Anglo American challenged at AGM

Date of publication: 
22 April 2010

22 April 2010

Anglo American was challenged at its April 22 AGM in London on a range of issues including a legacy of sickness among former miners in South Africa, removals of communities by subsidiary Anglo Platinum in South Africa and part-owned Cerrejon Coal in Colombia, a defamation case against the lawyer representing residents in some of the communities affected by Anglo Platinum, exploration activities in the Philippines, proposals for a massive copper-gold mine in Alaska, executive pay, lack of a dividend, and corporate governance.

A full report will be posted on this website next week.

Verner Wilson, from Alaska, spoke in the AGM about the threat posed to his people by the Pebble Project in Alaska. See

Former gold miner Alpheos Blom, from South Africa, made a very powerful personal statement which is reproduced below.

“My name is Alpheos Blom. I arrived in London at 5am this morning. This is the first time I have been out of South Africa. It was my first trip on a plane. I am 48 years old. I am a former gold miner. I worked at Anglo’s President Steyn mine in the Free State for 17 years from 1984 to 2001. I worked as a loader and a loco driver, I loaded freshly blasted rocks onto a machine and drive them through the mines. I have a very serious form of silicosis called Massive Fibrosis. I also contracted TB because of this. I developed this disease because of breathing too much dust from the mine.

“Silicosis is an incurable lung disease. I feel breathless all the time, I get tired easily and am in pain.

“The gold mining industry knew that thousands of gold miners were contracting silicosis each year. They knew that there was too much dust. Myself and the other miners I worked with were never given masks despite asking. Instead we would make our own by stealing bandages, these obviously did not work. We should have been able to wash our overalls every night and use showers in order to reduce the amount of dust we inhaled. But although white miners were given access to onsite showers and change rooms black miners were not provided with either of these things.

“As a result of my bad health I am unable to work and yet I have received no help from Anglo American South Africa, a company you own and for which I worked for 17 years. I am one of thousands of former miners in the same situation. Black miners were exposed to much higher levels of dust and therefore have a much higher risk of contracting silicosis. It is estimated that 25 % of black miners from President Steyn mine contracted silicosis, this percentage applies to black miners in other gold mines. The industry employed half a million South African miners. This might give you some idea of the scope of this disaster.

“Miners who have silicosis also have a much higher risk of contracting TB because their lungs are damaged. Many miners have returned to their homes in places such as Eastern Cape and Lesotho where there are no clinics to diagnose and treat silicosis. They become very sick and many have died. Communities in these areas have been devastated. The industry knew about this for decades but simply washed its hands of ex-miners.

“I am part of a group of former miners who are suing Anglo American South Africa for failing to advise its gold mines on how to protect miners against excessive dust exposure. If our claim is successful it could lead to thousands more people coming forward. This case could help my quality of life however I worry that I may die before it is over. I would like to see a compensation scheme put into place now for silicosis victims, I would also like to see your company put into place a system for monitoring silicosis and TB and treating it promptly. Will you help us?”

Shareholders entering the meeting were handed the following information by activists from London Mining Network.

Anglo American plc



Anglo American’s wholly owned subsidiary Anglo American South Africa Ltd is being sued in South Africa by former gold miners suffering from silicosis, on the grounds that the company negligently advised its gold mines with respect to protection of miners against excessive dust exposure.

Silicosis is lung disease caused by dust. South African miners were exposed to high dust without respirators. Black miners were exposed to higher dust levels than white miners. Between 250,000 and 500,000 miners were employed in South African gold mines during the 20th century. During apartheid mines relied on “migrant labour” from South Africa (e.g. Eastern Cape and Free State), Lesotho and neighbouring states e.g. Botswana and Malawi. The test case claimants are from the Free State, Eastern Cape & Lesotho.

A 2008 study focused specifically on former miners from Lesotho who had worked at the President Steyn mine found a rate of silicosis of 24 percent. The rate of TB was also very high. This was consistent with previous studies on black gold miners, which found rates of around 25 percent. Experts estimate that tens of thousands of miners contracted silicosis in South African gold mines. Miners with silicosis also have a much increased risk of contracting TB for the rest of their lives. This additional risk has been recognised for decades. Silicosis can take from 10-30 years to develop after exposure. A large proportion of miners only develop silicosis and TB after they have left the mines and returned to their communities. Because of rudimentary or non-existent medical services in rural areas, ex-miners frequently contract silicosis and TB which is undiagnosed and untreated, resulting in serious lung damage and death in numerous cases. Ex-miners in Eastern Cape and Lesotho, for instance, have been decimated by dust-related lung disease from gold mining.

The industry has been well aware of this for many years but washes its hand of ex-miners, and makes no medical or financial provision for them. Anglo American was the largest gold mining group. Anglo American PLC was formed in 1999, whereupon it acquired the Anglo gold mining business formerly headed by Anglo American South Africa Ltd. The claim alleges that Anglo American South Africa Ltd negligently failed to advise the mines properly to take measures to protect miners against excessive dust exposure.

The primary object of the test cases is to establish the legal principles on which miners should be compensated for silicosis and silico-tuberculosis. A further objective is that the industry should establish a medical monitoring scheme to ensure that ex-miners are diagnosed and treated for TB speedily and effectively. This could be achieved by injection of resources into the existing state system.

If Anglo American plc is committed to corporate social responsibility, it should (a) establish a compensation scheme for silicosis victims; (b)co-operate in alleviating further suffering by ensuring that ex-miners are monitored for silicosis and TB and treated promptly.

Elsewhere in South Africa….

  • Anglo American is benefitting from ‘sweetheart’ deals with power generator Eskom which threaten to cause hardship for low-income citizens. (1)
  • Despite the company’s efforts to reduce worker deaths, especially at its South African deep mines, it still has a high rate of work related fatalities. (2)
  • Communities in Limpopo are in conflict with Anglo American over its subsidiary Anglo Platinum’s programme of removal of villages for mine expansion. Conflicts include complaints over loss of agricultural livelihood through inadequate access to good quality farmland without creation of sufficient mining jobs to compensate, and allegations of desecration of ancestral graves. Lawyer Richard Spoor, who has represented some of the communities involved, is being sued for defamation by Anglo Platinum. (3)

Elsewhere in the world …

  • Anglo American has a 50% stake in the Pebble Mine copper gold and molybdenum project in Alaska, which is opposed by a coalition of Native communities and commercial and sports fishing organisations. (4)
  • Anglo American’s De Beers subsidiary has been criticised for the level of influence it has over government and economy in Botswana, its environmental record and its attitude to Indigenous Bushmen communities. (5)
  • Since 2000, Anglo American has been involved in the massive opencast Cerrejon coal mine in northern Colombia. Since early 2002, Anglo American has been a one-third owner of the mine (along with London-listed BHP Billiton and Xstrata). The mine has a history of forced relocation of communities. The current owners have pledged to address this legacy and improve the handling of involuntary relocations. But an agreement made in December 2008 with residents of one destroyed village, Tabaco, remains stalled, and negotiations with other communities facing relocation drag on while communities suffer loss of livelihood and complain of health problems caused by coal dust. Community leaders allege that the company is not even fulfilling the basic guidelines laid down by the World Bank and that its critics have received death threats from persons unknown. Workers at the mine complain that the Cerrejon Coal company avoids paying adequate social security contributions to compensate for the dangerous nature of their work and that subcontracted workers are denied basic union rights. (6)

For further information, contact:
London Mining Network:, LMN [at] gn [dot] apc [dot] org, 07929 023214
War on Want:, mailroom [at] waronwant [dot] org, 020 7549 0555


(1) See
(2) See
(3) See
(4) See
(5) See
(6) See (notes involvement of BHP Billiton, owner of another one-third of Cerrejon Coal, but applies equally to Anglo American)