The conflict is a familiar one no matter where you live in the world: Beautiful natural ecosystem where a vast amount plants and animals thrive is also the same land that a mining company wants to extract resources from.
Kudremukh National Park got its status in 1987. Unfortunately it was the target of Iron-ore extractions since the 1960s. Over the years instead of halting the mining, the company found ways to continue. That is -until a group of concerned and determined activists came together to bring about an end to the mining in 2005.
Niren Jain was part of this group that dared to take on the powerful forces in business and government. Their story is one of success but also struggle, as part of a battle that should be over, but somehow, finds new ways of carrying on.
Today on the podcast, in Mangalore, Karnataka, we hear the story of how mining was stopped in Kundremukh, and the aftermath of such a momentous achievement.
In the summer of 2011 we learned of the fairphone mission; to make the world’s first ethically responsible mobile phone. We spoke about the challenges, the steps, the people and places in the world that would be involved. Now, many months later, we revisit fairphone to get an update and hear about the interesting developments and ongoing initiatives. My guest and guide on this podcast is Bas van Abel of the Waag Society, who has been part of the fairphone initiative since the early days.
Freeport MacMoRan is the world’s lowest-cost copper producer and the largest gold producer in the world. Producer is a funny term, they pull it from the earth. I suppose the production label comes from everything they do to the stuff they take from the earth.. the processing.
The company is almost 100 years old with its headquarters in Arizona, but of course its operations are located all over the world. Freeport operates the largest copper mine in the world, the Grasberg Mining Complex in West Papua, a province of Indonesia.
West Papua has long been the stage for conflict, where the Indonesian government uses whatever means at its disposal to keep the independence movement down. For many Papuan people the mine is a major part of that conflict, due to the massive environmental damage it causes on their territory, the lack of financial benefit or return to the region, and the use of notorious elements of the Indonesian Military to handle security. Since 2002 there have been several incidents involving the shooting deaths of workers at the plant.
For the past two months workers at the mine have been on strike, demanding better wages. According to Reuters, their current payrate is $1.5 to $3 an hour. They are now demanding that it be raised to $12.50 to $37 an hour. Recent demonstrations by the workers have attracted crowds numbering around 8,000. According to the Jakarta Post, during one of those demonstrations police fired into the crowd and killed 2 workers. The paper also reports that Freeport had been trying to fire all the workers and have them replaced, a tactic an Indonesian Minister said would be a violation of their labor laws.
Freeport is number 136 on the Forbes Fortune 500 list, with over $4 billion in profit for 2010. They have been heavily criticized by human rights organizations and corruption watchdogs for their payments to the Indonesian Government and the Military in an effort to maintain the status quo and quell labor disputes at their mine. The millions of dollars in lost revenue are often mentioned in the media for every day their mine is shut. What does their copper go into? The list is massive and touches on many aspects of our everyday lives in the western world.
Earlier this year Michael Schaap went to DRCongo as part of the Fairphone fact finding mission. The goal was to better understand how the minerals that make up our technology, our mobile phones, are mined and how they travel from miners up through all the middle people and eventually to the mobile phone producers. Can this process be carried out ethically? Where people are not taken advantage of or abused while doing their work and earning a living? Michael saw first hand how this process works and where things could perhaps change. But does the organization have the resources and support to achieve their goals? What lessons came out of the visit to Katanga?