By Jack Gilbert
The former BP man is now set to take over another massive corporation
In April 2010 millions of gallons of oil seeped into the Gulf of Mexico, killing off nearly everything in its path. Birds encased in oil desperately wrestled to escape their imminent death. Dolphins were washed ashore panicking and struggling to breathe. Local children in Louisiana and Florida complained of unexplained symptoms such as bleeding ears and nose bleeds. The then Chief Executive of BP, Tony Hayward said, “I just want my life back.”
For the thousands of people whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Deepwater Horizon Spill of 2010, and for the families of the 11 workers who died, this comment was seen as a little selfish.
Tony Hayward was forced to resign from BP following the spill, but it appears now that he has finally “got his life back,” as it is expected that he will take over as the chairman of global commodities and mining giant Glencore Xstrata – who has a revenue of $232.694 billion.
Rather than seeking a life of atonement for the damage his company has done, Hayward is set to lead Glencore – labelled as the “biggest company you have never heard of” and reportedly associated with child labour, dealing with rogue states and paying paramilitaries to kill off locals.
But despite the allegations into Glencore’s human rights record and Hayward’s own controversial past, we shouldn’t forget that this man prides himself on corporate responsibility, and deeply cares for protecting the world and the people who work for him. In 2007 Hayward said that, “leaders must make the safety of all who work for them their top priority. My enduring priorities are, firstly, continued improvement in the safety of our operations all around the world.”
However this seems at odds with accusations that Glencore has been profiting from child labour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama in April 2013, it was shown through hidden footage that children as young as 10 were working on the Tilwezembe mine and climbing down hand built 150ft shafts without safety equipment. Glencore’s chief executive, Ivan Glasenberg denied that his company were buying copper from this mine, but according to documents obtained by Panorama, copper from the Tilwezembe mine was being sent to smelter at Glencore’s plant in Zambia. Filmmakers were also told that 60 miners had died at the Tilwezembe mine in 2012.
Hayward’s never faltering ethical code does not simply extend to ensuring that all his employees are kept safe however. No he is also determined to protect the environment. In a motivational speech at Stanford University in 2009, he said: “Our primary purpose in life is to create value for our shareholders. In order to do that you have to take care of the world.”
But thus far it appears that Glencore’s record of taking care of the world has not been especially good. In Zambia in 2011 officials claimed that Glencore’s Mopani mines were causing acid rainfall that was resulting in health problems for some of the 5 million people who lived in the area. In Colombia, Glencore’s coal operation was fined $700,000 in 2009 for producing coal without an environmental management plan and waste disposal without a permit. It has also been reported that Glencore have been dumping acid waste into the Luilu river in Congo, killing off fish and ecosystems.
For Hayward his all-encompassing vision of leadership is built upon forming close bonds with the people involved in his companies. He told Stanford students in 2009: “If you want people to follow you, you need to connect with their hearts as well as their heads.”
But for certain people who have stood in the way of Glencore’s thirst for profits, this positive leadership model has not always been applied. In 2002, ten Colombians living on land called El Prado, next to Glencore’s Calenturitas coal mining concession were murdered by paramilitaries. A court in Colombia confirmed that the paramilitaries had stolen the land so they could sell it to Prodeco, an offshoot of Glencore, to start an open-cast coal mine. Allegations that Glencore paid these paramilitaries were ardently denied by CEO Glasenberg, but the Panorama investigation showed sale contracts between Prodeco and the new owners of the land – who the authorities claimed were henchmen of the paramilitaries. Perhaps when Hayward takes over Glencore, he will instil his passion to win over the ‘hearts’ of locals, and move away from the dark history of the company?
When he had time off between yachting, Hayward made it clear to the world that he was deeply “sorry” for BP’s Deepwater Horizon Spill. But now, as the Tony Blair impersonator cum corporate oil magnate readies himself for the juicy bonuses and negotiations with military dictators at Glencore, it remains doubtful that Hayward is set to turn the ethics of this corporation around. In fact, given his past record at BP, it is likely that human rights abuses and environmental damages will continue under his watch.
But do not fear. If Glencore is responsible for an environmental catastrophe, Hayward will be on hand to deliver another heartfelt TV apology showing his true remorse for the damages his corporation has cost the earth.