Transnational Corporations and the Rare Earth Industry: A Case of Anti-Lynas Movement in Semiperipheral Malaysia

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Nobuyuki YAMADA, Department of Sociology, Komazawa University, Tokyo, Japan
Malaysia has been rapidly industrialized since the 1970s and it has already risen up from the periphery to the semiperiphery in the world-system. Nevertheless, semiperipheral Malaysia still holds peripherality in its environmental problems. An Australian transnational corporation (TNC) named Lynas, operating in the rare earth industry, has carried out rare earth refining in Gebeng, Malaysia since 2011. However, the soil containing plenty of rare earth metals, for example Thorium, is brought in from Australia because the Australian government prohibited Lynas from rare earth refining in its own country. Rare earth refining entails radioactive wastes such as Uranium and they are likely to cause health damage to people around the factory. As a result, anti-Lynas movement has been organized particularly since the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. This paper addresses the case of anti-Lynas movement in Malaysia. It is predicated on fieldwork on various social movements in Malaysia from 2013 through 2018. Firstly, this paper reviews the background and process of anti-Lynas movement. Secondly, this paper analyses the nature of rare earth industry and clarifies that it is characteristic of global keen competition. Consequently the operation of TNC has tendency to escape the regulation of core region in the world-system and to relocate dirty operations to peripheral and semiperipheral regions. A case of Lynas can be one of such examples. In fact, Lynas largely depends on financial aid by a Japanese energy organization (JOGMEC) and it supplies most of its products with a Japanese corporation (Sojitz). Lastly, this paper asserts that this industry, in which enough profit has not been necessarily gained recently, cannot persist without non-regulation in peripheral and semiperipheral regions. Such non-regulation can mean dependency to TNCs and peripehrality in the country, and one of environmental problems can still be caused by the operation of global capital.