. 

In a global week of action against the billion-dollar multinational, which is headquartered in Switzerland, unions hand-delivered a protest letter to Swiss consulates and embassies in countries around the globe.

Glencore employs more than 180,000 people in over 50 countries and is one of the largest producers of commodities in the world, making a profit of US$ 2.31 billion in 2014. It has a long history of aggression against unions. 

The union action coincides with a People’s Initiative in Switzerland to create a new law that would make Swiss multinationals accountable for violations against labour rights and the environment beyond its borders. The People’s Initiative cites Glencore’s misconduct as an example of why the law is needed.

In the United States, members from the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 235A, who have been locked out at Sherwin Alumina by Glencore in Gregory, Texas for nine months, delivered a letter to the Swiss Consulate in Houston. USW members also visited consulates in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco as well as the Swiss Embassy in Washington.

In Canada, United Steelworkers also handed a protest letter to the Swiss consulate in Vancouver in solidarity with Glencore workers in the United States and elsewhere.  

A high-level delegation from the CFMEU in Australia, led by Tony Maher, President of CFMEU Mining and Energy, and Lorraine Usher, Vice President of CFMEU Mining and Energy, delivered a protest letter to the Swiss consulate in Sydney. Glencore has replaced union member employees with contract workers at its Collinsville mine and evicted them and their families from company housing, with devastating impact on the local community.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, IndustriALL affiliates from TUMEC, the mining, metal, energy and chemical industries union, managed to negotiate their way through strict security in the capital's presidential zone to hand deliver a message of protest against Glencore to the Swiss embassy. The People’s Initiative raises Glencore’s environmental destruction and human rights violations in the country as of particular concern.

The Argentine Mineworkers’ Union AOMA and Metalworkers Union UOM also urged the Swiss Embassy to regulate the activities of Swiss-based multinationals such as Glencore. In other action, ASIJEMIN, the mining professional workers’ union, sent a letter to the Swiss Embassy.

In Colombia, where Glencore has been linked to a paramilitary group responsible for murdering trade unionists, IndustriALL affiliate Sintracarbon organized activities amongst its local branches as part of the global week of action. The union’s education secretary, Igor Diaz Lopez, who has had death threats as a result of his trade union activities, was interviewed on Colombia television during which he denounced Glencore’s violations against workers’ rights and freedom of association.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, IndustriALL affiliate National Union of Miners (NUM) has this week threatened to sue the government if Glencore goes ahead with the retrenchment of more than 600 workers at its Optimum Coal operation.  The NUM accuses Glencore of failing to comply with labour and social plans regarding severance packages for the workers.

IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said:

“The action by IndustriALL affiliates sends a strong message to Glencore that we are united in defending the rights of Glencore workers in every corner of the globe.

“The People’s Initiative shows that Glencore’s bad behaviour is as intolerable to Swiss citizens as it is to those it affects abroad. We applaud this effort to hold Glencore and other multinationals accountable for their violations outside Switzerland in the Swiss courts.”