In the salt desert of Salinas Grandes, on the high plateau of Argentina, the company Bolera Minera is endangering a precious environment and the lifestyle of the local communities in order to exploit lithium.
In 2010, Bolera Minera, a joint venture formed by the French groups Bolloré and Eramet, signed a two year lithium exploration contract with the Argentinian mining company Santa Rita, which would give it an operating licence for 20 years. Bolera Minera thus operates in this region of 18000km² where 33 communities of the Salta and Jujuy provinces live.
The French groups Bolloré and Eramet, respectively specialised in the mining and industrial sectors, are amongst the market leaders in lithium, material used in the telephone and car industries to make high-tech electronic batteries. But to extract this highly desired resource, huge quantities of water are necessary, which poses a considerable risk of reduction to water table levels in an extremely arid area, as well as salinisation of freshwater layers.
Moreover, the small amount of existing water is often contaminated by chemical substances used in the production of lithium. The communities of the Salinas Grandes thus see the place where they live, and have lived for generations, threatened as well as their livelihoods as water is indispensable to their sheep and llama farming, but also for the traditional production of salt, an important activity for local economy.
Faced with the violation of their right to be consulted and decide their own development, the communities of Salta and Jujuy are taking action. A complaint was filed in the Supreme Court in Argentina as well as with the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which put out a report in July 2012 denouncing the social impact of the exploitation of lithium in the region of Salinas Grandes.
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For fifty years, the alumina plant at Gardanne (France, Bouches-du-Rhône) has been discharging toxic products into the Mediterranean. ALTEO is the current operator.
In October 2011, submerged by torrents of red mud, the city of AJka was the site of the biggest industrial accident in the history of Hungary. Impossible in France, you ask? And yet this scenario happens on a daily basis off the Mediterranean coast! Built by the industrial group Pechiney, the alumina plant at Gardanne has recently been taken over by ALTEO, an alliance between the mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan and HIG Capital, European subsidiary of an American investment fund.
For fifty years, a 47 km long pipe has been discharging red mud into the heart of the Calanques National Park at 320 metres depth. Red mud with all the chemicals it contains (vanadium, lead, chromium, titanium, mercury ...) produced by the Gardanne plant. Deposited on the seabed and dispersing with the currents, these toxic materials cause lasting pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. A century is needed to replace the water which this constitutes.
80% of the waste produced by the plant is currently discharged into the sea. Or approximately 30 million tonnes of red mud since 1966!
If the end of this discharge process is scheduled for 2015, it will only mark the beginning of a new phase of the disaster. What of the long-term consequences for marine life in this area that absorbs and concentrates toxic heavy metals from this waste by bio-accumulation? What of the health risks for people?
Aware of the deadline, Rio Tinto Alcan is already thinking about the future. The Group is putting pressure on the communes of the region in order to obtain the downgrading of wooded areas, with the aim of storing the waste underground whilst awaiting transformation so that it can be sold to various sectors, including de-pollution!
In 1993, an impact study commissioned by Pechiney concluded that the red mud was toxic. A study, classified confidential for the last fifteen years at the request of the group, who ever since have claimed that the red mud and commercial products from their transformation are harmless.
With a big reinforcement of communication, Lesieur is working on its image: as a socially responsible company, which cannot remain insensitive faced with the drama of hunger that millions of people around the world are living with.
In the autumn of 2011, when East Africa was having one of the worst food crisis episodes, Lesieur decided to use great efforts and embark on humanitarian action: for each bottle of oil purchased, the company undertook to send another directly to Somalia, to Ethiopia, to Eritrea or to Kenya.
But what Lesieur gives with one hand it takes back with the other!
In order to understand, it is useful to recall who controls the company. Lesieur is in fact the flagship of the "Pole Valuation of Oilseeds" Group Sofiprotéol and thus benefits "from the expertise of a group present in the entire oil industry, which is at the service of sustainable innovation." Sofiprotéol? A real war machine, with at its head, Xavier Beulin, head of the FNSEA and fervent proponent of bio-fuels. An industry qualified as a "crime against humanity" by Jean Ziegler, the spokesman for the United Nations for the Right to Food committee who, along with Friends of the Earth, as well as many associations, journalists, experts of all sorts, have for years has been denouncing the disastrous social and environmental impacts, namely in Africa .
Even the World Bank points the finger at bio-fuels and those who support it: Between 2002 and 2008, nearly 75% of higher food prices were due to speculative financial movements using policies of support for bio-fuels in the European Union and the United States .
Faced with such an accumulation of reports the European Union announced, in September 2012, a review of its policy: the draft proposed by Brussels would halve the rate of bio-fuels mixed with fuel at the pump, compared to its initial objective.
For Friends of the Earth, it's still half too much, but for Sofiprotéol it is above all an "unacceptable project" and a "catastrophic message" which threatens thousands of jobs . There is a difference between sending tins of oil to Africa from time to time, and calling into question a lucrative business... even if it starves the planet.
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New waste management systems are being developed to the detriment of the environment and farm land.
Transform your yoghurt pots or disinfectant wipes into compost ready to use for your new plants? This is what Urbaser Environment, specialist in the field and supporter of the revolutionary technique of "Mechanical Biological Sorting", undertakes to do. The company is planning to build one of these miracle plants at Romainville (France, Seine-Saint-Denis).
Presented as an alternative to incineration or landfill disposal, the biological treatment plants are the umpteenth attempt by companies to transform our wastes into profits, dressed up as a "green" activity. In 2011, Urbaser Environment saw a turnover of 152 million euros for its activities in France alone .
What's behind the name "Mechanical Biological Sorting" of our waste? The promise that the public will be able to put all their waste in the same bin and, with the wave of a magic wand, a rigorous sorting will be carried out. In strict respect for the environment and "with total reliability" of course.
But the reality is unfortunately less brilliant! The technique is expensive [2 ]and poorly controlled. Compost produced by this type of plant is rejected by farmers and for good reason: the French standard authorises that 1m3 of compost resulting from these plants can contain up to 5 kilos of glass or metals and 2 to 7 kilos of plastic bags ! A standard already very lax, but often not even achieved, forcing the abandonment of compost in landfills and ultimately the accumulation of more waste!
Polluting smells, risks of gas leaks, fire or explosion are added to the picture, causing concern for residents faced with the establishment of these new plants.
Let us stop playing with unscrupulous industries, denounce their projects and impose our citizen’s alternatives: a compost sorted at the source and value added by being returned to the ground!
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Whilst the bank is trying to give itself a more responsible image, decoding certain internal documents reveals a less virtuous face to these activities.
In 2009, the Director General of BNP Paribas solemnly declared: "We have decided to close our subsidiaries in the tax havens." Three years later, it is clear that the self-discipline promised by the bank has not really materialised. Worse, the number of its subsidiaries located in the tax havens has even increased and is currently 360, or nearly a quarter of the total number of all its subsidiaries .
Testifying on the 16 April 2012 to the Senate inquiry commission on tax evasion, Baudoin Prot, Director General of BNP Paribas declared that the bank "has a guiding principle not to encourage in any way behaviour which leads to the flight of capital or tax fraud".
But different internal documents of the bank show very clearly the opposite. The bank is thus promoting products and financial engineering miracles allowing their customers to evade most of their tax obligations and get round the new small obstacles raised by the G20. Amongst these schemes, BNP offers the possibility to create trusts, foundations and other chains of opaque structures intended to hide the true identity of the owner of a business or a bank account. The territories used by the bank are notably Jersey, the Bahamas, Liechtenstein, Panama, the Dutch West Indies, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Hong Kong
Another example is an open-end collective investment scheme (SICAV) called a Luxumbrella (Luxembourg umbrella), which allows its customers to avoid any deduction of tax at source, provided for in the European context. Following the Senate hearing the bank nonetheless announced that the product had been withdrawn from the market....
Taking advantage of this financial engineering, BNP Paribas is today in the top 10 of global banks. An affluence allowing them to ensure the bank is called the most radioactive in the world !
But BNP Paribas is not the only company to take full advantage of tax havens. More than 20 % of subsidiaries of the 50 largest European companies are in fact located in tax havens. In a recent study, Tax Justice Network estimated that the financial assets held off-shore amount to around 25 000 billion euros . Ten times the GDP of France.
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Apart from the environmental impacts of its activities, Perenco is also implicated in several cases of support for paramilitary groups in Latin America.
Within the framework of an agreement signed in 2010 with the state of Guatemala, Perenco undertook to fund 6 military battalions in its exploitation area. Officially these “Green Battalions” are responsible for protecting nature and fighting against drug smugglers. But their real mission is no mystery: prevent social mobilisation and make it easy to develop mega projects in the area for the profit of the national and international private sector. To the delight of Perenco, the main military detachment is based at the entrance to the group’s oil concession. In 2010 the company gave three million dollars for the creation of these battalions as well as 0.30 euros per barrel of production for their running costs .
But Perenco is also active in Colombia, a country experiencing more and more violent internal conflict. Several statements from ex-paramilitary chiefs testify to funding arrangements agreed by the French company with certain armed self-defence groups between 2002 and 2005  (Groups responsible for numerous abuses, enforced disappearances and displacement of civilians). In November 2011, an ex-paramilitary testified in court that Perenco, in order to protect its oil installations from guerrillas, financed the illegal armed groups through donations, giving them petrol and paying them to escort the company’s lorries.
Finally, in April 2009, when 30,000 people mobilised against the privatisation of the Amazon forest, several oil companies, amongst them Perenco, called on the Peruvian government to react and protect their installations. No sooner asked than done, the government declared a state of emergency, suspended constitutional rights and bloodily repressed the demonstrations .
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