What part of 'No' don’t mining companies understand?

By Ellen Teague
October 26, 2010

The world’s largest mining company has been urged to halt its coal mining operations on the Indonesian island of Borneo by representatives of indigenous people who report that mining “has destroyed our forests, rivers and livelihoods”. A day ahead of BHP Billiton’s London AGM on 21 October, they spoke to an “alternative report”, presented at the House of Lords during an evening meeting chaired by Baroness Sue Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

Siti Maimunah of JATAM, the Indonesian mining advocacy network, explained that “the Kalimantan region is already destroyed by logging and now oil palm and coal are causing further devastation” Her colleague, Kahar, spoke with emotion about how the region is threatened by more than 2,000 mining concessions. “Despite being such big producers of coal, we are amongst the poorest provinces in Indonesia” he said “and we have a problem getting electricity, having power cuts all the time”. He hoped BHP Billiton would not be allowed to build a railway across Central Kalimantan because “some of our people have been relocated three times already”.

The meeting was organised by the London Mining Network whose coordinator is ex-Catholic seminarian Richard Solly and whose members include the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility and the Missionary Society of St Columban. It identifies the key role of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, London-based funders and the British Government in promoting destructive mining projects. The alternative report also outlined the damage done by the company’s operations in Australia, Colombia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere.

Richard Solly asked at the meeting: “Can communities say an outright 'No' to destruction of their forests, biodiversity and water, in fact to a model of economic development they don't want?” He felt people should have the right to say 'No' and pointed out that indigenous peoples in particular have rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Those present laughed when he told of “visiting Cheyenne indigenous people in North America who were protesting mining on their lands and one had a poster on his door saying 'What part of No don't you understand?'” He reflected that, “indigenous peoples everywhere are saying ‘No’ to a so-called model of development which will ultimately destroy all of us unless we stop it.”

At the London AGM of BHP Billiton the following day, new company Chair Jac Nasser and Chief Executive Officer Marius Kloppers, took the view that it is for national governments to decide on mineral development. They told Siti Maimunah, who put her complaints directly to the AGM, that the company would not begin opencast mining within protected forests, but it would not be pulling out of Kalimantan.


(c) Ellen Teague is a freelance Catholic journalist who works regularly for The Tablet, JUSTICE magazine, Independent Catholic News, Redemptorist Publications and the Messenger of St Anthony. She is also a member of the Columban Missionary Society Justice and Peace team, and chairs the Environment Working Group of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales.

Keywords:mining | BHP Billiton
Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.