Major UK PR Firm Prepared to Help Relocate Uncontacted Tribe

Major UK PR Firm Prepared to Help Relocate Uncontacted Tribe

Salar de Uyuni (and environs) - Bolivia - June 2009 by auldhippo, on Flickr
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January 13, 2011

A representative of the London-based PR firm Euro RSCG London appears to have been caught “red-handed” stating that his company is prepared to help relocate Uncontacted Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia to make way for an open cast lithium mine.

According to this transcript of a telephone call with an anonymous caller, first published on the Enviroleaks website on January 10, 2011, the representative made it quite clear that Euro RSCG, formerly BissLancaster, would be the right company for the job.

Said to be “a very senior director” at Euro RSCG, the representative explained during the course of the conversation that “…we work with arms dealers and governments. We’re very geopolitically aware that people need stuff… so, we’re ok with…pretty…we basically work with everyone.”

In addition to “arms dealers and governments” the company also works with Novartis and Adventis (biotech companies) and EDF (the world’s leading nuclear power utility) as well as Kraft Foods, Air France, McDonalds, Volvo, Evian, IBM, Nokia and Starbucks. Further, according to the 2010 exposé titled “Eyes Wide Shut” Euro RSCG is also closely involved with the well-known Global Campaign for Climate Action, TckTckTck.

Initially, the unnamed director seemed unwilling to take on something as controversial as relocating uncontacted Indigenous Peoples:

BissLancaster: …it’s one of those things that [Caller: Yes, yes] it’s just, off the top of my head, one of those single, unifying issues that appeals to literally every single human being on the planet. They all go, uniformly, “No way!”

Caller: Mmm! I mean, I know that there are companies who have [BissLancaster: Done it in the past] successfully done this…[BissLancaster: Yeah but how] successfully relocated…

BissLancaster: …yeah, but relocated a pre…uncontacted tribe.

Caller: Well, I mean.

BissLancaster: I say, relocated a tribe or a village [Caller: Yeah] is easy-peasy [Caller: Mm-huh] cos you give the money and a school and healthcare.

Caller: Is that something that you…you’ve got involved in at all?

BissLancaster: Er…[fumbles]

Caller: I really, because we’re ten…because we’re short [BissLancaster: Yeah] we’re looking for companies, we need experience.

BissLancaster: Yeah, I think so, I mean that’s the thing, I mean…I…I primarily work with governments and [Caller: Right] people like BAE Systems, that I work for [indistinct] difficult situations [Caller: Hmm] I would…pff…probably say, this wouldn’t be something that I would take on.

Caller: Right

BissLancaster: Purely because I actually think…you’re not gonna get the result you need. I think that it’s not gonna be easy at all. [Caller: Hmm] It’s not even a public relations issue to be honest; it’s a issue…at that level with what you’re talking about here, cause the uncontacted tribe is just held in such reverence, in the world now [Caller: Uh-huh] that you’re on an absolute hiding to nowhere.

But as the conversation went on, with the caller talking about the business potential of the mine and the fact that the lithium market is “potentially huge”–especially since Bolivia holds a lion’s share of the world’s lithium resources–the director’s position took an obvious turn…

BissLancaster: I mean, look, the thing is, I don’t think there’s gonna be many firms that are absolutely spot on with this.

Caller: Yup.

BissLancaster: Because it’s just such a tricky one [Caller: Mmm] but, erm, I that that [stutters] your key problem will be the international media. [Caller: Mmm-huh]But that will only, only, only kick off if local media kick off [Caller: Right] So what I would say to you initially is I’m happy…I’d be happy to talk you about this [Caller: Uh-huh] there’s no doubt, but I think that this…the whole ducks in a row, in terms of…erm…you got the government relations, local relations etc. And everything like that is well managed then the…you can prevent media from really picking up on the story and if you can operationally now really just tell them [?] that the impact on these people as a tribe is absolutely minimal [Caller: Mmm] You know, cause, wow! That’s gonna cause issue…that will be the one that blows everything up.

Caller: Yeah. So the, would you have the stomach for something like this?

BissLancaster: Well, I mean, the thing is we work with arms dealers and governments, we’re very geopolitically aware that people need stuff … we’re like a good law firm, we appreciate that there’s a different side to every story…

By all appearances, the director is sincere with everything he says during the course of the consultation. And the caller certainly gives no indication that he (or she) is being any less sincere. It’s shocking to say the least, how casually they’re talking about relocation. They might as well be talking about farm animals.

However, there is one glaring problem with what the anonymous caller asserts: There doesn’t appear to be any Uncontacted Indigenous people in the area where the mine would be located.

To be sure, there are “Uncontacted” or Indigenous people in “voluntary isolation” within Bolivia’s borders, including the Ayoreo and the Toromona. However, according to best reports, they all live in the Amazon basin, a heavily forested area in southeastern Bolivia.

All of Bolivia’s lithium deposits, on the other hand, are found at the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, a completely unforested area in southwest Bolivia.

There are indigenous villages located near the salt flats. In fact, they’ve been there for thousands of years. And mining has been active there for at least a couple generations. There is also a thriving tourist industry that the indigenous villages are said to be benefiting from. Given that, it’s highly unlikely that an isolated community would be living anywhere near the area.

It’s far more likely that the caller is actually “phishing”–posing to be someone he’s not in order to elicit a certain response. In this case, the caller is probably attempting to convince the director to “commit” to helping with the relocation.

Such relocation could easily result in the indigenous peoples’ extinction.

That said, it’s possible that the caller isn’t phishing at all. He could be speaking the truth, in which case there may be one or more uncontacted peoples in imminent danger of being displaced.

There’s no way the Bolivian government wouldn’t let it happen, of course; but if the caller takes Euro RSCG’s advice, then they may never even find out about it. Nor, for that matter, would anyone from the international community.

To close this report, the director states:

“No one ever needs to know […] I mean you don’t have to send out a press release about bloody anything. You don’t have to talk to journalists about anything […] Even if one phones you, you don’t have to talk to them.”

Comments or concerns? please post them below or, send them to Euro RSCG and let them know that any action that threatens or undermines uncontacted indigenous people is not only a violation of international law, it is morally repugnant.

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