The Rio Tinto Company’s Spanish Miners and the Rise of Political Extremism in the 1930s

Neil Forbes

This paper offers a brief analysis of the question of winners and losers in relation to one aspect of multinational business practice:  the mining operations  in Spain of the British-domiciled Rio Tinto Company in the 1930s. As a major, international mining company, Rio Tinto dominated the trade in several, strategically important minerals and metals - raw materials used by the armament industries. But the company was forced to confront strikes by its workforce, and was then required to come to terms with the rise of nationalism and the Francoist victory in the Spanish Civil War. In these circumstances, how well did Rio Tinto treat its workforce? Businesses with global reach continued to play a vital role in the defence of liberal, capitalist values throughout the international crisis of the late 1930s. Rio Tinto was confronted with the dilemma of how it could both protect its investments in a potentially hostile environment and simultaneously contribute to the defence of the values of capitalism and liberal democracy. The  paper examines the extent to which Rio Tinto could claim that those values included fair wages and the maintenance of reasonable living standards for its Spanish miners.