If you want an insight into the sort of company that is destroying the
environment around the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine in West
Papua, check out these quotes from Freeport McMoran chief executive Jim
Bob Moffett courtesy of Corpwatch:
“We have a volcano that’s been decapitated by nature, and we’re
mining the esophagus, if you will.”
“I can assure you that we receive
better treatment in some foreign countries than we do here” – on US citizens’
attempts to hold Freeport accountable to the law.
“We find President
Suharto to be a compassionate man.”
“I graduated with the highest grades
of any footballer at the University of Texas” – explaining his qualifications
to order Austin city officials around.
“This is not a job for us, it’s a religion” – describing
Grasberg as the world’s greatest mine.
“I guarantee you this sombitch is
glad we found a copper and gold mine” – showing a slide of a smiling Irianese
youth in a bellhop uniform – “(…before Freeport arrived) the young man was
raising vegetables or doing whatever on the mountain with his
“We’re going to mine all the way to New Orleans.”
Moffett was the boss of current BHP-Billiton CEO Chip
Goodyear’s boss at Freeport from 1989 until 1997, the same period which
led to this damning 1996 profile of Moffett’s company on Mother Jones.
Goodyear was presumably one of the key executives who negotiated Rio
Tinto’s entry into Grasberg in 1995 at exactly the same time that BHP
was thoroughly bruised by its Ok Tedi experience in neighbouring PNG.
The timeline for Rio Tinto’s involvement is interesting when you
consider the long battle the company waged with BHP for leadership in
the global copper market. Having missed Grasberg, BHP went off and blew
$3.2 billion on Magma Copper.
May 1994: BHP sued in the Victorian Supreme Court for $4 billion by PNG landowners over damage caused by the Ok Tedi copper mine.
February 1995: RTZ unveils investment of up to $2.3 billion in Grasberg mine and its operator, Freeport McMoran.
April 1995: Australian
Council for Overseas Aid report released claiming the Indonesian army and security forces killed 37 people
involved in protests over the mine in a seven month period.
October 1995: RTZ and CRA unveil their proposed dual-listed company merger
December 1995: Having missed out on Grasberg, BHP spends $3.2 billion on the ill-fated Magma Copper purchase.
December 1995: RTZ and CRA shareholders approve merger deal
March 1996: Grasberg mine closed for three
days because of attacks by the local population
April 1996: An Indonesia soldier who had just returned from an
operation against West Papuan independence activists around the mine
opened fire indiscriminately at Timika airstrip, killing 18 people.
April 1996: Freeport agrees to pay 1% of income to local Irian Jaya community
June 1996: BHP reaches Ok Tedi settlement, gifting stake in mine to a community trust and vowing to fix some of the environmental damage.
June 2000: Almost $4 billion wiped from the market value of Rio
Tinto after the Indonesian Government ordered a cut in production
following a landslide that killed four workers.
October 2003: Eight workers killed in another landslide causing mine to be closed for two weeks.
March 2004: Rio Tinto sells its 13% stake in Freeport for $US882 million but retains 40% stake in post-1994 elements of the Grasberg mine.