A huge political row blew up last night as Plaid Cymru accused Labour of insulting the memory of thousands of Welsh miners by accepting a £2m donation from Britain's richest businessman Lakshmi Mittal.
Plaid MP Adam Price challenged Welsh Labour not to use any of the Mittal cash to fund its National Assembly election campaign because of the death of miners in collieries owned by the Arcelor Mittal group in Kazakhstan.
Mr Price, the son of a miner, said, 'I call on the Labour Party in Wales to prove that not a single penny of money from Mittal will be used to fund their Assembly campaign. Welsh miners throughout the years have paid with their lives and health to produce coal - and it would be a slur on their proud legacy if Labour in Wales used money from a man who according to trade unionists in Kazakhstan has blood on his hands.'
Last night Arcelor Mittal issued a statement saying it was strongly committed to health and safety in all of its operations and denied allegations from Mr Price that the group had refused to meet union officials.
Mr Price produced a file of media reports concerning accidents in mines owned by the Arcelor Mittal group.
The reports state that:
Forty-one miners were killed in a blast at the Mittal-owned Lenin mine in Kazakhstan last September. Coal from the mine is used to power a giant Mittal steel plant in the region;
Kazakhstan miners went on strike for better pay and safety conditions after the blast, with more than 6,000 protesters using the slogan 'No more dying for Mittal!' and 'We don't want to live in poverty!';
Accident rates reportedly tripled between 2004 and 2005 in the Mittal group's mines in Kazakhstan;
Mr Mittal reportedly refused to engage with trade unions in Kazakhstan who were demanding better social protection;
On October 20, 2006, the powerful daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said she holds Indian-born steel baron Lakshmi Mittal responsible for the deaths of more than 80 Kazakh coal miners in the past three years.
A report from the Associated Press news agency said last September, 'An explosion and fire at a coal mine owned by giant steel maker Mittal left 43 people dead in central Kazakhstan, according to the latest report. The blast was caused on Wednesday by a build-up of methane gas about 500 metres below ground. Rescue work was continuing but was hampered by a further gas leak in the area.'
Several hundred other miners had managed to escape.
It continued, 'Kazakhstan's Lenin mine is part of a vast steelmaking complex in Karaganda and one of a number run in the former communist bloc by Mittal, the world's largest steelmaker.'
The report quoted Mr Mittal saying, 'We deeply regret this tragic accident and extend our full sympathy and condolences to the families of everyone that has been affected.'
The AP report continued, 'In Kazakhstan, controversy over Mittal's business practices centres on safety and wages rather than steel prices. (Impoverished Kazakhstan consumes little steel itself; nearly all of the steel it makes is exported to China.) Safety came to a head after 23 miners died [on December 5, 2004] in a coal mine operated by a Mittal subsidiary. This led to information that the accident rate at Mittal's 11 coal mines had tripled from the prior year.
'At the same time, the Kazakhstan government extended property tax breaks to Mittal Temirtua for another five years. Believing that the workforce should share in the tax benefits and production increases at the plant, the head of the miners' union went to London to try to talk to Mittal. He was not received by the mogul.'
Mr Mittal said at the time that the company had invested $240m on modernising the complex. He also said accident victims' families would receive up to $55,000 each in compensation.
Arcelor Mittal spokeswoman Nicola Davidson last night strongly defended the group's reputation, saying, 'Health and safety is an absolute priority and the company spends great effort on ensuring we operate a safe environment in all countries.
'The accident in Kazakhstan was an absolute tragedy which occurred as a result of a gas explosion. The investigation into its cause is ongoing. Mr Mittal immediately went to Kazakhstan and expressed his condolences to the families of all who died in the accident.'
Ms Davidson pointed out that Mr Mittal had recently been named Man of the Year by the Financial Times, Businessman of the Year by the Sunday Times and European Businessman of the Year by Time magazine.
Ms Davidson added, 'Arcelor Mittal engages in dialogue with the trade unions in all of the companies in which it operates.
'It is absolutely wrong and false to say we do not engage with the unions in Kazakhstan.'
A spokesman for Welsh Labour said the party did not wish to comment.