CSR Limited

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CSR Limited
Type Public company (ASXCSR)
Founded Sydney, Australia
Headquarters North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia
Website http://www.csr.com.au

CSR Limited is a major Australian industrial company, producing building products and also has an investment in the Tomago aluminium smelter located near Newcastle, New South Wales. It is publicly traded on the Australian Securities Exchange. In 2012, it has approximately 3,600 employees and reported an after-tax profit of $90.7 million (pre-significant items). The company has a diversified shareholding with predominantly Australian fund managers and retail owners.

Founded in Sydney in 1855 as the Colonial Sugar Refining company, the company first began refining imported raw sugar, expanding into the Melbourne market in the 1870s. Over the next two decades, mills were established in Queensland and Fiji, which began to process domestically-grown sugar. In 1923, the Queensland state government signed an agreement with CSR to refine all of that state's sugar production, a monopoly that was to continue until 1989. Mills outside Queensland were sold in the 1970s. About 80% of production is exported.

Until 2010, the refined sugar products for the retail market were produced in a joint venture with Mackay Sugar Co-Operative (75% controlled by CSR), who operate refineries in Mackay (Queensland), and Melbourne. The CSR brand is used on most of the retail sugar products produced. The production makes up around 60% of the sugar on the Australian domestic market, and 80% of that in New Zealand. Using the molasses by-product from the sugar mills, the company also distills ethanol for use in fuel ethanol manufacture, and varying grades of domestic industrial ethanols for food production and other chemical processes.

The company began to diversify into building products as early as 1942, with the construction of a plaster mill in Sydney, and in 1947 the company began manufacturing plasterboard there, bringing the product to the Australian market. It acquired Bradford Insulation in 1959, which produced heat insulation materials for buildings, and currently has a substantial share of the insulation market in Australia. It has established insulation businesses in China, Thailand and Malaysia, originally in joint ventures with local partners, but now wholly owned. The company also produces fibre cement sheeting, aerated concrete products, bricks, and systems to support plasterboard construction through Rondo, a joint venture with Boral. It spun off its interests in heavy building products, then producing more than half the group's profits, to a separate listed company, Rinker Group, in 2003. In 2007, CSR acquired the Australasian glass businesses of Pilkington and the Melbourne based glass processing company DMS Glass, subsequently renaming both as Viridian.

The company's interest in aluminium is through an approximate 25% stake in the Tomago aluminium smelter near Newcastle, New South Wales.

The current managing director is Rob Sindel, a CSR employee since 2009, and the chairman of the board of directors is Jeremy Sutcliffe, the former managing director of Sims Metal. The group's corporate headquarters is in North Ryde [Triniti 3 Building], a suburb of Sydney.

In December 2010, CSR sold its sugar and ethanol business, Sucrogen, to the Singaporean company Wilmar.

Sugar milling and refining[edit]

CSR Sugar currently operates 7 sugar mills in Queensland. Victoria Mill and Macknade Mill are located in the Herbert River region, centered around the town of Ingham. The Burdekin Region is the home of 4 mills, namely Invicta Mill, Inkerman Mill, Kalamia Mill and Pioneer Mill. Plane Creek Mill is located at Sarina, south of Mackay. CSR also owns a 75% share in the Sugar Australia refineries in Melbourne and Mackay and in the Chelsea Sugar Refinery in Auckland.

CSR separated its sugar and energy businesses from its building products business in 2009, which resulted in the creation of Sucrogen as CSR's sugar and energy business.[1]

Sucrogen was sold to Singapore company Wilmar International in 2010.[1]

Wittenoom controversy[edit]

Between 1948 and 1966, CSR operated mines at Wittenoom, Western Australia that produced 161 000 tons of crocidolite fibre.[2] During this time, thousands of workers and their families, visitors, tourists, consultants and Government officials were exposed to potentially lethal levels of blue asbestos almost a thousand times higher than occupationally regulated at the time. Many of them would develop fatal diseases due to this, such as pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Despite warnings from the Western Australia Health Department and other health authorities in the early 1960s, CSR continued to operate the mine until 1966. The first court victory for the Wittenoom victims was in 1988, when Klaus Rabenault won his case against Midalco, a subsidiary of CSR that ran the mines. The judge ruled that CSR acted with 'continuing, conscious and contumelious' disregard for its workers' safety and that Rabenault should be awarded $426,000 by way of compensation and $250,000 in punitive damages.[3]

It is predicted that by 2020, almost a third of the people who passed through Wittenoom during the mines' operating years would be diagnosed with a fatal disease caused by their dangerous exposures to blue asbestos. This would be an estimated 2000 cases totaling costs of $500 million (AUS) in damages from CSR.[4]

In the 1980s CSR was pursued by victims of asbestosis caused by the operation of its Midalco subsidiary in Western Australia. By 1988, 258 damage-related suits had been taken against CSR, though only a handful of cases had been heard in the courts. In May that year a Victorian court made an award of A$680,000 against Midalco to a former worker, after he contracted the fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma; and in August, lesser amounts were awarded to other workers, against CSR itself (22). Finally in 1989 and the following year, something approaching a fair settlement was made.

Meanwhile CSR and the State Government Insurance Commission of Western Australia were engaged in a dispute as to which of them was responsible for payment of the damages to the tortured workforce and their dependents, with CSR arguing that it was not responsible for liabilities sustained by its Midalco subsidiary. The two bodies finally reached agreement in early 1989 to share the costs of compensation (23). A$15 million would be paid out by each of them to cover damages for the seven-year period of operation of the Wittenoom mine, with an additional total of A$20 million payable to claimants who worked there before 1959 (23). By the end of that year, researchers at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical centre, and the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, in Perth had estimated that a further 692 workers would fall victim to mesothelioma with another 183 cases of lung cancer to be expected. They predicted another 432 successful claims would be made, in addition to the 356 already accepted (24).[5]

At the beginning of 1990, 322 workers had been compensated (25). A few months later CSR made a partial re-entry into mining, when it bought up 48 quarries from the US ARC subsidiary of the British Hanson corporation. It also pulled out of a plasterboard joint venture with Redland Plasterboard (established in 1987) while retaining its Australian and New Zealand interests, through Monier PGH - a company with around half of the Australian roofing tile market (26).

The mining and milling of blue asbestos at Wittenoom is as of 2004 the greatest single industrial disaster in Australia's history.[6]

The song "Blue Sky Mine" by Australian rock band Midnight Oil is about the disaster.

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