Major UK PR Firm Prepared to Help Relocate Uncontacted Tribe

by 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:’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’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’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 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 got the government relations, local relations etc. And everything like that is well managed then 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.

  • Thunderbeing
    January 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Not if i can help it will this ever be allowed!!


  • Tanya Anchors
    January 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Welcome to the world of social networking Mr. Lancaster


  • ko
    January 16, 2011 at 3:25 am

    I have concerns if it is 'phishing' some people invented a fake tribe for pr reasons to discredit this company? but real uncontacted tribes exist they're not toys to be used in irrelevant arguments by english people. what if they cry wolf and when real tribe are really threatened nobody will believe it. And if uncontacted tribe is fake but this mine is real it threatens real indigenous people who will be discredited and overshadowed by this stunt. So the pr firm is bad but if they're lying the people who called him are worse

    If it is true I have more concerns!


    • keith
      January 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

      So what you are saying, Ko, is that it's not as bad to be prepared to relocate an uncontacted tribe as to expose a PR company for that type of practice. And what if it is "phishing"? This has happened in the past and it will happen again if PR companies are prepared to help mining, logging and energy companies do the deed - but I suppose so long as we don't know which PR companies are prepared to do this heinous thing then that's ok, is it?

  • ko
    January 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    pr firms are bad, this isn't a bomb-shell. it’s not as bad to be prepared to relocate an imaginary uncontacted tribe as to discredit real indigenous struggles to make some point about your own society. uncontacted tribes exist not for the benefit of western activists, next time a real uncontacted tribe is threatened people will remember this imaginary tribe and become cynical. It is like fake holocaust memoirs by Europeans discredit all holocaust survivors.

    We need to know which companies are actually doing heinous things. read this website heinous things are happening all over the world, they don't get publicity. Indonesia and Myanmar are doing exactly this for real right now! Expose the real crimes if you care about real indigenous people, this kind of stunt is not about indigenous people who really exist and are threatened, it is about westerners using indigenous people in their games like we don't exist

    Also, why did they choose Bolivia? Bolivia is 1 of very few countries that wouldn't do this. If they said Colombia, Chile, Brazil I would believe it! I don't believe Evo Morales would allow this, why do they want to attack Bolivia?


  • January 17, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Hey Ko, Keith.

    Providing that it is phishing , I don't think they're really trying to discredit Bolivia or Indigenous Peoples. Rather, they're trying to discredit the PR company which has become somewhat of a player in "the Climate Industry Movement".

    The industry movement, of course, refuses to support Indigenous Peoples--who really are being killed, bombed out, raped, displaced, and terrorized on a daily basis, for trying to protect the land (and basic rights). In fact, the "movement" won't even acknowledge these struggles. Maybe they're having too much fun on twitter to notice? In any case, it's a disturbing trend, and calling them on it doesn't seem to amount to anything.

    Because of that, and because of the rate that things are moving these days, we're at the point where we have to start getting creative and generate the publicity ourselves---so we can challenge them, inform people and help bring discussions to the table.

    That said, what we're talking about here is a risky game, and it's one that has to be played responsibly. But I think it's one that some people need to play (I think the Yes Men have proved that more than anyone else ) in which case, it's up to us to steer the conversation and make sure people don't lose sight of the facts.

    Granted, It's less than ideal because of the risks. But diversity of tactics is a good thing, as long as we're not adding to the problem or causing new ones.


  • ko
    January 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I didn't know about this company. If they're already supporting similar thingsI see it makes sense to expose them in this way. I'm worried about the consequences, I hope they've thought it through carefully. Indigenous rights groups have very limited resources, if it is a hoax I hope they aren't hoaxing activists as well as the pr company -- but if it is true and a tribe is really threatened and nobody knows that's a bigger problem! They've definitely got my attention!


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