In 2019, Swiss-based mining corporation Glencore acquired PolyMet, whose corporate headquarters are in Canada. PolyMet is trying to build Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine. Glencore purchased 72% of PolyMet’s shares, rescuing the company from millions of dollars of debt and helping the copper-nickel mine to come to fruition
Glencore has a sordid history of human-rights concerns, as listed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which have occurred globally in Canada, Australia, Peru, the Philippines, and elsewhere. In 2007, Glencore was accused of releasing mining pollutants from a Bolivian mine into the Antequera River, posing a threat to human health and agricultural production. Before closing a copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Glencore was accused of profiting off child labor.
Glencore’s human-rights concerns are not limited to the global south and have occured in the U.S. as well. Glencore has been accused of mistreating and attempting to bust unions by threatening unemployment for union workers, reducing pay by “one-third (that) of permanent employees,” and “(granting) preferential treatment to representatives of non-unionized workers,” as a 2018 United Nations General Assembly report states.
In 2016, Sherman Alumina, a Glencore-owned company, shut down its plant in Gregory, Texas, killing 300 jobs. This followed a two-year lockout of striking workers. In 2015, United Steel Workers awarded Glencore a second-place award for corporate irresponsibility. USW District 13 Director Ruben Garza said, “Glencore is truly deserving of this recognition as one of the most irresponsible companies on the planet.”
Much of PolyMet’s appeal comes from its promise to provide good-paying union jobs to workers on the Iron Range. However, considering the track record of PolyMet’s parent company Glencore, it seems likely the copper-nickel mine will extract Minnesota’s wealth and resources, enrich Glencore’s owners in Switzerland, and leave Minnesotans to pick up the pieces.
The writer wrote this on behalf of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, or MPIRG, at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
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