C of E investing in company accused of human rights abuses

By staff writers
October 27, 2009

A company in which the Church of England has a £29 million shareholding will face allegations of human rights abuses and widespread environmental destruction as campaigners publish an ‘alternative report’ into its activities today.

The Church is seeking to profit from a portfolio of mining companies including BHP Billiton, which campaigners say are having a massive detrimental impact on poor communities around the world.

The company will present its own report on its activities at its London AGM this Thursday 29 October. It will claim to work to the highest corporate responsibility and environmental standards in the industry.

But today, critics of the company will present an alternative report outlining the negative impacts of many of the company’s operations – in Australia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile.

The report is the work of organisations from many countries working with directly impacted communities, including church groups.

The report catalogues abuses of human rights, particularly of affected communities, issues of worker health and safety, livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raises issues around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and promotion of both coal and uranium for power production.

At the launch, representatives of communities in Colombia which are being removed to make way for expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine, Cerrejon (one-third owned by BHP Billiton) will describe their own experience with the company. Farming families in villages around the mine have been deprived of their livelihoods as the mine expands and accuse the Cerrejon Coal company of failing to negotiate in good faith or offer sufficient assistance or compensation. They want BHP Billiton to make Cerrejon Coal deal with them fairly.

Recent publicity over four other London-based mining companies – Vedanta, Rio Tinto, Monterrico and GCM Resources – some of which the Church of England also invests in - has has drawn attention to London’s key role in financing destructive mining activities around the world.

The London Mining Network (LMN) which is producing the alternative report, is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. Members include ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), CATAPA (Comite Academico Tecnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales), Colombia Solidarity Campaign, The Corner House, Down to Earth (the ecological campaign for Indonesia), Forest Peoples Programme, LAMMP (Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme), Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries), PIPLinks (Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links), TAPOL (the Indonesia human rights campaign) and the Society of St Columban.

LMN exists to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of controversial and unacceptable mining projects. It does this by publishing reports, participating as 'dissident' shareholders in company meetings, holding educational events and, where appropriate, advocacy with investment institutions, politicians and NGOs.

They point out that mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world. They say it has a disproportionately negative impact on marine-dependent and land-based communities, especially indigenous peoples, and is frequently associated with forced evictions, militarisation, conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings. Use of coal in energy generation is a major contributor to destructive climate change. Use of uranium produces a radioactive legacy which threatens the wellbeing of thousands of generations to come.

The Catholic aid agency CAFOD, War on Want, Anglican bishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have all previously condemned mining companies such as BHP Biliton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American for their human rights abuses and destruction of the environment. The Church has a combined shareholding of £62 million in these three companies according to its last annual report.

You can read more about the Church of England investments in Ekklesia’s report: “Where is the Church of England’s Heart Invested?” here

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