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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fluor’s Dirty Connections to Repression, War and Degradation

by a guest contributor

In January 2016, the Arizona State Department of Transportation selected “Connect 202 Partners”, a consortium of companies, to build the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. [1] This consortium is led by a Texas-based construction and engineering firm called Fluor, a multi-billion dollar mega-contractor operating on six continents. Fluor constructs, maintains and operates oil and gas, mining, chemical and other facilities from Washington State to Mongolia. One might assume ADOT has made a wise decision, hiring an immensely profitable company with a long history and a broad range of operations. The truth, however is much dirtier.

Fluor’s business model is dependent on ignoring ‘externalities’ – the significant, largely negative effects business operations have on the local environment, local people and the climate at large. Another way of describing this is to invoke what Naomi Klein and many others have called “sacrifice zones,” or “places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained or, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.” [2] This is an apt description of what Fluor does—and profits from—all over the world. And in the context of Arizona, what Fluor and its team want to do is to turn South Mountain into such a “sacrifice zone” – sacrificing an O’odham sacred site, the health of the Gila River Indian Community and the health of all Phoenix Valley residents.

It’s true that many companies across the world benefit from externalities and sacrifice zones. But Fluor has a higher—and more negative—profile than many. The company has faced allegations of human trafficking, war profiteering, providing support to repressive governments, significant abuse of taxpayer dollars and improper lobbying. It is also connected to numerous operations where indigenous people, farmers and activists have been violently repressed—and even murdered—in order to push projects forward. And Fluor unquestionably contributes to environmental degradation and human-induced climate change across the globe.


The bulk of Fluor’s profits come from building and maintaining infrastructure for extractive industries—oil and natural gas, tar sands, mining of gold, copper and minerals. These operations inherently cause long-term environmental damage and the displacement of indigenous people, local farmers and others from their land. And in a scenario that is increasingly common, security or police forces protecting companies like Fluor have murdered local people to make sure profits keep flowing—mostly to corporations in the Global North. 

One of Fluor’s most prestigious contracts was for construction and engineering services on the Yanacocha open-pit gold mine, operated by the notorious Newmont Mining Co. [3] Located high in the Andes of Northern Peru, the Yanacocha mine is the largest gold mine in South America and one of the most productive in the world. Its history is riddled with bribery, corruption, blackmail and scandals—controversies so vast that PBS created programming to cover them. [4] Even more disturbing are the impacts the mine has had on the area’s land and people. Mercury and other metals continue to leak into the local water supply, poisoning families and killing animals; cyanide-laced “tailing” ponds further contaminate the area. [5] In 2004, local farmers had enough. They laid siege to the mine, succeeding in shutting part of it down for good. [6] Yet even now, security around the mine is still maintained by armed and masked policemen.

Less than 20 miles from Yanacocha, Fluor is contracted to work with Newmont on the $5 billion Conga gold and copper mine. The project is currently on hold after intense protests from locals, many of whom were also violently repressed by security and police forces. [7] Locals have had good reason to be concerned. According to one journalist, the project “would affect between 3,000-16,000 hectares of fragile mountaintop wetlands including numerous lakes, rivers and marshes that supply the region’s drinking water.” [8] When locals refused to sell or give up land wanted for the mine, they reported beatings and intimidation by police and security forces. Private security forces tore down the homes of activists and in 2012, Peruvian police shot and killed five people protesting the mine, including a teenage boy. [9] The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency (aka Marshal Law) to halt the protests. [10] It is ironic that Fluor prides itself on its ethics, yet profits from the extensive repression of local resistance in Latin America and elsewhere. [11]

Fluor has worked on many other major controversial mining projects. For example, Fluor has done extensive work on Rio Tinto’s extremely controversial QMM mineral sands operation in Madagascar. [12] At that project, local protesters took 200 mine workers hostage, protesting the environmental and social destruction the mine would cause. According to some estimates, the project will destroy over 1600 hectares (over 3900 areas) of forest. [13]

Fluor has also frequently partnered with mining giant Rio Tinto in Mongolia, Africa, Australia and elsewhere. Many Arizonans might recognize Rio Tinto as the company that has long been lobbying the US government to allow it to construct a massive copper mine near Superior, AZ. [14] In 2015, Rio Tinto and its business partners managed to get a land transfer deal into the Defense Authorization Act, which would allow it to mine on previously restricted land. [15] Yet the San Carlos Apache tribe and other tribes in the area have thus far successfully opposed the project, as it would destroy numerous sacred sites and recreation areas. [16] If constructed, the project would likely create a crater two miles wide and a thousand feet deep.
Oil and Gas
Of course, one would expect a Texas-based mega-contractor to have connections in oil and gas. Fluor’s oil and gas operations are especially extensive, however, spanning the globe. One of the more controversial oil and gas projects Fluor helped construct is ExxonMobil’s Chad-to-Cameroon oil pipeline. The project has notoriously failed to meet poverty-reduction targets, meaning that international corporations and their neo-colonial hosts are profiting at the expense of local people. As one outlet reported, 

“Six years after oil began to flow on the controversial, World Bank-supported Chad-Cameroon pipeline, many of its opponents' warnings have come to pass: minimal job creation, growing poverty, increasing civil strife and environmental damage. But the oil companies are reaping enormous benefits and the leaders of Chad and Cameroon are profiting handsomely as well.” [17]

Fluor has also been heavily involved in engineering facilities and refining oil sands in the Canadian Tar Sands regions of Alberta—operations that have long been opposed by even mainstream climate justice activists in Canada and the US. [18] Many news outlets and campaigns have focused on the negative impacts of tar sands projects, which include contributions to climate change, destruction of local habitat and pollution of land and water used by indigenous communities and other local people.

In the Middle East, Fluor has also constructed numerous oil, gas and chemical projects for the brutally repressive government of Saudi Arabia, as well as the government of the United Arab Emirates, which is notorious for using indentured labor from South Asia on its construction projects. [19] [20]

War profiteering

As one of the largest contractors in the US efforts to ‘rebuild’ Iraq and Afghanistan, Fluor has made billions from these projects of war and occupation. [21] These efforts have been notoriously rife with corruption and abuse, and significant portions of the more than $110 billion the US has spent on infrastructure and security in these countries has simply disappeared into contractors’ pockets. As many journalists have noted, privatization and the complex subcontracting models used by mega-contractors means billions go missing while roads are being built to nowhere, and buildings are never completed. Yet contractors like Fluor remain unaccountable. [22]

In Afghanistan, Fluor provides services in construction, security, logistics, and even basic needs like laundry and security. It is difficult to track Fluor’s total contribution to the waste. What is known is that In 2015, three whistleblowers went to court claiming Fluor lost “tens of millions of dollars” in US government property in Afghanistan. [23] 

The company also manages US Military bases in Afghanistan – military outposts notorious for abuses and human trafficking of laborers from India and Nepal. A report by ‘Fault Lines,’ republished by numerous outlets including Fox News, details some of these abuses. The report reveals a common pattern for South Asian workers: Fluor’s subcontractors would hire laborers at around $1200 a month, forced them to pay a $4000 (or larger) recruitment fee, then paid them only $500 a month. Workers under these conditions will have to work a year or more just to pay off their recruitment fees and cannot afford to send money back to their families. [24] There is no indication that these practices have been stopped, or that contractors have been held accountable. 

Fluor has benefited handsomely from the near-total destruction of Iraq, winning over a billion dollars in contracts to reconstruct the country’s water system. But the company has also been reprimanded for performing shoddy work that harmed other contractors. In 2012, the company was ordered by a Texas jury to pay $19 million in damages after a malfunctioning shower severely scalded a contractor in Iraq. [25] With US troops remaining in Afghanistan, Fluor will continue to profit from mismanagement and abuse. [26]
Despite all of these and many other accusations of corruption and waste, Fluor continues to win defense contracts. The contractor is set to bring these practices to Africa and Latin America as a contractor for the US AFRICOM and Southern Commands. [27] This is especially worrying, given the long history of disastrous US operations in those regions of the world. For example, the US Southern Command includes support for the current government of Honduras, which has recently been accused of multiple murders of prominent indigenous, environmental activists. Over a hundred environmental activists were killed in that country between 2010 and 2014. [28] 

Domestic Malfeasance

Fluor’s penchant for taking advantage of disasters isn’t limited to its overseas operations. The company was one of four major contractors to help ‘rebuild’ New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Fluor won several ‘no-bid’ contracts from FEMA to provide (the now-infamous) trailers and other services. [29] A Homeland Security report found that these contracts “wasted millions,” after the total value of the four contracts was raised from $2 to $3 billion. [30] While many thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and became permanently displaced, Fluor raked in profits from these no-bid, sweetheart deals.
Fluor’s operations also seem to involve more conventional forms of corruption. In 2011, Fluor was ordered by the US Department of Justice to pay $4 million “to resolve allegations that it knowingly submitted false claims and paid and received kickbacks” related to managing radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear site in Central Washington. [31] At least one high-level Fluor employee went to prison for committing Fraud while working on the project. [32] And in 2013, Fluor was ordered to pay $1.1 million to the DoJ to resolve accusations of improper lobbying related to projects at Hanford. [33] 

Finally, despite Fluor’s claims of safety, many people have died or were injured while working on its projects. Last year, Michael Brooks, a Fluor employee, died while working inside a tank on a Dow Chemical site near Houston, TX. [34] In 2014, 7 workers were killed in Veracruz while working on a Pemex project managed by Fluor’s Mexican joint-venture. [35] In 2010, Siemens and another Fluor subsidiary were ordered to pay $988,000 after a worker was killed and another seriously injured on one of their projects in the UK. [36] These are just a handful of the many deadly and serious accidents that have occurred on Fluor’s projects.


The state of Arizona is sinking $1.75 billion dollars into a project led by a contractor that has repeatedly shown extreme contempt for local people and the planet. While Arizonans cannot be sure the price tag for Loop 202 will increase, they can bank on Fluor to continue its record of environmentally and socially disastrous contracting and engineering. If Arizonans oppose human-induced climate change, if they support the right of local communities to make decisions about their well-being, if they oppose the influence of gigantic corporations on the political process, they should oppose the state’s deal with Fluor.

[2] Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2014. Page 169.
[28] The most well-known of these was Berta Cáceres, who was killed in early March of 2016. Cáceres, of the indigenous Lenca community, had successfully led a campaign to stop a hydroelectric project in 2013. See also:

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