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Time for Rio Tinto to end dead silence on Grasberg fatalities

31 October, 2014IndustriALL Global Union is calling on Rio Tinto to speak publicly about what it will do to end the string of deaths at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia. The mine is now facing a strike over safety concerns.

IndustriALL’s Indonesian affiliate CEMWU has announced it will begin a one-month strike at the mine on 6 November due to mine management not being held responsible for the fatalities. Five miners died at the copper and gold mine in September. This brings the total number of workers killed at the mine over the last two years to a staggering 38.

Rio Tinto has invested over a billion dollars in the Grasberg mine and serves on its operating, technical and sustainable development committees. The mine is majority-owned by Freeport.

“Rio Tinto made no public statement following two recent fatal incidents at Grasberg. This is unacceptable for a company that says safety of its workers is core to everything it does,” says IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan.

It appears the company’s public silence is part of an attempt to keep its name out of press reports on the fatalities. But it’s time for Rio Tinto to own up to its failure and speak openly about what the company will do to ensure these disasters never happen again.

IndustriALL has raised workplace safety concerns with Rio Tinto on a number of times since a tunnel collapse killed 28 workers at Grasberg in May 2013.

“Rio Tinto has claimed to us in private that Freeport, not Rio Tinto, manages Grasberg, but that they are now helping Freeport to improve safety performance. However, given Rio Tinto’s huge stake in the mine it’s simply not credible to deny any responsibility for the deaths,” states Özkan.

“And why should we believe Rio Tinto will all of a sudden help make the mine safe, given they’ve invested in the mine for nearly 20 years? It’s no wonder that Rio Tinto has avoided public discussion of worker deaths at Grasberg.”

IndustriALL is not the first organization to hold Rio Tinto accountable for irresponsible practices at Grasberg. Norway’s state-owned pension fund sold its entire $850 million stake in Rio Tinto in 2008 because Grasberg discharges huge amounts of tailings directly into a natural river system. In 2006 the fund sold its stake in Freeport for the same reason.

Özkan says:

With bodies piling up and a strike imminent, Rio Tinto needs to stop hiding behind Freeport and take a more active and public role in making Grasberg a safe place to work.