“They [Freeport] take our land and our grandparents’ land. They ruined the mountains. They ruined our environment by putting the waste in the river. We can’t drink our water anymore.”
— Tom Beanal, Amungme leader, Irian Jaya, Indonesia
“[The environmental impact of our mine] is the equivalent of me pissing in The Arafura Sea.”
— Jim Bob Moffett, CEO, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold
Since 1973, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has operated the world’s largest gold mine, located in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. In 1995, the company made $1.8 billion and — in four separate reports — was charged with environmental destruction and implicated in human rights abuses. (See “Spinning Gold,” September/October 1996).
An April 1995 report released by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) attributed the deaths or disappearances of 37 people and the dislocation of 115 families to clashes between native independence fighters and the Indonesian military near Freeport’s mine. Subsequent investigations by the Catholic Church of Jayapura and the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia corroborated these reports of murder and torture. None of the reports accused Freeport of direct involvement in these abuses, but military troops guard the company’s mine in exchange for food, shelter, and transportation. In addition, the Indonesian government holds a 9 percent share in the mine, and was estimated to receive $480 million in 1996 from royalties, taxes, and benefits.
Freeport’s involvement in human rights abuses may be open to speculation, but the impact of their mining practices on the local environment is well-documented. The company itself estimates that it released over 40 million tons of tailings — the pulverized rock left over after precious metals are extracted — into the Ajkwa River system during 1996 alone. An independent environmental audit conducted by Dames & Moore — and endorsed by Freeport — confirms that “tailings deposition has adversely impacted about 30 square kilometers of tropical lowlands rainforest.”
In October 1995, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency that assists U.S. companies investing overseas, concluded a lengthy investigation by cancelling Freeport’s $100 million political-risk insurance policy. Although OPIC later backtracked and reinstated the policy in April 1996, its initial report stated that Freeport’s activities “posed an unreasonable or major environmental, health, or safety hazard in Irian Jaya.”
What You Can Do
The Seattle Mennonite Church has posted a resolution to Freeport-McMoRan’s board of directors, calling on the company to:
- Postpone the expansion of milling operations until a just, accepted, peaceful and permanent resolution of local indigenous concerns can be reached with all stakeholders.
- End company cooperation with the Indonesian military as soon as legally possible.
- Publicly release in their entirety social and environmental audits conducted by consultancies in 1996.
- Allow independent environmental monitoring of the Freeport operations, and local river and ecosystems by non-governmental organizations.
The board has already advised shareholders and the Securities Exchange Commission that it will unanimously reject the Mennonite Church’s resolution. To help change their minds, you can write a letter in support of the resolution before Freeport’s annual shareholders meeting in New Orleans on April 29.
Send your letter to:
Mr. James Moffett, CEO
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.
1615 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
Fax it to: (504) 582-4028
Or e-mail Moffett’s assistant at: firstname.lastname@example.org