Environmental issues about Rio Tinto’s business in Serbia, News
This spring, environmental issues are coming to the fore in Serbia, so the company Rio Tinto became a well-known name for the announced Jadar project, near Loznica in Western Serbia, where the jadarite ore was discovered in 2004.
The company’s problems began when several local environmental organizations launched local protests late last year, worried about the project’s possible impact on the ecosystem in Western Serbia, warning of potential damage to the environment.
Back in 2004, Rio Tinto, exploring the area of Western Serbia, discovered a new jadarite ore, a combination of lithium and boron, which was recognized and introduced as a new element in 2006.
Lithium is important as a basic component for the production of batteries for mobile phones, laptops, electric cars and other consumer devices.
This new element was presented in the media in 2007 due to its chemical composition as “kryptonite” – a fictional element that in movies and comics about Superman, can only harm a superhero.
This new element was soon given the name jadarite, after the location where it was found, and Serbian officials repeatedly announced that the excavation of this ore would improve the budget.
However, several environmental organizations, late last year, began to protest – and seek answers from Rio Tinto, on how the mining of this ore will affect the environment around Loznica, in western Serbia, where a processing mine is planned to open.
What is Rio Tinto?
Rio Tinto was the sixth metal and mining company in the world in 2020 when it comes to revenue, which, according to the specialized portal “Mining Technology”, reached 43.1 billion dollars. The largest is Glencore [Glencore] with 215.1 billion in revenue last year.
Rio Tinto was founded in 1873.
It is an Anglo-Australian multinational company, based in London, which operates in 35 countries around the world, and under the slogan “We produce key materials for human progress”.
However, after the announcement that in Western Serbia, about 130 kilometers from Belgrade and ten kilometers from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the construction of a mine and a factory for processing jadarite ore will begin by the end of 2021, the public is increasingly fierce reactions environmental activists but also some right-wing opposition parties – who claim that Rio Tinto’s plans could endanger the environment.
According to a profile on CNN Business in 2020, Rio Tinto had about 47,000 employees worldwide.
Rio Tinto in Serbia, on a project near Jadar, operates through its subsidiary, Rio Sava, registered under its full name: Rio Sava Exploration d.o.o., which is registered as a company for geological research.
Who is protesting and why?
The first major protest against Rio Tinto’s plans was organized on April 17 in the village of Dobrinja in western Serbia, where locals were joined by a large number of citizens and environmental activists from the surrounding towns of Pozega, Cacak and Uzice.
Rio Tinto was also mentioned on April 10, in front of the Serbian Parliament building at a protest called “Environmental Uprising”, where an appeal was made to stop all projects harmful to the environment, as well as to harmonize Serbian regulations with the highest environmental standards.
The first objections to Rio Tinto’s plans and the announced Jadar project came from environmental activists in late 2020, and these opposition and announced protests were joined by several opposition parties in Serbia, from the right-wing Dveri, the same-oriented Oslobodjenje movement, to The People’s Party, which the party’s president, Vuk Jeremic, described in earlier statements as a “moderate center-right” party.
Environmental activists, the Coalition for Sustainable Mining and the Association “Let’s Defend Jadar and Radjevina”, “Earth Thrive” and “Eco-road Bijeljina”, in a statement from April 2021, as the main problems in the project “Jadar”, singled out the damage to the waters of the Drina basin, and that the planned mine is harmful to the local community.
Zvezdan Kalmar, from the Coalition for Sustainable Mining and the Association “Let’s Defend Jadar and Radjevina”, in January 2021, said that the idea of opening a lithium mine in Serbia was unacceptable.
“We believe that the announced lithium mine in Serbia, as such, is unnecessary, that it is dangerous for the entire area around the Jadar River. In addition, this project was dangerous not only for that area, but also for the Drina River, the Sava River, and in the final instance, it would endanger Belgrade as well,” Kalmar said.
Kalmar then said that the planned project endangers the inhabitants of about 300 square kilometers, ie over 20 villages, several tens of thousands of people and twenty thousand farmers.
What does Rio Tinto say?
In the same interview for N1, Rio Tinto’s senior environmental advisor, Margareta Milosavljevic, denied the activists’ allegations of potential damage to the environment, and pointed out that this project is being implemented “in accordance with Serbian legislation, EU legislation, and Rio Tinto standards.”
Rio Tinto actively got involved and launched a campaign to explain the Jadar project from its point of view, as soon as the first complaints were heard in public.
At a meeting with NGO representatives and environmental activists on Thursday (June 3rd), they announced they would invest more than 100 million dollars in environmental protection and close to 40 million dollars in a water treatment plant.
Rio Tinto’s Chief Environmental Advisor, Margareta Milosavljevic, stated that the issue of the environment is in the company’s focus: “For our company, the attitude towards the environment and climate change is of great importance and in accordance with this water management the highest standards in all Rio Tinto operations, in order to meet the sustainability goals to which we are committed.”
What does the state say?
Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic said on May 6 that the goal of the Government of Serbia is to develop sustainable mining and that the issue of environmental protection is a key issue for all decisions that will be made regarding mining projects, including the lithium deposit research project around Loznica, ie the Jadar project.
In the meantime, Zorana Mihajlovic entered into a statement with the representative of the right-wing Dveri party, Bosko Obradovic, whom she accused of attracting public attention, because she publicly rebelled against the Jadar project and called the project an “environmental bomb”.
In a statement from Thursday, June 3, the Minister told Bosko Obradovic that “the desire to attract media attention and get political points is not enough when it comes to large projects in mining, but the facts must be known.”
“Since you are saying that the ‘Jadar’ project is ‘environmentally and health-unsafe’, you should know that this should be shown by the environmental impact study, which has not yet been completed, and thus deceive the public again,” she said.
On June 1, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with representatives of Rio Tinto, thanking the company for its readiness to discuss open issues, as well as for “commitment and understanding regarding the requirements for transparent work and meeting the most demanding conditions in the field of ecology,” he said.
“All projects that will be implemented in this area must meet the highest environmental and technological standards, because there is no healthy economic development without preserving a healthy environment,” said Vucic, emphasizing that the state will strictly take care of the application of the strictest environmental measures.
At a press conference on June 4, the President of Serbia said that, if necessary, the state would call a referendum on whether to start the exploitation of lithium.
According to him, it will be seen whether the referendum will be called at the level of municipalities or districts.
What is the company’s reputation in the world?
Rio Tinto has faced several accusations on the world market during its long history of destroying the environment or violating human rights.
One of the most famous examples is the case in Papua New Guinea, when due to government pressure to continue working in the gold and copper mine, the population started a rebellion, which escalated into a civil war for the independence of Bougainville Island from 1988 to 1997.
When non-governmental organizations in Australia called Rio Tinto to account in April 2020, Rio Tinto said it had taken note of the concerns of civil society groups when it came to environmental and human rights issues.
“We believe that the best way to solve any current problems is through mine owners who work directly with the Bougainville people,” Rio Tinto said, Reuters reported.
In May 2020, world agencies reported that Rio Tinto had destroyed two Aboriginal shrines in Western Australia, in the Pilbara region, during iron ore exploration in the Yukan Gorge, one of which was a rare historic site inhabited 46,000 years ago.
Rio Tinto immediately announced that an internal investigation had been launched in the company, which led to, for the first time, a reduction in bonuses to the three managers who participated in this event, and after the protests of the Australian and world public, to their dismissal.
As soon as the incident was announced, the leaders of the company Rio Tinto stated that they would fully cooperate with the investigation led by the Australian government on this incident.
Rio Tinto announced on this occasion that it will find ways to improve its internal procedures, so that such incidents would not happen again, Slobodna Evropa reports.