I’ve been learning a lot about the PolyMet proposal to open a copper/sulfide mine in the state of Minnesota since moving here in 2019. What has shocked me is the lack of attention paid to PolyMet’s owner, Glencore. As a native Cameroonian, I have a lot of experience with this company, and take it from me: It’s not an experience we want in Minnesota.
The idea of corruption has impacted me much of my life. Earlier in my career, which has taken me across four continents, I applied for a visa to visit the United Kingdom. My application was rejected three times in one month. I learned on appeal that I was refused a visa all those times because my country Cameroon had just been rated the most corrupt country in the world. I did eventually get the visa, but from that day forward I vowed to fight corruption and other social ills in my community.
In 2014, I moved back to Cameroon to work for an international organization fighting to put an end to land grabbing — the practice used by multinational corporations to acquire huge parcels of land for mining, agriculture, etc. — regularly in violation of national and international laws.
Here’s the thing about corruption in Africa: My team and I were always happy whenever the offending companies turned out to have ties to the West, because then we could more readily rely on laws like the American Lacey Act (illegal trafficking); European timber laws; the UK Bribery Act; and the US Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Each of these seeks to prevent corruption and illegal activities internationally.
This is why I was so surprised to learn about Minnesota’s prospective dealings with Glencore. With over $200 billion in revenue last year and over 150 oil, gas and mining operations worldwide, Glencore is one of the world’s largest commodity conglomerates. It’s also one of the world’s most corrupt companies, something people around the world know too well.
Just this month, Glencore paid a $180 million fine for corruption in the Congo. Last month we learned that 11 former Glencore employees could be under investigation in the UK for bribery in five African countries. Founder Mark Rich admitted to the bribery, including in my native Cameroon, in a case where prosecutors described the flying of cash bribes across the continent in private jets.
Here, Glencore has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. This summer, Glencore pled guilty to fraud and market manipulation under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and paid over $1 billion in fines in June. Total fines paid this year, which include related matters in Brazil, are up to $1.5 billion.
This is just the recent news. Google “Glencore fraud” for an interesting afternoon of reading. The United Steelworkers had it right when they named Glencore the second worst company in the world in 2015. Or, they may have been off by one spot.
So what I can’t help but ask is, why on earth would Glencore be allowed to do business here in Minnesota? Especially when thousands of acres of wetlands and billions of gallons of fresh clean water are on the line?
It’s not just a question that I have. People around the world are asking me the same question as they learn of the Glencore/PolyMet proposal, including NJ Ayuk, chair of the African Energy Chambers; and Akere Muna, one of the founding presidents of Transparency International. In Africa, Muna is urging Glencore to release the names of the bribe recipients.
What Glencore has done to people across the globe is shocking and appalling. It would be even more shocking if we rewarded such a company with an opportunity to do business here in Minnesota. I can promise you this is not a result that people in Africa are rooting for.
I encourage the state of Minnesota to respond to Glencore’s attempts to mine here with a significantly increased level of diligence, and to communicate to Minnesotans more fully the nature of Glencore’s business practices. I plan to reach out to elected officials about this, including Gov. Tim Walz, and I hope you do, too.
There’s too much at stake, both here in Minnesota and for our global neighbors who count on these things mattering. Minnesota could help bring relief and solace to people in Cameroon and around the world that have been adversely impacted by Glencore’s corrupt practices — by rejecting those practices here. My people are counting on us.