World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 

Empty promises whitewash Freeport's rights, responsibility

Empty promises whitewash Freeport's rights, responsibility record

Special for ETAN's Blog
by David Webster

August 7, 2011

What does a mining company need to do to get a top score for “corporate social responsibility”?

To judge by the recent “100 Best Corporate Citizens List”, all it takes to finesse a long and controversial record of human rights abuses is to come up with a piece of high-minded rhetoric, then carry on as usual.

Human rights advocates and those who have studied the record of Freeport McMoran in West Papua were startled to learn that Corporate Responsibility Magazine had named Freeport as the 24th-best corporate citizen in America (click for the full list). More startling still, the company scored well based mainly on a sixth-place ranking in the human rights category.

How is this possible? Well, the survey’s methodology seems to pay no heed to human rights performance. Only human rights rhetoric matters. And in that, Freeport excels. A strong written policy on human rights declares: “Freeport-McMoRan does not tolerate human rights transgressions.” It points to rights risks in West Papua, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and adds that PT Freeport Indonesia policy is to “notify the direct commanders of the perpetrators” in cases where human rights allegations are made against Indonesian security forces. Since reputable human rights groups suggest that the top ranks of the security forces are implicated in widespread human rights violations in West Papua, this is hardly striking at the root of the problem.

As local people have pointed out, and researchers have confirmed, Freeport’s performance is a far cry from the written policies. The main trouble is intimate ties to Indonesian security forces.

Security forces may be implicated in the murder of American citizens near the Freeportmine, as Eben Kirksey and Andreas Harsono have reported.

Violence around the mine is used by security forces to target and scapegoat local people. In 2005, the New York Times revealed thatFreeport paid the security forces more than $10 million in 2001 and 2002. Payments are now made “in-kind” rather than in cash. The local Amugme people have long protestedFreeport seizure of their lands. Pictures of Freeport’s Grasberg mine from space (left) show the scale and environmental impact in the mountains that are home to the Amungme.

And lest all of this be hailed as “old news,” the Amungme filed a lawsuit last year sayingFreeport had taken their lands illegally. Meanwhile, the Indonesian army’s presence around Freeport, and the company’s close ties to Indonesian security forces, were reinforced this year. The continuing alliance between Freeport Indonesia and the Indonesian security forces is likely to exacerbate, rather than improve, the human rights situation.

None of these reports are taken in to account in the “100 Best Corporate Citizens List.” All the human rights indicators measure “human rights disclosure” and the sole source, according to the methodology details, comes from “Company public disclosures” – a corporation’s own information about itself.

The methodology, in other words, measures promises, not performance. There are parallels to the debate over whether companies accused of operating sweatshops overseas can be trusted to police themselves, or should accept independent monitoring. Thus the list cites the voluntary “Sullivan principles” first created under the Reagan administration and welcomed by companies resisting demands to divest from apartheid South Africa. AndFreeport boasts of adherence to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, launched by the British and American governments in 2000.

The key word here is “voluntary.” As with the mining industry globally and with businesses jumping on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) bandwagon more generally, companies are happy to promise good performance, as long as no one will be looking over their shoulders.

So perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that Corporate Responsibility Magazine is in fact published on behalf of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, a body made up of many of the companies being judged, and steered by such firms as Domtar and KPMG.Freeport is listed as a “recent member” of the CROA. It’s advanced in the listings – it was ranked 83rd in 2010.

The problem here isn’t just the “corporate social responsibility” methodology, but the entire concept of “CSR”. It can all too often be used by companies to buy their way out of “corporate social irresponsibility.”

Freeport is no champion of the best values of corporate citizenship: For human rights activists, it’s long been a poster child for corporate irresponsibility. A list of good corporate citizens with Freeport winning laurels demonstrates more than flaws in the study. As George Monbiot has written of climate change credits, the lists offer corporations a new form of medieval European Catholic “indulgences,” forgiveness for any form of offence. Jeff Ballinger recently pointed out on this blog that companies like Nike are wrapping themselves in the CSR garment to burnish their corporate images, despite continuing disregard for many labor rights. Freeport, too, is now having itself measured for a fine CSR wardrobe.

*************

David Webster is an assistant professor of International Studies at the University of Regina inSaskatchewan, Canada. He is a former coordinator with the East Timor Alert Network/Canada.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 


UN News: Landmark G7 Agreement Pledges 870 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses, Half By End-2021

A senior UN official welcomed on Sunday, the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations’ commitment to immediately share at least 870 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, supporting global access and helping to end the acute phase of the pandemic... More>>



OECD: G20 GDP Returns To Pre-pandemic Level In The First Quarter Of 2021, But With Large Differences Across Countries

Gross domestic product (GDP) of the G20 area returned to pre-pandemic level in the first quarter of 2021, growing by 0.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2020. However, this figure conceals large differences across countries... More>>

Myanmar: ‘Mass Deaths’ Alert As 100,000 Flee Junta’s Heavy Weapons

In Myanmar, international action is needed urgently to prevent “mass deaths” there, after civilians fled attacks by so-called “junta bombs”, a top independent UN rights expert has warned... More>>


Focus On: UN SDGs



G7: No Major G7 Stock Index Aligned With Paris Climate Goals

New research by CDP and the United Nations Global Compact on behalf of the Science Based Targets initiative calls on the largest G7 companies to take ambitious climate action... More>>


Report: Universal Access To Sustainable Energy Will Remain Elusive Without Addressing Inequalities

During the last decade, a greater share of the global population gained access to electricity than ever before, but the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa actually increased... More>>

UN: Launches Decade On Ecosystem Restoration To Counter ‘Triple Environmental Emergency’

Heads of Government, religious leaders, activists and artists joined the United Nations on Friday in a rallying cry to heal the planet, launching the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration... More>>