Monday, July 27, 2009
Vedanta faces heat from activists again
S Kalyana Ramanathan / London July 28, 2009
Campaigners from Hamburg-based (Germany) think-tank World Future Council, along with British charity ActionAid, today protested against the Church of England and Middlesbrough Borough Council for investing their pension funds in UK-based metals and mining company Vedanta Resources Plc (with an $8-billion group turnover), whose reputation for trampling human rights and alleged unclean mining practices has been questioned before.
World Future Council’s chair and human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, along with fellow campaigners, today protested at The Lincoln Centre where the mining company held its annual general meeting, raising questions over religious and government bodies like the Church and local councils investing in a company that has been seen in a bad light in the past.
Campaigners have been protesting the company’s plans to mine for bauxite (to extract aluminum) in Niyamgiri hills in Orissa’s Kalahandi district that is considered holy for the local Dongria Kondh community.
Campaigners targetting pension funds as a way of keeping a check on the business practices of Vedanta Resources has gained momentum since the sovereign pension fund of the Norwegian government divested from the company in 2007 after conducting an independent investigation into the business practices of the metals major.
Norway’s pension fund, the world’s second-largest sovereign wealth fund, had in November 2007 sold shares in Vedanta Resources (estimated to be worth $13.2 million at the time), citing “systematic” environmental and human rights failures at the company’s four Indian subsidiaries.
“The fund runs an unacceptable risk of complicity in present and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations by continuing to invest in the company,” the Norwegian government’s finance ministry had said in the statement, while divesting in Vedanta.
The fund’s ethical council had considered four of Vedanta’s subsidiaries — Sterlite Industries, Madras Aluminum Company, Bharat Aluminum Company and Vedanta Alumina — all based in India.
Today, a Vedanta Resources spokesperson said: “Vedanta shares the concerns that have been raised by some of our investors about the campaigns of ActionAid and Survival against the lawful commencement of bauxite mining operations at Lanjigarh. As a company, we are committed to developing this project in line with the best international standards for environmental management and in a way that benefits communities and people around it. The Supreme Court (of India), in its decision to approve the project, has taken account of their views and the many benefits in terms of employment, education and healthcare, that the project will bring. We are proceeding with the project on the basis agreed with them and we urge these NGOs to respect the decision of the legitimate authority in India, the world’s largest democracy.”
Attempts to get the reaction of the Church of England turned out to be futile.