Rio Tinto: Oyu Tolgoi Gold/Copper Mine, Mongolia

Mongolian herders claim that Rio Tinto’s $5 billion expansion of their Gobi desert Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine threatens hundreds of nomadic people’s access to fresh water and the area’s unique ecology.[1] Mining has taken a heavy toll on the region. Gobi desert herders report that the mine, which guzzles an estimated 191,230 cubic meters of water daily, is drying up their traditional water sources: hand-dug wells. According to a 2010 World Bank water assessment of the Southern Gobi Region, the mine’s water usage far surpasses that of local livestock herds (31,600 cubic meters) and residents (10,000 m3).[2] The nomadic population was neither consulted nor informed prior to the mine’s establishment. After review of the project’s initial Environmental  and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), several civil society groups deemed them “retroactive” and “incomplete”[3].

In September 2013, the project published a set of Operational Management Plans (OMPs) in an attempt to remedy these complaints. In November, 2013, nine civil society organizations submitted their review of the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project’s Operational Management Plans (OMPs). Their list of concerns included a lack of full disclosure and ample time to review environmental monitoring reports; the inadequate handling of complaints and displacement compensations; and herders’ restricted access to clean water, air, and ample pastureland. Their review of the project’s OMPs found 108 instances since 2012 where the OT project failed to adhere to its own environmental and social commitments, over half of which still haven’t been addressed.[4] The groups are still awaiting the release of the project’s Water and Biodiversity Monitoring Plans.

[1] Rupert Neate (2013): “Rio Tinto accused of environmental and human rights breaches. Native Mongolian herders angry that copper and gold mine is threatening fresh water supply and ecology”, The Guardian, 18 April (accessed 04.09.2013); Puck Lo (2012): “Mongolian Nomadic Herders Worry About Impact of Rio Tinto’s Gold Mine”, CorpWatch Blog, 24 September: (accessed 04.09.2013).

[2] The World Bank (2010): Mongolia. Groundwater Assessment of the Southern Gobi Region (accessed 05.09.2013); Michelle Tolson (2013): “River Diversion Project Spells Disaster”, IPS News, 19 July (accessed 05.09.2013).

[3] Bank Information Center (14 November 2013): Updated Oyu Tolgoi Management Plans remain deeply flawed (accessed 20.01.2014).

[4] Bank Information Center (13 November 2013): Civil Society Review of the Oyu Tolgoi audit and Operational Management Plans (accessed 20.01.2014).

Case location
Oyu Tolgoi, Mongolia

Affected topics
  • Environmental and Climate protection
  • Human and Labour Rights
Directly and indirectly (through shareholding) involved companies Indirect investors through shareholding

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