The company was founded in 1926 in Switzerland as Südelektra, an infrastructure and electricity projects concern operating in Latin America. In 1990, Marc Rich + Co AG became its majority shareholder. In the 1990s it diversified into mining and disposed of its non-core businesses.
It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2002 at which time it acquired Glencore's coal assets in Australia and South Africa.
In 2003, it doubled in size with the A$2.9 billion takeover of Australian copper, zinc and lead miner MIM Holdings. However, it failed in a 2005 bid for another Australian miner, WMC Resources, which was captured by BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company.
In 2004 Xstrata closed its recently purchased Windimurra Vanadium plant in Western Australia which had the effect of increasing Vanadium prices received for Xstrata's other Vanadium mines around the world. Many hundreds of people were put out of work and now many Western Australians are not keen to see Xstrata involved in other mining activities in the state because of this action.
In August 2005, Xstrata purchased a 19.9% stake in Falconbridge Limited, a diversified Canadian mining company producing copper, nickel, aluminum, lead and zinc. Following a contested take-over battle with Inco Limited, Xstrata successfully acquired the remaining 80.1% of Falconbridge in August 2006. In 2006, The Northern Territory and Australian Governments approved the expansion of the McArthur River zinc mine, near the popular fishing destination of Borrooloola. The expansion involves diversion of the river to a new 5.5 km channel, to allow construction of a massive open-cut pit in the existing river. On behalf of the Traditional Owners of the region -- the Yanyuwa, Mara, Garrawa and Gurdanji peoples -- the Northern Land Council launched a legal challenge to the Northern Territory Government's decision to approve the mining of and diversion of the McArthur River. On 1 May 2007, The Northern Territory Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Northern Land Council to stop the expansion. On 3 May 2007, the Northern Territory government rushed through retrospective legislation to overrule the court decision and allow the open-cut mine to proceed.
On 28 May 2012 violent repression of local residents by the police in the province of Espinar, Cuzco, Peru, caused the deaths of two civilians. The inhabitants protested against the pollution of the water sources caused by Xstrata's mining activities. The government has decreed a State of Emergency and suspended civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution.
Since the turn of the millennium it has developed from a small player into one of the world's largest diversified mining groups with the help of a series of large acquisitions. In 2008, its degree of transnationality according to the Transnationality Index was 93.2 percent and ranked first place.It has major operations/projects in eighteen countries (Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Jamaica, New Caledonia, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, the United States and the United Kingdom) and it is a major producer of copper, coking coal, thermal coal, nickel, ferrochrome, vanadium and zinc. It has smaller scale involvement in aluminum, gold, lead and silver. It also has interests in platinum group metals through its 24.9% stake in Lonmin.
In July 2012, Xstrata opened its first office in mainland China. China accounts for up to one-third of Xstrata's global sales. The office is located in Shanghai. Bulga Coal
Xstrata are currently the operators of the Bulga Coal Mine in NSW, Australia. Xstrata have managed this mine on behalf of the Bulga Coal Pty Ltd shareholders since 2001 when it purchased Enex Resources Limited from Glencore International AG. The Bulga Coal mine site serves as the headquarters for Xstrata Coal's NSW division.
In 2007 Xstrata Coal, based in Sydney, bought Anvil Hill Coal Mine from Centennial Coal Company. Since the purchase of the Anvil Hill Coal Mine Xstrata Coal, an Australia-based subsidiary of Xstrata PLC, has come under media scrutiny numerous times in regards to the company's management of the pre-mining stage of the mining project, most notably scrutinised has been the community relations approach of Xstrata Coal towards the local community, with allegations of misleading actions on behalf of the company being cited in the local and regional media, and other regional and local communication channels. This included the setting up of a local action group in opposition to the mine named WAG (Wybong Action Group). Xstrata's A$274 million expansion plan for the George Fisher mine at Mount Isa was approved by the government of Queensland Mindanao, Philippines
Xstrata's $5.9-million copper-gold mine in the Philippines' southern island of Mindanao has been delayed three years to 2019 due to security concerns and regulatory obstacles set by the local government.