Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - Page 6 News List

UK criticizes mining company’s handling of local Indian tribe

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British government openly criticized mining company Vedanta Resources on Monday over its treatment of local tribes in a sacred mountain area of India where it plans to open a bauxite mine.

In an unprecedented attack on a FTSE 100 company, the government ruled that Vedanta “did not respect the rights” of the area’s indigenous people; “did not consider the impact of the construction of the mine on the [tribe’s] rights”; and “failed to put in place an adequate and timely consultation mechanism.” The report concluded that a change in the company’s behavior was “essential.”

Vedanta plans an open-cast mine on Niyamgiri mountain in the eastern state of Orissa. Activists believe the mine will destroy the area’s ecosystem and threaten the future of the 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribe, who depend on the hills for their crops, water and livelihood. They hold it and the surrounding forest as the sacred home of their god Niyam Raja.

The damning verdict came after a nine-month investigation into a complaint submitted by charity Survival International against Vedanta’s plans. The complaint was dealt with by a governmental agency charged with promoting guidelines on ethical corporate behavior for multinational companies adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Despite repeated British government requests, Vedanta “failed to provide any evidence during the examination.” This is the only time a company has refused to participate in an OECD investigation.

Survival International said it was pleased with the finding.

“We’re very pleased that the UK government has finally taken a stand on this — it’s already one of the most notorious mining projects in the world. Vedanta failed even to inform the Dongria Kondh that it plans to turn their sacred mountain into a vast open-pit mine, yet the tribe has the right under international law to give — or withhold — their consent. This is, after all, something which will have a dramatic, terrible impact on their lives,” Survival director Stephen Corry said.

Human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, who joined protests against Vedanta in London in the summer, said: “It is my hope that the report will convince the Indian government to consider the impact this project will have on the Kondh people, the region and the environment.”

She added that she hoped the report would put more pressure on the Church of England to give up its stake in Vedanta, a highly successful company that has risen to the FTSE 100 index of leading shares on the back of the global commodity boom.

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