Norwegians, our old masters and forefathers, have become one of the richest nations on earth after finding oil off their shores at the end of the 1960s. Norway is currently the second biggest oil exporter in the world, following Saudi Arabia. Knowing that their source of wealth isn’t infinite, the Norwegian government created a fund called the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global to preserve its oil wealth for future generations. It ranks as the second biggest pension fund in the world, currently worth over 250 billion USD. The fund is owned by the people of Norway, meaning that each Norwegian person’s share is worth about 54,125 USD. That’s a lot of money. Now that Norway is rich, they have shifted their focus and are becoming more environmentally friendly, cutting down on heavy industry such as aluminium production. In the meantime, the Icelandic government is desperate to sell cheap energy, offering one of the few things that make us truly unique, our nature, to foreign companies. In fact, an aluminium plant recently shut down in Norway because the owner, Alcoa, decided to move their business to Iceland, the most generous bidder.
Some of the companies the Icelandic government has been trying to seduce have a truly disturbing history, such as the mining company Rio Tinto. It has a long record of human rights violations, environmental damage and corruption. In fact, 57 members of the British senate signed a parliamentary resolution in 1998 in which Rio Tinto was called “probably the most uncaring and ruthless company in the world”. While Norwegians are working to preserve their nature and wealth for future generations, the Icelandic government feels it can’t afford not to mingle with first-class, pardon me, scum. In fact, we invited two representatives from Rio Tinto to Iceland in July 2005 to inspect various areas in the northern and eastern regions with the possibility of building an aluminium plant. In the past, Rio Tinto has proven that they have little regard for the future generations, and we have no reason to think they’ll act any differently in Iceland.
On June 6, 2006, the Norwegian Minister of Finance announced that the Norwegian Pension Fund – Global is pulling out shares and banning certain stocks due to ethical reasons. Among those with whom Norway no longer does business is the Wal-Mart discount store chain. The reasons for pulling out of Wal-Mart are “serious” and “systematic violations of human rights and labour rights,” said officials from the Norwegian Ministry of Finance, as reported in Icelandic media. However, what the Icelandic media failed to report is that Wal-Mart was one of two companies to get the boot. The other one, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., is a mining company guilty of inflicting “extensive and serious damage on the environment” in places like New Guinea. The environmental damage caused by Freeport’s mining operations are “extensive, long-term and irreversible,” with “considerable negative consequences for the indigenous peoples residing in the area,” as reported in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. For some reason, this flew completely under the radar in the Icelandic media. Maybe it’s because we’re not too keen on discussing environmental damage inflicted by heavy industry here. That’s what journalist Mark Lynas found when he was sent to Iceland by the world’s most respected environmental affairs magazine, The Ecologist, to write a story about the Kárahnjúkar dam. While here, Lynas met with press officials and PR people from Landsvirkjun, the Icelandic national power company, who tried to convince him that the Kárahnjúkar project was actually beneficial to the environment. For example, Jökulsá á Dal, the biggest glacial river affected by the dam project, might even find itself supporting a new salmon population in clearer water once the dirty main flow was diverted into a neighbouring valley. Lynas was also told that there were no wild animals in the area. The truth, as Lynas found it, was dramatically different. “Around 280 species of small animals have been identified at Kárahnjúkar by researchers from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. These species include three insects never previously found in Iceland, two of which may be completely new to science altogether. Not only will nine square kilometres of this precious hearthland be directly submerged (including the only known site for one of the nationally rare lichens), but soil erosion from the lake edge will result in wind-blown sand and dust drying out wetlands and killing vegetation far outside the project’s immediate area” (Mark Lynas, 1/12/2003, A Damned Nation, The Ecologist).
It is rather awkward that our media only reported half of the story, telling us about Wal-Mart’s poor treatment of their workers but failing to mention Freeport McMorRan and its crimes against nature and its inhabitants. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after having read what press officials and PR people told Mark Lynas. We don’t want to talk about irreversible damage to the environment done by heavy industry. We want to point our finger to the big, bad American supermarket instead.
More disturbingly, the Icelandic media may have another reason to stay quiet about Norway dropping Freeport McMoRan. Freeport McMoRan is a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, “probably the most uncaring and ruthless company in the world,” with whom we’re hopeful to do business with. Could it be that we don’t want to offend our future clients and that’s why we stay silent about their wrongdoings? At least we know that Wal-Mart has rotten business ethics. That’ll save us from the embarrassment of inviting their representatives over to put a price tag on our country.
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