'Corruption' Tag Archive

Aug 06 2012

Call Out! Join Us to Stop the AGM of the World’s Most Hated Mining Company: Vedanta


From our friends at Foil Vedanta:

Join us at the eighth annual AGM protest: 28 August 2012 2.00 pm, Lincoln Centre, 18 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3ED. Nearest tube Holborn (Piccadilly & Central lines) or Chancery Lane (Central).

We are also calling out for a global day of action. Please show your solidarity with movements across India and Africa fighting this devastating company. Email your pictures or statements to savingiceland (at) riseup.net.

Why Peoples’ Movements are Fighting Vedanta:

Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE100 company which has brought death and destruction to thousands. It is owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal and his family through companies in various tax havens. It has been consistently fought by people’s movements but it is being helped by the British government to evolve into a multi-headed monster and spread across India and round the world, diversifying into iron in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia, Zinc in Rajasthan, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland, copper in Zambia and most recently oil in the ecologically fragile Mannar region in Sri Lanka.

Read More

Jul 25 2012
1 Comment

Alcoa’s Power Executive – Who is Influencing Iceland?


Aluminium giant Alcoa is one of the most powerful and influential companies in Iceland with it’s poster-child Fjarðaál greenfield1 smelter in Reyðarfjörður, and it’s millions invested in the now failed geothermal smelter project at Bakki, Húsavík. Alcoa’s annual revenue was almost 20 times larger than the Icelandic GDP in 2010 ($21Billion2 versus $1.2 Billion3). Giving it considerable international influence and the potential for frightening leverage in Iceland.They are also becoming one of the biggest lobbyists in Greenland, with eight employees pushing their mega smelter and dam project on this tiny nation.

But who are the faces behind Alcoa? From big pharmaceutical chiefs, to Bilderberg attendees, Iraq profiteers and a Mexican president, Alcoa’s board remains one of the most influential and shadowy of the mining and metals companies. Use the links to Powerbase’s profiles in this article to find out more.

Current Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld has been an Alcoa board member since 2003. He is also a director of Bayer, the pharmaceuticals and chemical company which grew out of the Nazi company IG Farben, responsible for the medical experiments at Auschwitz. Bayer is now famous for it’s GM and crop science business and was named one of 10 Worst Companies of the Year by Multinational Monitor in 2001. Kleinfeld is associated with all three of the most influential and private ‘global planning groups’. He attended the Bilderberg conference in 2008 and is a member of the Trilateral Commission and Director of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. He is also a Director of the Brookings Institution, one of the USA’s biggest think tanks, and the third most cited in Congress.

Kleinfeld was CEO of Siemens from 2005 to 2007 after spending 20 years with the company. He resigned amid a corruption scandal which saw the US Department of Justice investigating the company for charges of using slush funds of €426m (£291m) to obtain foreign contracts, and funding a trade union to counter existing Union action against them. Kleinfeld resigned just hours before the news broke to the media. In 2009, after a lengthy investigation, Kleinfeld and four other executives were forced to pay large compensation sums. Kleinfeld allegedly paid $2 million of the $18 million total collected from the five, though he still denied wrongdoing. Kleinfeld is also on the boards of the finance giant Citigroup and the U.S Chamber of Commerce.

Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has been on Alcoa’s board since 2002, and chairs the Public Issues Committee. Zedillo is a prominent economist and another member of the big three elite think-tanks sitting on the World Economic Forum and the Trilateral Commission with Kleinfeld, and attending the Bilderberg conference in 1999. Like Kleinfeld he is also a director of Citigroup. Zedillo also sits of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American foreign policy think tank based in New York City who carry out closed debates and discussions and publish the journal Foreign Affairs. CFR played a significant part in encouraging the war on Iraq, and helped plan it’s economic and political aims alongside the US Government, particularly how to gain oil contracts after the war. He directs the Club de Madrid, a right-wing/neoliberal focused group of former government officials, think tankers and journalists involved in pushing reactionary policies to terrorism (referring to the Madrid bombings).

Mr. Zedillo was Mexican president from 1994-2000. He was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the United Nations Special Envoy for the 2005 World Summit, and chaired the World Bank’s High Level Commission on Modernization of World Bank Group Governance in 2008. He is a director of JPMorgan-Chase, Proctor and Gamble, BP, Rolls Royce and an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He directs the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, which puts out influential reports and papers edited by him.

A fellow member of the Council on Foreign Relations is Alcoa board member E.Stanley O’Neal. O’Neal is a Harvard graduate and investment banker who served as CEO of Merrill Lynch from 2002 to 2007 and is a director of the New York Stock Exchange (now NYSE Euronext), the Nasdaq Stock Market and BlackRock – a key investor in the mining and metals industry. According to Forbes he was awarded $22.41 million in 2006. Mr O’Neal is also a trustee of another shady organisation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private group led by John J. Hamre, former deputy secretary of defence which ‘provides world leaders with strategic insights on — and policy solutions to — current and emerging global issues’. CSIS provided propaganda materials used by the CIA to destabilise the Government of Chile in the run up to the 1973 coup.

A third Council on Foreign Relations member sits on Alcoa’s board. James W. Owens is Chairman of the Business Council of the CFR, CEO and Executive Chairman of Caterpillar from 2004 to 2010 and Alcoa board member since 2005. Caterpillar are famous for their tendency to profit from war-induced contracts including in Israel and Iraq, just the sort of thing that the Council on Foreign Relations are interested in. Owens is also a director of the International Business Machines Corporation and Morgan Stanley and a senior advisor to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, a global asset manager working in private equity and fixed income.

Indian mega magnate Ratan Tata has been a director of Alcoa since 2007 and is currently a member of the International Committee and Public Issues Committee. He chairs Tata Sons, holding company for the Tata Group, the family business which is one of India’s largest business conglomerates including telecoms, transport, tea and now one of the biggest steel companies in the world after they bought Corus outright in 2007. As well as his directorships of most of the Tata companies, he is also a a former director of the Reserve Bank of India, and advisor to NYSE Euronext (the New York Stock Exchange), and JP Morgan – one of the largest shareholders of the London Metal Exchange who set metal prices worldwide and enable banks to stockpile and futures trade aluminium. Mr Tata is also trustee of Cornell, Southern California, Ohio State, and Warwick Universities, a director of the Ford Foundation and a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain.

A fellow member of the Ford Foundation, and Saving Iceland favourite most-wanted, is Kathryn Fuller. Ms Fuller chaired the Ford Foundation from 2004 to 2010 and has been a trustee since 1994. However she is most famed for her contradictory positions as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Chief Executive (1989-2005) and Alcoa board member (since 2001). Newspaper Independent on Sunday claimed she joined Alcoa in exchange for a $1m donation to WWF US and allowed Alcoa to join WWF’s exclusive “Corporate Club”, a claim Fuller has found hard to refute. Despite publicly opposing the highly controversial Fjarðaál smelter project, Fuller abstained rather than voting against the project in Alcoa’s boardroom. Elsewhere she has claimed that Alcoa holds “a strong commitment to sustainability, including energy efficiency, recycling, and habitat protection.”

Compared to these heavyweights Alcoa’s other current board members may look like small fry, but they still command an impressive and worrying influence across a number of boards.

Sir Martin Sorrell is founder and chief executive officer of the £7.5 billion communications and advertising company WPP. He has been a NASDAQ director since 2001 and was appointed an Ambassador for British Business by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Before founding WPP, Martin Sorrell led the international expansion of famed UK advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. He calls himself ‘a money man’ saying: “I like counting beans very much indeed”.

Arthur D. Collins, Jr. is a big pharmaceuticals boss. He is retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic Inc. who he had been with between 1992 and 2008, and previously Corporate Vice President of Abbott Laboratories from 1989 to 1992. He also sits on the boards of arms manufacturers – Boeing, and bio-tech giant Cargill.

Michael G. Morris has been Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of all major subsidiaries of American Electric Power since January 2004 having been a company executive since 2003. He is also a Director of the USA’s Nuclear Power Operations and the Business Roundtable (chairing the Business Roundtable’s Energy Task Force) as well as the Hartford Financial Services Group. He was listed 158th on the Forbes Executive Pay list in 2011 and received a total $9 million in 2010.

Finally, Patricia F. Russo, is a Director of asset management group KKR & Co, General Motors, Hewlett Packard and drug manufacturers Merck & Co, who’s arthritis treatment Vioxx induced heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths in 27,000 people between 1999 and 2004. Merck were exposed for trying to bury negative evidence and distort drug trials to hide the known cardiovascular effects of Vioxx. Litigation following the scandal is ongoing and will be part of the business of Ms Russo.

Coming back to Iceland there is another former director of note. Norwegian national Bernt Reitan was Alcoa Executive Vice President from 2004 to 2010 and a director of iron alloy and silicon company Elkem from 1988 to 2000, putting him in the centre of the development of Iceland’s Hvalfjörður Elkem plant, and the Fjarðaál aluminium smelter. Elkem subsidiary Elkem Aluminium was sold to Alcoa in 2009. Reitan broke the ground at the massive Fjarðaál smelter in Reyðarfjörður in 2004 alongside Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, and Guðmundur Bjarnason, Mayor of Fjarðabyggð. In view of his influential position in Iceland Reitan sits on the Icelandic-American Chamber of Commerce which was formed by the Iceland Foreign Trade Service in New York and promotes trade between Iceland and the USA.

Mr Reitan is also a Director of the International Primary Aluminium Institute and a former board member of the European Aluminium Association as well as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Yara Internation ASA and Renewable Energy Corporation ASA.

The combined power of these Alcoa Directors reaches deep into the political and corporate structures of the USA and Europe. In this light it is a mean feat for Alcoa to be ejected from Húsavík, but we can be assured that Alcoa’s aluminium claws are still dug in deep in Iceland – a small country with such cheap and abundant hydro power.  Read More

Jun 07 2012
3 Comments

Accused of Betrayal Because of His Opinions


On May 18, Icelandic newspaper DV published an interview with Janne Sigurðsson, director of Alcoa Fjarðaál since the beginning of this year. In the interview, Janne describes, amongst other things, crisis meetings that were held within the company due to the protests against the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dams and the aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður. With gross and incongruous sentimentality she compares the society in Eastern Iceland, during the time of the construction, with a dying grandmother, whose cure is fought against by the anti-Alcoa protesters. Janne also maintains — and is conveniently not asked to provide the factual backup — that only five people from the East were opposed to these constructions.

On May 21, however, DV published an interview with Þórhallur Þorsteinsson, one of the people from Eastern Iceland who had the courage to oppose the construction. In the interview, which turns Janne’s claims upside down, it emerges how heavy the oppression was in the East during the preamble and the building of the dams and smelter was — people where “oppressed into obedience” as Þórhallur phrases it. He talks about his experience, loss of friends, murder threats, the attempts of influential people to dispel him from his work, and the way the Icelandic police — and the national church — dealt with the protest camps organized by Saving Iceland, which lead him to wonder if he actually lived in a police state.

Þórhallur Þorsteinsson is one of the people from Eastern Iceland who protested against the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dams. For that sake, he was bandied about as an “environmentalist traitor”, accused of standing in the way of the progress of society. Influential people attempted to dispel him from his job, he had to answer for his opinions in front of his employers, and his friends turned against him. The preparations for the construction started in 1999, but the construction itself started in 2002. The power plant started operating in 2007 but the wounds have not healed though a few years have passed since the conflict reached its climax.

“There are certain homes here in Egilsstaðir that I do not enter due to the conflict. Before, I used to visit these homes once or twice a week. I am not sure if I would be welcome there today. Maybe. But in these homes I was, without grounds, hurt so badly that I have no reason to go there again. Now I greet these people but I have no reason to enter their homes. I was virtually persecuted,” Þórhallur says, sitting in an armchair in his home in Egilsstaðir.

His home bears strong signs for his love of nature, his bookshelves are filled with books about the Icelandic highlands, nature and animals. For decades, Þórhallur has travelled in the highlands and did thus know this area [the land destroyed by the Kárahnjúkar dams] better than most people. “I had been travelling in this area for decades. I had gone there hiking and driving and I have also flown over it. I went there in winters just as in the summers. I went there as a guide and I knew the area very well. So I am not one of those who just speak about this area but have never got to know it.”

Not only did he know the land but also cared for it. He was hurt to see it drowned by the reservoir and has never managed to accept its destruction. “I am immensely unhappy with everything regarding this project. The dams, the [Alcoa] aluminium smelter, the environmental impacts, and additionally, it has not brought us what was expected. Thus I find hardly anything positive about this,” Þórhallur says.

“The sacrifice of this part of the highlands, the environmental impacts of these constructions, just can not be justified. Waterfalls by the dozen, many of them extremely beautiful, are rapidly disappearing and are just about waterless. A highly remarkable land went under water, under the reservoir, for instance Hálsinn which was the main breeding ground for reindeer. Additionally, this was the only place in Iceland with continuous vegetation from the sea, all the way up to the glacier. This has now be interrupted by Hálslón [the reservoir].”

The Resistance in the East

During the journalist’s trip around Eastern Iceland, many of the locals spoke a lot about how artists from 101 Reykjavík [the center of the city] protested against the construction. Þórhallur, however, points out that the original resistance against the project was formed in the local region. “People tend to forget this fact all the time, as they only speak about 101 Reykjavík. Before the conflict started, an association for the protection of Eastern Iceland’s highlands was founded here. It was founded with the purpose of opposing the construction — Kárahnjúkar had not even entered public discussion at that point although we, of course, knew about it.”

About thirty people joined the inaugural meeting and agreed upon the importance of such an association. Soon, a few people left the organization. “Those who had an opposite opinion compared to what people generally thought about the project were oppressed. The picture was painted in a way suggesting that the residents of Eastern Iceland should stand together. The rest of us, who were against the project, were not considered true members of this society. And we were not good citizens at all. In people’s minds, we were traitors. We were the people who wanted to send people back to the turf huts, as they used to say. We were said to be against development, against creating a good future for our children. All this was thrown at us, that the children would not come back home after studying, that they would not get any jobs. By opposing the construction, I was, in these people’s minds, taking away their children’s future livelihood, preventing the creation of jobs, and lowering real estate prices here in the east. I got to hear all of this. This is how it was.”

The First Protests

At a certain point, the verbal abuse was taken further than can be considered normal. “My life was threatened. A man that I used to work with met me in the street and said that I ought to be shot. Of course, it was painful to live through this, it hurt because they were trying to oppress me. They personified the issue so they could portray me as if I was taking something away from people, as if I was preventing the people here from living an ordinary life. This was the attitude.

I have lived here since I was a little kid and from early age I have been contributing to this community. I have partaken in building it up, socially and as an individual. I have been here all my life. Despite my opposition to this construction, I did not consider myself being any less of a member of this community. Nothing of what I have done justifies the accusations of me wanting to ruin this community. I was simply against this construction. But just like others, I was to be suppressed into obedience.”

Despite all this, Þórhallur refused to throw away his ideals and stay silent. Determined not to be silenced, he continued his fight with both words and actions. “I am probably the only resident in Eastern Iceland who ever has been fined for opposing the Kárahnjúkar dams [in fact Gudmundur Mar Beck, farmer at Kollaleyra in Reydarfjordur (site of the ALCOA smelter) was also fined a hefty sum for protesting against the project. Ed. SI.org]. Along with others, I blockaded a bridge over river Besstastaðaá and was fined,” he says and adds that he did happily pay the fine. “This action was symbolic for the situation at that time, as a token of the fact that the case had become insolvable. We didn’t intend to completely prevent these people from continuing their way,” Þórhallur says. These people were the board of Landsvirkjun [Iceland’s national energy company] as well as Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, then mayor of Reykjavík [later Minister for Foreign Affairs in the government that was toppled by protesters during the winter of 2008-9], and the area that was at stake at that time was Eyjabakkar wetlands. “We read two statements out loud, from the Association for the Protection of Eastern Iceland’s Highlands, and after that the protest was over.”

He does not regret this, even though he had to face the consequences his actions. “I was there in my spare time but at this time I worked for the The State Electric Power Works. Following the protest, we witnessed one of the worst witch-hunting periods in the history of Eastern Iceland. The severity is very memorable to me.”

Harsh Attacks

This protest had been organized by Þórhallur as well as Karen Egilsdóttir, who was an elementary school teacher, and Hrafnkell A. Jónsson, who has now passed away. “Parents phoned the school’s headmaster and demanded that their kids would not have to go to her classes. Politicians in the East systematically tried to get me fired from my job. They phoned both the State’s and the Region’s electric utility directors, demanding that I would be fired because of a thing I did in my spare time. These same men constantly interrupted the Chairman of RARIK [Iceland State Electricity] and I had to stand up for my opinions. I had to show up in front of the Region’s electric utility director and proof that I had been at the protest during my spare time. And as my words were not enough, I had to get my supervisor to come and proof it. Everything was tried. It was harsh.

And when I was informed that very influential people in the East, respected members of their society, were trying to get back at me and get me dispelled from work because of my opinions, I got a very strange feeling regarding what kind of a society I live in.

I also witnessed the behaviour of the police who chased protesters around the highlands, which made me wonder if I lived in a police state. The police tried to prevent protesters from resting by putting wailing sirens on during the middle of the nights, they constantly drove past them and around their cars, took photographs during darkness using flash, and blocked roads so that people could not bring them food. I saw all of this taking place.”

Always Knew of More Opponents

For two years in a row, the protesters set up camps in the highlands. During the first summer [2005], the protest camp was pitched on a land owned by the Bishop’s Office. “The church’s tolerance was not greater than so that the Bishop’s Office asked for the protesters to be removed. The second year I brought them food by taking an alternate route to their camp when the police had closed the main road. I supported these people because they were doing a job that many of us here, the locals, could not do. They were protesting against something that very few people from the East felt up to, due to the way those who dared to protest were treated. We were monitored and the word, about what kind of a people we were, was spread around. That is the reason why many people contacted me, people who otherwise did not dare to voice their opinion, did not dare to join the struggle. I always knew that I spoke on behalf of more people than just myself.”

Thus, when Saving Iceland contacted Þórhallur, he was more than willing to help. He was a spokesperson of the Icelandic Touring Association and explained to Saving Iceland that it would be just about impossible to expel them from the camping area at Snæfell, which had been open to the public for many decades. Eventually, a ten days long camp was to be set up there. “Then the word started to spread and I received a phone call from the Bishop’s Office, asking me if we could stop the camp from taking place. I told them that this camping area had been open to the public ever since the hut was built, but I invited them to come to the East and try to expel them themselves. A few days later, Landsvirkjun’s public relation manager called me and brought up the same thing. He asked about the possibility of putting a limit on the amount of people allowed to stay at the camp, if the health and safety authorities would agree upon this amount of people, etc. etc. I told him the same: “This is an open camping area and we do not choose who gets to stay and who not.” You get the picture of how the situation was at this time.”

Not everybody was happy within the Touring Association. “Some of the board members were against it and conflicts took place within the association. I asked them what they intended to do, if the Association would then, in the future, pick out people allowed onto the camping areas. I said to them: These people just enter the camping area, follow the current rules and pay their fee. While so, we can not do anything. Then, some of the people realized how far they had stepped over limits.

So the protesters came to Snæfell and stayed for ten days. That worked out pretty well but then they went to other places [within the intended reservoir. Ed. SI] and came up against all sorts of misfortunes.”

A Protection Cancelled

He also points out how politicians behaved in the Kárahnjúkar issue. “It is interesting to look at the current discussion about the Energy Master Plan. Some people now say that politicians are interfering with specialists’ work. In that case, it is worth remembering the fact that the Kárahnjúkar dams were removed from the Master Plan and were only briefly considered in that context. Those who decided this were politicians. The project underwent an Environmental Impact Assessment and Iceland’s Planning Agency rejected it due to the drastic and irreversible environmental impacts. But then the case was simply taken into a political process and soon it was decided to go ahead and build the dams, despite the Planning Agency’s view that the environmental impacts were unacceptable.

The way this case was handled should actually be an ample reason for an investigation. This area’s official protection was cancelled so the land could be drowned. Never before had this happened in Iceland, but it was nevertheless done by Siv Fiðleifsdóttir, then Minister of the Environment. That is her monument: being the one Minister of the Environment, responsible for the most severe environmental destruction,” Þórhallur says plain-spoken.

The Old People Got Away

He believes that only the further damming of Þjórsárver wetlands would have been a even bigger environmental sacrifice. “Thereafter came Kárahnjúkar. But this is all about politics, Icelanders have no time for politics. The Danes have done fine without heavy industry. This is always just a question of a political policy, and for decades, the inhabitants of Reyðarfjörður [where the Alcoa smelter is located] have been promised that someone will come and do something for them. In such a position, people tend to forget their survival instinct.

The exchange rate was way too high and all the local fishing industry left. Fishing company Skinney Þinganes moved all their business to Höfn in Hornafjörður, while Samherji [another seafood company incidentally owned by the family of Halldor Asgrimsson, one of two main perpetrators of the Karahnjukar dams] bought fishing quota from Stöðvarfjörður and Eskifjörður and took it away from there. But because an aluminium smelter was on its way, people believed that this was no problem. It is always possible to starve people into obedience. It is easy to change the mentality in such a way that it simply receives. All of a sudden the smelter appeared as some sort of a life buoy. The positive side of it is that now there are much younger people living in Fjarðabyggð [combined municipality of a few towns, including Reyðafjörður] than before. The old people got away. But behind this is the sacrifice. The sacrifice was too big and it was the whole region’s sacrifice. We sacrificed this for the benefits of a North American corporation. We sacrificed everything for too little. While all this took place, people were supposed to stand together and they spoke about the region as a totality. But immediately as the construction was over, all such solidarity disappeared.”

Direct and Indirect Payments

He is, nevertheless, able to understand why the region’s people were in favour of the construction and focused on getting a smelter. “I understand them very well, as they got something out of it. But it is clear that we got too little. 200 people from here work in the smelter, I think. 200 jobs — that is not enough for such a sacrifice. 500 jobs would also not have been enough when compared with the land that was destroyed. But people can be bought up if they are handed money. And I understand farmers who had never seen any real money but were all of sudden promised amounts which they would, in any other case, not have been able to even dream of. But is that the way we want it to be? That people can be mislead by money?

If they would have stood their ground and rejected all of , if the Fljótsdalshérað region would have rejected this, and the local politicians and the public — then this would never have become true. Now, some people state that we never had anything to say about it, but these are people who have a bad conscience because they did not fight against the construction.

Everywhere in the world, except Iceland, these “counterbalance steps” as they are called, would have been considered bribery. Basically, local politicians were bought up. Farmers and influential people were hired on good salaries and farmers got fertilizer to use on uncultivated land. All such indirect payments to influential people certainly have an impact on what decisions are made and on what premises they are made. Some farmers received compensation due to the destruction, but to pay compensation to only one generation is not acceptable. It would have made much more sense to link the compensation with the power plant’s electricity production and pay them to those living in the area on an annual basis.”

Gullfoss Falls Could be Forgotten

Asked about the actual value of the land now lost, Þórhallur answers: “This land used to be an attraction. The waterfalls that have now dried up, the vegetated land that went under water, the wilderness which is becoming increasingly precious. Being able to live with such quality is like nothing else. If well organized, hundreds of thousands of travellers could have been been shown this land without the land being harmed. Seen from a long-term perspective, that could have created more money than the dams.”

Think about the fact that the Gullfoss waterfalls and the hot spring Geysir did not use to be popular tourist places. It was not easy to get to them, say fifty or hundred years ago. We can not sacrifice something just because only a few people know about it. Using that same argument, we could as well dry up Gullfoss, as in a few decades we would forget about it and the next generations would not know what a beautiful waterfall used to flow there. We can not think in that way. One generation can not treat Iceland’s nature, this national treasure, in such a way.

I first drove to Hafrahvammar canyon in 1972 and, in fact, roads and paths have been there for many decades, but they were quite difficult to pass. That could easily have been changed and thus, the access to the area could have been increased.”

“The Same Horrific Situation Far and Wide”

In the end he says that the aluminium smelter has not lived up to society’s expectations. “It still has not been possible to staff the smelter with Icelanders. Only Icelandic-speaking people are hired there but despite all the unemployment and all the advertising, sub-contractors partly staff their companies with foreigners, as Icelanders are not willing to take on these jobs. The labour turnover has been about 25 percent. Despite the fiasco the nation has went through [the 2008 economic collapse], this is not considered a decent option for a working place.

Was the hole purpose of drowning this land, destroying this nature, drying up these waterfalls, to be able to import migratory workers from abroad? Do some of the unemployed people on Suðurnes not want to come to the East, move into all the empty apartments and work in the smelter in Reyðarfjörður? Isn’t there something wrong? Why do people not apply for jobs here?” Þórhallur asks and adds that the pot-rooms and the cast-house are not really desirable workplaces, though some other jobs in the smelter might lure some. “One has to work 12 hours shifts and I know no-one who works in the smelter and looks at it as their future job. I also know people who used to work there but quit because of the long shifts. They did not want to sacrifice their family life for the job. People will work there until they find a better job. If the economy recovers in a few years time, how will this end? Will we end up having to staff the smelter solely with foreign labour on season?

This was supposed to save everything but the same horrific situation is evident far and wide. The smelter had, for instance, no positive impacts in nearby places like Stöðvarfjörður and Breiðdalsvík.

The planned population increase in Eastern Iceland never took place, and as the senselessness was absolute, everything collapsed. No-one lives in the houses that were built — streets were laid but no houses built on them. The municipality is bankrupted, as it is expensive to go into such a construction and to sit up with this half-finished street-system. This situation might recover in a few decades, but it still was not worth it.”

May 21 2012
1 Comment

Glencore: Reaping Huge Profits From Life’s Essentials


This video by Patrick Clair tells the story of commodity broker Glencore International, the biggest shareholder of Century Aluminum, and the company’s dangerously powerful position on the world’s markets.

Click here to read Saving Iceland’s dossier on Glencore, Century and the incestuous world of mining.

Dec 09 2011
4 Comments

Time Has Told: The Kárahnjúkar Dams Disastrous Economical and Environmental Impacts


The profitability of Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s national energy company, is way too low. And worst off is the Kárahnjúkar hydro power plant, Europe’s largest dam, the company’s biggest and most expensive construction. Landsvirkjun’s director Hörður Arnarson revealed this during the company’s recent autumn meeting, and blamed the low price of energy sold to large-scale energy consumers, such as Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður, as one of the biggest factors reducing profit.

These news echo the many warnings made by the opponents of the cluster of five dams at Kárahnjúkar and nearby Eyjabakkar, who repeatedly stated that the project’s alleged profitability was nothing but an illusion, but were systematically silenced by Iceland’s authorities.

Now, as these facts finally become established in the media—this time straight from the horse’s mouth—similarly bad news has arrived regarding another big Icelandic energy company. Reykjavík Energy has failed to make a profit from their 2007 and 2008 investments, effectively making them lose money.

At the same time, new research shows that the environmental impacts of the Kárahnjúkar dams are exactly as vast and serious as environmentalists and scientists feared.

And yet, more dams, geothermal power-plants and aluminium smelters are on the drawing table—presented as the only viable way out of the current economic crisis. Read More

Nov 09 2011
10 Comments

From Siberia to Iceland: Century Aluminum, Glencore and the Incestuous World of Mining


A special report for Saving Iceland by Dónal O’Driscoll

Preface

Glencore are the majority shareholder of Century, the owner of one operational and one half-built smelter in Iceland, it’s key operations for aluminium smelting. But who are Glencore and what are the implications for Iceland? This comprehensive article profiles the world’s biggest commodity broker, who’s only comparable predecessor was Enron. The profile covers the reach and grip of Glencore’s domination of metal, grain, coal and bio-oils markets, allowing it to set prices which profit very few and are detrimental to many. It shows the tight web of connections between the major mining companies and Glencore through shared board history and shared ownership of assets, cataloguing key shareholders (and board members) who’s stakes make them larger shareholders than institutional investors in ownership of Glencore. These connections include Rusal’s co chair Nathaniel Rothschild, a financier with a $40m investment in Glencore, and a personal friend of Peter Mandelson (former EU trade commissioner and British politician) and George Osborne (UK Chancellor).

The article details the human rights and environmental abuses of Glencore at it’s many operations, including the 2009 killing of Mayan indigenous leader Adolfo Ich Chamán who spoke out about Century’s activities in Guatemala under CEO-ship of Peter Jones (still a Century board member). It claims that Glencore is higher than most in the running for most abusive and environmentally detrimental mining company, going where lesser devils fear to tread – trading with Congo, Central Asia and embargoed countries such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and apartheid South Africa. Glencore founder Marc Rich was involved in trading embargoed Iranian oil, and fled the United States in 1983 accused of insider dealing and tax dodging over Iranian deals, becoming one of the 10 fugitives most wanted by the FBI, until he was pardoned by Bill Clinton. Glencore is still run by two of his main men. Read More

Pages: 1 2

Aug 30 2011
2 Comments

More Industry in Hvalfjörður Brings More Abuse of Power


A broad general reconciliation on environmental and industrial affairs in Hvalfjörður has been completely ignored and stepped on by the Associated Icelandic Ports under the administration of a member of the social-democratic party Samfylkingin. This says Sigurbjörn Hjaltason, farmer in Hvalfjörður, who recently called for an investigation into the possible connection between bone deformities in his sheep’s skulls and an environmental accident at the Norðurál aluminium smelter in Grundartangi in 2006. Sigurbjörn has now raised awareness to yet another potential ecological disaster in Hvalfjörður – a fjord which already hosts two highly polluting factories: an aluminium smelter owned by Norðurál/Century Aluminium and an Elkem ferro silicon plant – as well as the abuse of power entailed in the process.

In a recent article, originally published on news-website Pressan, Sigurbjörn says that before the municipal elections in spring 2009, the community in Hvalfjörður settled upon an agreement about environmental and industrial affairs. But under the administration of Hjálmar Sveinsson (on photo), who is a vice-councilman of Reykjavík for Samfylkingin, a joint venture of several port authorities in the Faxaflói area, titled the Associated Icelandic Ports, is enabling the way for the construction of yet another two factories at the Grundatangi industrial site in Hvalfjörður, where the two aforementioned factories are located. Sigurbjörn describes the whole process as a very dubious one: Read More

Aug 18 2011

Protest at the Cairn Energy Headquarters in Edinburgh: “No Oil for Vedanta!”


At 2.30pm today 10 people arrived unannounced at the offices of Cairn Energy at the Clydesdale Plaza in central Edinburgh. They installed themselves at the grand entrance to the building, blowing whistles and shouting: “No oil for Vedanta! Stop, stop, stop the deal!” and “Vedanta out of Sri Lanka”, attracting the attention of the floods of passers-by attending the Edinburgh theatre festival. Three of the demonstrators gave out leaflets in the street from the campaign group Foil Vedanta and explained that the demonstration was timed with Cairn India’s AGM in Mumbai, where the Vedanta-Cairn deal would be discussed. The leaflets describe the protest as in solidarity with Indian people’s movements in communities affected by Vedanta’s atrocities including Niyamgiri and Puri in Orissa, Advalpal in Goa, and Thoothkudi in Tamil Nadu. They stress Vedanta’s poor environmental track record and demand that the company should not be allowed to take over Cairn India, an oil company drilling in pristine ocean off Sri Lanka.

Protesters claim this is a British issue as both Cairn and Vedanta are British companies, and have been aided by David Cameron and the British Ambassador to India in pushing the deal through. The leaflets highlight Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal’s position as the 17th richest man in Britain and claim the British government has allowed him to evade millions of pounds worth of tax using Jersey and Bahamas based tax havens. One of the placards showed Cairn CEO Bill Gammell and Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal in bed with David Cameron and read ‘Bill Gammell, Anil Agarwal, David Cameron in bed for oil’ while another slogan accused all three of having ‘blood on their hands’. A stack of leaflets was handed in to the building to distribute to Cairn Energy staff and a security guard warned those gathered that the police would be called if they remained at the building. This warning was taken seriously in the light of Cairn Energy’s zero tolerance policy on protests at the same offices by Greenpeace a month earlier, at which the company took out injunctions against Greenpeace preventing them from publishing any pictures of the event. The protesters left after an hour.

Below is a press release that followed the protest. Download the leaflet that was distributed at the protest here: Cairn India AGM leaflet. Read More

Jul 29 2011
2 Comments

Shoot Teenagers, Fight Environmentalists


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson. Originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.

In a very short time the discourse following last week’s right-wing terrorist attacks in Norway reached both absurd and scary heights, with one of the best examples being American TV and radio host Glenn Beck’s attempt to justify the mass murderer by comparing the social democratic youth camp on Utøya with the Hitler Youth. In Iceland it was the writings of Björn Bjarnason, a right-wing conservative and Iceland’s Minister of Justice from 2003 to 2009.

Only a day after the attacks, Björn, who systematically voiced what he called “the need” for the establishment of an army-like police force when he was Minister of Justice, wrote on his website – one of Iceland’s oldest blog-sites, frequently quoted by journalists – that the Norwegian state, with its powerful secret police force, should have all the necessary tools to fight the threat of terrorism. According to Björn, this police force keeps a strict eye on potential terrorist cells – groups that operate “in service of political ideals” or “under the banner of environmentalism or nature conservation.” Read More

Jul 20 2011

Blood and Treasure – Rio Tinto’s Bloody Path in Bougainville


Originally published on Dateline

It’s 14 years since the war ended over what was once the world’s largest copper mine, at Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, but Dateline has uncovered claims that the PNG government was acting under instruction from mining giant Rio Tinto, when it killed thousands of people who wanted the mine shut down. The allegations come from PNG’s former Opposition Leader, and now Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, in 2001 court documents obtained by SBS Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson for Dateline. In them, Somare says the company, and its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited, effectively used its wealth to control the government – a claim denied by BCL. With negotiations now underway to reopen the abandoned mine, could Bougainville be heading for a repeat of the bloody battle over its resources?

Náttúruvaktin