Former Canadian Olympian Bruce Kidd has thrown his support behind a union-led campaign to remove Rio Tinto as official supplier of medals to the upcoming London Games amid an ongoing lockout at the company’s aluminum smelter in Alma, Quebec.
At a press conference at Steelworker Hall in Toronto on Thursday, Kidd, who ran track for Canada at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, expressed disappointment over the decision of Olympic organizers to allow Rio Tinto to participate in London in light of the situation in Alma.
“It’s important that every aspect of those Games, especially the magnificent and moving ceremonies of excellence and success, be consistent with the highest standards of international behaviour, including the highest standards of labour practices [and] environmentalism,” he said.
“There’s not much time, but every opportunity should be made, even at this last moment, to bring the reality of the promise of ethical universalism in line with what’s actually happening.”
The United Steelworkers union (USW), which represents the workers in Alma, filed a formal complaint with organizers of the London Olympics on Thursday against London-based Rio Tinto’s inclusion in the games.
They have launched a campaign called Off The Podium in an effort to harness the Olympics' high profile to put pressure on Rio Tinto.
The complaint alleges that the actions of the company in Quebec, where 780 USW workers have been on lockout since late December, do not meet the standards around ethical procurement that Olympic organizers have pledged to honour.
Among other charges, the USW maintains that after talks broke down over the use of subcontracted workers, Rio Tinto Alcan initiated an illegal lockout, an allegation that the company denies.
In addition to dropping Rio Tinto as a sponsor, and having the 4,700 bronze, silver and gold medals the company is supplying recast, the USW is urging Olympic organizers to intervene in the labour dispute in Quebec.
“The issues are very serious at the Rio Tinto smelter in Alma. The London organizers can and should take direct action to resolve this issue,” said Toronto labour lawyer Jan Borowy, who helped draft the complaint on behalf of the USW.
To that end, Borowy suggested that organizers offer the company an ultimatum.
“They can certainly call on Rio Tinto and say the following, ‘Get back to the table, negotiate a fair deal that meets the objectives of the [ethical trading guidelines] or you won’t be participating in our Olympics,’” she said.
Borowy conceded that she is not aware of any precedent for this type of action, and that adherence to ethical guidelines remains voluntary, but said that these obligations are increasingly becoming part of the Olympic ethos.
Rio Tinto Alcan spokesman Bryan Tucker told HuffPost on Wednesday that campaigns like this will not help bring about a resolution to the conflict.
“The Alma lockout will not be solved on the Olympic podium,” he said. “It will be solved here, with the people that are working in the region, that are working with the employees and [...] have the future of the plant close to their hearts.”