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Activists make themselves heard


Listen up! A musical protest in New Orleans against BP in the wake of the oil spill.

Infrogmation's photostream / under CC licence

This month will see a flurry of major corporate Annual General Meetings (AGMs). While company directors busily hone their patter in preparation for facing their shareholders, activists are gearing up to make the AGM season an uncomfortable experience for many.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (19 April) will be facing criticism for its involvement in the tar sands industry – dubbed ‘the most destructive project on earth’ – as well as many other fossil fuel projects. RBS is the seventh biggest global investor in companies that operate in the tar sands and, having been bailed out by the British government, is now 83-per-cent taxpayer-owned. The ‘oil and gas bank’ will have to answer to representatives of First Nations communities in Canada who are seeing their traditional territories carved up and polluted by tar sands oil extraction; and a campaigner from Madagascar, who is trying to stop a new tar sands project there.

The company that will face the most wrath will undoubtedly be BP (14 April). In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago, and its subsequent decision to go into its first tar sands extraction project, BP’s Board of Directors will have to run the gauntlet of furious shareholders, affronted indigenous and fishing communities and exasperated activists. It should be quite a show.

Campaigners also have mining companies in their sites. Anglo-American (21 April) is facing growing criticism for its proposed gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which could jeopardize the world’s richest sockeye salmon habitat. Rio Tinto (14 April) will be challenged on its human rights and environmental record by members of three very different communities in Indonesia, Mongolia and Michigan. Richard Solly from the London Mining Network has been involved in organizing a critical presence at Rio Tinto and other corporate AGMs for years. ‘The AGM is the one truly public event where a company is accountable to its shareholders. We plan to use it to help people understand the links between their taxes, their pension funds, and these destructive projects around the world.’

Is this an effective tactic? ‘On its own it wouldn’t be,’ Richard is quick to point out. ‘We need to do all sorts of things to stop these damaging projects. But regularly turning up at AGMs is part of it. Anglo-American have said publicly, for instance, that our presence has contributed to their resolve to make sure things are done better at the mine they part-own in Colombia. Their activities still leave an awful lot to be desired, but things are better than they were before.’

New Internationalist issue 441 magazine cover This article is from the April 2011 issue of New Internationalist.
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