The Group

2017-2022

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Commodities are at the heart of our market economy, they are its fuel. Glencore is the most important commodity trading company in the world, involved in the production and sales of 90 commodities in more than 150 countries. Its revenues are comparable to Apple’s. And yet, who knows about Glencore? Its relative anonymity offers a stark contrast with it economic weight and its influence on our lives. The Group is a photographic portrait of a huge player – symbol of countless abuses – by showing its functioning and impact around the world.

A view of Geneva. The City of Calvin is the most important commodity trading hub in the world – although the goods never transit physically through Switzerland. A third of the overall oil trading is done in Geneva. Half of coffee and sugar’s world production is traded in the region. It also occupies the first spot for the trading of soft commodities, oleaginous and cotton. Commodity trading sector accounts for 3,5% of the Swiss GDP, more than the financial services or tourism.

“In 2008, the Indians had a bad rice harvest... so they said to themselves ‘we will retain our stocks’... the rice was not going to Africa anymore. On that day, my colleague was seating next to me on the phone, negotiating to sell rice to Cameroon. He hangs up, turns to me, proud and smiling : ‘I just made $1 million on a shipment !’ And that is how you trigger hunger riots in Cameroon, because you inflate the prices on arrival.”

A trader. Geneva, 2017.

 

Commodity traders discuss at the Global Grain Geneva. It is an important event attracting each year thousands of soft commodities (agricultural products) traders. The Lake Geneva region occupies the first spot for the trading of soft commodities, cereals, oleaginous and cotton. Commodity trading sector accounts for 3,5% of the Swiss GDP, more than the financial services or tourism.

Scene at the Lake Zug. The Glencore company was created in 1974 by the controversial businessman Marc Rich. He decided to have his commodity trading company based in Zug, attracted by the very low corporate taxes it was offering (the lowest of Switzerland). Now, Zug is the wealthiest canton of the country, partly thanks to the taxes Glencore reverses to the municipality (it earned $219 billions of revenues in 2018).

One morning, Madjitoudji Salomé woke up discovering an oil rig behind her house. Nobody at Glencore warned her beforehand. The constant noise prevents her from sleeping. Oil spills, disappearance of fauna, diminution of crop yields, unemployment, militarization of the territory: the situation of the population has worsened since the arrival of the oil industry in the region. Glencore became a major oil producer in 2013 when it acquired the oil fields of Badila and Mangara, in the south of Chad. The following year, Glencore became the de facto exclusive distributor of Chadian oil. The reason? It loaned $1,45 billions to the government, that has to be reimbursed in the form of oil barrels until 2022. Koutoutou, Chad.

Little by little, lands are nibbled by the oil exploitation. Farmers, constrained by hunger, have to cut down forests to cultivate the lands again, once they were expropriated from their former fields. It exacerbates the ecological crisis and the tensions between farmers and breeders.

 

Keyla Rolande, 25 years old, inhabitant of Bemangra, poses disfigured in front of the camera. Since the discovery of oil near her village, the locals have experienced a diminution of their freedom of movements. Rolande witnessed a militarization of the zone. She received a stray bullet in the eye when a pretorian guard (under the command of the President of the Republic) opened fire on the passenger vehicle she was riding.

A mechanism connecting the Badila oil field (operated by Glencore) to the 1074 km pipeline crossing Chad down to the Kribi terminal, in Cameroon. Glencore became a major oil producer in 2013 when it acquired the oil fields of Badila and Mangara, in the south of Chad. The following year, Glencore became the de facto exclusive distributor of Chadian oil. The reason ? It loaned $1,45 billions to the government, that has to be reimbursed in the form of oil barrels until 2022.
Melom, Chad.

 

Commodity traders discuss at the Global Grain Geneva. It is an important event attracting each year thousands of soft commodities (agricultural products) traders. The Lake Geneva region occupies the first spot for soft commodities, cereals, oleaginous and cotton. Commodity trading sector accounts for 3,5% of the Swiss GDP, more than the financial services or tourism.

Commodity traders discuss at the Global Grain Geneva. It is an important event attracting each year thousands of soft commodities (agricultural products) traders. The Lake Geneva region occupies the first spot for soft commodities, cereals, oleaginous and cotton. Commodity trading sector accounts for 3,5% of the Swiss GDP, more than the financial services or tourism.

“Glencore IS the market. The percentage of their share in each of the commodities they are involved with (aluminum, zinc, copper, oil, etc), represents sometimes 50% of a given world market. The company owns mines, smelters, refineries, it’s huge! When you work at Glencore, you tend to forget the market is yours... it’s when you leave them that you realize that. I don’t think there are some other companies as powerful as them.”

A trader. Zug, 2020.

Baarermattstrasse 3, Baar, Switzerland. Glencore’s headquarters are located in the small municipality of Baar, in the Zug canton. Zug is the smallest of the 26 Swiss cantons, but is also the wealthiest, partly due to the taxes reversed by the commodity trading behemoth ($219 billions of revenues in 2018).

Mountains of coal are stored in the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the most important commercial port of Europe, the port of entry of most imported goods for the European market. Glencore is a key actor in the coal industry.

A young Wayuu boy observes from afar the Cerrejón coal mine. It is the biggest open pit mine of Latin America. Cerrejón is a joint-venture between BHP (Australia), Anglo-American (UK) and Glencore. La Guajira, Colombia.

Workers of the Cerrejón mine (co-owned by Glencore) are on strike against the decision of the company to augment the amplitude of their shifts. The company justifies this decision to compensate the low demand of coal worldwide. But such an intensive shift would jeopardize the safety of workers. It is the biggest strike in the mine’s history. The photo was taken on the 59th day of the conflict. Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia.

An open pit coal mine in the Cesar department, in Colombia.

A Wayuu indigenous next to a creek. Water is an essential element in the Wayuu culture. Cerrejón (co-owned by Glencore) diverted an affluent of the Rio Rancheria (the only river in the whole La Guajira department) and dried up 19 streams to allow the extension of its activities. Nueva Esperanza, La Guajira, Colombia.

A party in El Hatillo village, in the Cesar department, Colombia. El Hatillo is located at the core of the mining corridor of the Cesar department. It is surrounded by three important open pit coal mines. One of them belongs to Glencore. In 2010, the government issued a decree to relocate the community as they suffer from the air contamination. In 2020, they are still there. Studies made by NGOs enlightened an infernal resettlement process where the companies sought to divide the community. Inhabitants have been suffering from this slow, complex and conflictual operation, and suffered from the diversion of their river (Rio Calenturitas) made by Glencore in 2015. It turned the water improper for human consumption and fishing.

Luis Misael Soccorras Ipuana is an activist defending the rights of indigenous communities affected by the activities of the Cerrejón coal mine. He receives constant death threats and has to wear a bullet-proof vest when he is traveling outside of his community. The week before the photograph was taken, his car received gun shots while he was driving at night.

A night scene in El Hatillo village, in the Cesar department, Colombia. El Hatillo is located at the core of the mining corridor of the Cesar department. It is surrounded by three important open pit coal mines. One of them belongs to Glencore. In 2010, the government issued a decree to relocate the community as they suffer from the air contamination. In 2020, they are still there. Studies made by NGOs enlightened an infernal resettlement process where the companies sought to divide the community. Inhabitants have been suffering from this slow, complex and conflictual operation, and suffered from the diversion of their river (Rio Calenturitas) made by Glencore in 2015. It turned the water improper for human consumption and fishing.

A train carrying coal is heading to a port, ready to be loaded on boats and shipped, most likely to Europe. The tracks for the coal train are also owned by Glencore.

A statue near the Cerrejón mine. La Guajira, Colombia.

1 Temasek Avenue, #34-01 Millenia Tower, Singapore. The Millenia tower in Singapore hosts tenth of Glencore subsidiaries: ST Shipping & Transportation, a maritime fret subsidiary ; Chemoil Energy, a marine fuel subsidiary ; Glencore Asian Holding ; Glencore Singapore ; QHG Shares PTE LTD. The Bermudes, Cayman Islands, Jersey, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Glencore owns entities in all the tax havens on the planet. The financial engineering behind the group is very complex. In a communication with the legal firm Appleby, a Glencore employee indicated that the group did not produce a complete registry of all of its offshore subsidiaries “mainly because it would take up one wall :).”

“Glencore’s CEO is as important as the president of a developing country. He has 150,000 employees around the world dealing with ministers, doing all kind of energy deals. He even has more power than the Swiss Confederation. The President of the Swiss Confederation doesn’t have the salary that Glencore’s CEO has, he doesn’t have that power to seat with bankers. He flies more often, meet with more important people all around the world. It’s incomparable.”

A trader. Zug, 2020.

A grain silo belonging to the agriculture branch of Glencore. Debrecen, Hungary.

The London Metal Exchange (LME), founded in 1877, is the last physical exchange remaining in Europe, having survived the wave of computerization of the 2000s. In its open outcry pit are decided daily the metal prices in the world. Glencore dominates the copper, aluminum and zinc markets. London, United-Kingdom.

A Kazzinc (Glencore) employee waits for the tramway to go back home after her work. She stayed up all night long to analyze metal samples : “it was my dream when I was a little girl to work in this factory. I saw one day in the news that they were recruiting. So, like the majority of the youngsters in my village, I travelled to Ust-Kamenogorsk. I come back to my village only once a year to see my parents.” Kazzinc is the biggest employer of the region but also its biggest polluter.

Vittaly works at the Kazzinc (Glencore) factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk. He is in charge of cleaning the smelter circuits. He grasps a broomstick and mimics the gestures he has to execute daily : “I clean with a shovel the conduits where we mold the pieces. Melted copper hardens when it gets in contact with the cold walls. Pieces get stuck in the process and I have to clean up all that. It’s difficult because the heat is extreme. Sometime the air vacuums are stuck. So it creates gas emissions in my workshop and in all the building. When we enter in the factory’s premises, we are immediately stuck by the the smell. The most polluted zone is where I operate, because I directly interact with the metal.”

A photo captured at the Kazzinc museum. The mining company Kazzinc belongs to Glencore, it is one of the biggest private companies of Kazakhstan. It was acquired by Marc Rich after the fall of USSR. As its name indicates, it is active in the extraction and refining of zinc ore.

An ice-hockey game is played by the Kazzinc Torpedo team, the local team of Ust-Kamenogorsk. Kazzinc, proprety of Glencore, owns the Kazzinc Torpedo team.

Sanatoriums are typical Soviet-era health and fitness centers. Kazzinc operates the one in Ridder, famous throughout the region. Each year Kazzinc employees have the right to stay there free of charge. In the photograph, the patients inhale salt.

Kazzinc, Glencore’s subsidiary in Kazakhstan, is the main employer of the town of Zyrianovsk. Kazzinc kept certain practices inherited from the Soviet time, like the practice of displaying the portraits of the company’s best employees on the village square. We can read on the top of the panel: “The pride of our town.”

Discharge of metal production water are dump in immense retention pond, above the town of Zyrianovsk, in the east of Kazakhstan. The Kazzinc company (property of Glencore) is the main employer of the little town. Kazzinc assures that the retention pond is impervious and solid.

A Glencore shareholder is going to attend the group’s AGM (Annual General Meeting) at the Zug’s casino. He is welcomed by activists who denounce the social and environmental impact of Glencore in the world. Zug is the smallest Swiss canton but also the richest, partly due to the taxes reversed by the company ($219 billions of revenues in 2018). Glencore became a listed public company in 2011, with the highest ever IPO (Initial Public Offering) of the London Stock Market, with a $59 billions market capitalization. The most important shareholder of the company is the Qatar Sovereign Wealth fund (Qata Holding LLC).

“Not everybody can do this job. One has to have balls. When I see that some in the supermarkets cannot choose between the red box and the blue box (...) I don’t even talk of my job to my friends and my family. If I say that I am in the trading sector, they would think that I brag about myself. They won’t understand. What is the use of explaining a job to people who won’t understand the meaning of it anyway ? ”

A trader. Geneva, 2019.

In the streets of Zug. Zug is the smallest Swiss canton but also the wealthiest, partly due to the taxes paid by the company ($219 billions of revenues in 2018). For a minority of inhabitants, it poses an ethical problem.

“I’m a buyer and a seller, I’m not doing a moral thing. Moral is an externality of capitalism, it is irrelevant, completely irrelevant and should not be considered. If you do, you are doing the wrong job, you will never last here. With my clients, we never talk about politics for instance. We only comment on soccer and women.”

A trader. Zug, 2020.