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KEY POINTS: Why has the go ahead for the Kallak mine caused a stir in Sweden?

Sweden's government gave the all-clear for the Kallak mine to go ahead last week, but that by no means marks the end of the story. Why is the mine so controversial?

KEY POINTS: Why has the go ahead for the Kallak mine caused a stir in Sweden?
The area where the Gallók/Kallak mine is planned. Photo: TT

What happened last week? 

The government last Tuesday announced that it was finally giving the go-ahead for the British company Beowulf to push ahead with its Kallak iron ore mining project outside Jokkmokk in Swedish Lapland. The company has been granted a bearbetningskoncession, or exploitation Concession, for the Kallak North Iron Ore Project. 

The company’s Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB subsidiary first submitted its application in 2013, meaning it has taken nine years for it to get to this point. 

What was the reaction? 

Kallak, or Gallók in the Sami language, is the biggest ongoing Sami rights struggle in Sweden. The local Jåhkågasska, Sirges and Tuorpon Sami reindeer herding districts, are bitterly opposed to the project, which they complain will cut their herding district in two, making it difficult to move their herds between their summer and winter herding areas. They also worry that the mine tailings will pollute local water. 

Mikael Kuhmunen, a local Sami community leader, told Sweden’s TT news agency he was “shocked” and “disappointed” by the announcement. Climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter called the decision “shortsighted, racist, colonial and

Beowulf’s chief executive, on the other hand, criticised the “unacceptably long time” it had taken Sweden to come to a decision. “It’s good that the concession has been given the approval, but why couldn’t we have got it in 2017.”

“Doing good business requires transparency and predictable process, which has not been the case,” he continued. 

Listen to a discussion about Sami rights in the context of the Kallak mine on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Who supports the mine? 

The local municipality in the nearby town of Jokkmokk supports the mine, which it claims will bring much needed employment to a municipality which has long faced a slow population decline, as do many of the local citizens. 

“If there’s mine, you may as well close the curtains on Jokkmokk. There will be nothing left,” Rickard Eriksson, a local who commutes to mining jobs in other municipalities, told TT. “I know a lot of people who if it’s a ‘no’, plan to take their families and move elsewhere.”

What’s the history behind the mine struggle? 

Beowulf already faced protests back in 2013, when Sami and environmental activists tried to stop it carrying out geological exploration and test boring at the site. Activists managed to temporarily stop the company’s test boring, by climbing up to the top of pine trees, and pouring petrol over themselves. 

As well as attracting the attention of Greta Thunberg, the mine has also become a cause pushed by the Sami singer songwriter Sofia Jannok, and become the focus of a renewed struggle for Sami rights. 

What’s the history of discrimination and colonialism in the Sami lands?

But mine is just the latest project in the industrialisation of Sapmi, the Sami people’s traditional homeland, which stretches between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Northern Russia. The Sami have traditionally been nomadic, herding their animals between the mountain regions right down to the Baltic Sea. 

The mines in Sweden’s most northerly country, Norrbotten, are home to 93 percent of the European Union’s iron-ore production, and as the mines were discovered and built-up at the end of the 19th century, Sweden justified the exploitation of Sami areas by developing a racist ideology, which contrasted the Swedish race with the “inferior” and “primitive” Sami people. 

Researchers travelled to the Sami areas and measured the skulls and bodies of the local people, often in humiliating ways. 

The country established a State Institute for Racial Biology at Uppsala University in 1922, whose research often sought to demonstrate the negative impacts of racial mixing between Swedes and Sami people. Sami children were also for a long time banned from speaking their language in schools. 

What safeguards did the Sami receive as part of the government’s approval? 

On the face of it, fairly significant ones. Sweden’s government has ordered the company to only carry out construction during periods “when the least possible negative impact arises for the ongoing reindeer husbandry”, for example, when the reindeer are elsewhere. The mine should “use as little land as possible”, and “avoid, as far as possible, impacts on reindeer migration routes”, and build “fences, dikes or other facilities” to cut the risk of accidents involving reindeer. 

The company has also been ordered to “continuously consult” with the local Sami herding districts, and to pay compensation for any additional costs they incur as a result of the mine. 

What happens now? 

The company said in a press release that it would now push ahead with a Scoping Study before the end of the year, create a “roadmap for environmental permitting”, and seek new investment and additional partners. 

After the Dagens Nyheter newspaper wrote a story alleging conflicts of interest in the business department, the Green Party reported Sweden’s business minister Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson to the Committee on the Constitution, the parliamentary committee which scrutinises government actions. 

While the company seeks approval from the environmental courts, the issue should quieten down, but the moment it tries to do anything on the ground, it is likely that the protests will far exceed those seen in 2013. 

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Philip Morris offers $16 bn for Swedish smokeless tobacco firm

Marlboro-maker Philip Morris International said on Wednesday that it had offered $16 billion to acquire smokeless tobacco company Swedish Match as the US group aims to move away from its traditional cigarette business.

Philip Morris offers $16 bn for Swedish smokeless tobacco firm

The board of Swedish Match recommended that its shareholders accept the bid of 106 Swedish kronor per share, nearly 40 percent above its closing share price on Monday, the companies said in separate statements.

The deal would total 161.2 billion Swedish kronor (15 billion euros).

Stockholm-based Swedish Match derives more than 65 percent of its revenue from smoke-free products, including chewing tobacco and the Zyn brand of nicotine pouches.

Philip Morris announced in 2016 a long-term goal to stop selling cigarettes and replace them with alternatives that it says are less harmful.

The US company sells cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield in 180 markets outside the United States and has invested billions of dollars since 2008 in vapor products, oral nicotine and other “reduced-risk” products.

Last year it clinched a controversial takeover of British breathing inhaler manufacturer Vectura, despite fierce opposition from health campaigners and medical groups.

The group plans to generate at least $1 billion in annual net revenues from nicotine-free products by 2025.

Philip Morris and Swedish Match had confirmed the takeover talks on Monday following a Wall Street Journal report.

“We are pleased to announce this exciting next step in Philip Morris International’s and Swedish Match’s trajectory toward a smoke-free future,” the US company’s chief executive, Jacek Olczak, said in a statement.

“Underpinned by compelling strategic and financial rationale, this combination would create a global smoke-free champion — strengthened by complementary geographic footprints, commercial capabilities and product portfolios — and open up significant platforms for growth in the US and internationally,” he said.

Swedish Match chairman Conny Karlsson told AFP that the deal was a “good offer” for shareholders.

“It’s great to have the chance to broaden the distribution of our products, which can compete with cigarettes,” Karlsson said.

Snus scandal

Swedish Match is also known for making cigars and “snus”, a form of snuff particular to Nordic countries.

The sale of snus, a moist powder tobacco originating from dry snuff, is illegal across the European Union, but Sweden has an exemption. It contains nicotine and comes in teabag-like pouches that are placed under the lip.

In 2012, Swedish Match said an associate to the EU’s then health commissioner had sought a 60-million-euro payment from the company to push for a proposed tobacco law that would lift the snus ban.

The firm filed a complaint with the European Anti-Fraud Office and the health commissioner, John Dalli, resigned from his post.

Dalli appeared in a Maltese court this year on charges of bribery and trading in influence over the lobbying scandal.

Swedish Match shares rose by almost nine percent to 103.50 kroner following the takeover bid.

Philip Morris, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, was up 0.6 percent to $99.47 in electronic trading before the stock market opened.