Glencore Xstrata moves towards human rights pact

Glencore Xstrata has long drawn criticism and protest for its rights record Keystone

Swiss-based mining company Glencore Xstrata has pledged to improve its human rights record by signing a letter of intent for an initiative promising to prevent violations by security, military and police forces in the commodities sector.

This content was published on August 15, 2013 - 16:02 and agencies

Switzerland had chaired the steering committee for the initiative since March, and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter played a role in encouraging Glencore Xstrata CEO Ivo Glasenberg to come on board; Burkhalter had deemed the commodities giant’s cooperation “very important”.

The signing, which was revealed by the Swiss media on Wednesday evening and has been confirmed by the Swiss foreign ministry, took place in July. If finalised, the mining company would be the only Swiss company to sign the initiative, although Xstrata had already done so before merging with Glencore last year to become the fourth-largest company of its kind in the world.

Titled the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights,” the Swiss-steered human rights agreement involves 21 oil, gas and mining companies, as well as several non-governmental organisations and eight governments.

Lorenz Kummer from the NGO Swissaid told the Handelszeitung that the signing was a positive development. The security situation around the company’s mines was often precarious, he said. But he added that the firm, which is based in Zug, still needed to change its behaviour and should sign up to more binding regulations.

Controversial project downsized

Glencore Xstrata’s human rights pledge comes amid news that it will significantly downsize a controversial mining project in the Philippines, cutting up to 920 jobs and slashing the project’s $5.9 billion (CHF5.4 billion) budget.

The Tampakan gold and copper mining project was slated for cuts following challenges like a ban on open-pit mining in the region and concerns over "substantial development challenges,” as managing company Sagittarius Mines told Reuters. Glencore Xstrata owns 62.5 per cent of Sagittarius.

Tampakan is also one of four projects that the company has indicated it could sell off to quiet Chinese regulators’ fears of its excessive dominance in the copper market, although the mine has not been put up for sale.

And in June, a report by three Swiss-based human rights organisations heavily criticised the project, declaring that “human rights to self-determination of indigenous peoples, to food, water, health, life and physical integrity are at stake” and calling on the Swiss government to take action.

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