UK mining companies complicit in abuse of poor says report

By staff writers
November 20, 2007

British mining corporations supported by the UK government, such as Vedanta Resources, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, are complicit in human rights abuse while making huge profits in developing countries.

This charge is made today by the anti-poverty charity War on Want in a report which attacks these and other UK companies for fuelling conflict and violence against vulnerable people.

It follows campaigns run by others, including Christian groups such as Catholic aid agency Cafod, concerning the behaviour of some mining companies.

War on Want are launching the new report, Fanning the Flames, as the Mines and Money World Congress opens in London today.

Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “The British government has championed the cause of UK mining firms across the world. Yet the industry is complicit in a range of human rights abuses and is profiting at the expense of the poor. It is time for the British government to take action to stop these abuses.”

The report is launched in the wake of the Norwegian government’s decision to drop Vedanta from its global pension fund due to “systematic” environmental and human rights failures.

Vedanta’s bid for mining rights in the Indian state of Orissa faces mounting opposition from thousands of Dongaria Kandha tribal people who fear the company’s plans will damage the fragile ecosystem of the Niyamgiri mountain forest, on which they depend for their livelihoods. According to the report, the Indian Supreme Court heard evidence that people forced to leave their villages to make way for the refinery were beaten.

Dandu Sikaka, a Dongaria tribal woman, said: “How will we survive without Niyamgiri, the mountain? Our streams will dry up. If they mine, it will become a disaster. We will all die if you dig out our forest.”

The report pinpoints other Vedanta involvement in abuse in India. At Mettur in Tamil Nadu, the company is accused of seizing land, with discharge from its aluminium plant poisoning farm soil, contaminating water and killing animals, and emissions from the plant and coal-fired power station causing severe health problems for local people. One non-governmental investigation found that male bauxite workers at Mainpat in Chhattisgarh state earned just over 60 rupees, about 80p, for delivering one tonne of ore, with women paid even less. The workers live in small thatched hovels perched over the quarry, denied electricity and adequate water.

Last year Rio Tinto earned $122 million from its stake in the Grasberg gold and copper mine in West Papua, Indonesia, where local people have suffered years of serious human rights and environmental abuse, say campaigners.

BHP Billiton is pressing for new mining opportunities in the Philippines, despite a wave of murders and other human rights violations linked to the extractive industry.

In addition the report cites abuse surrounding operations by UK mining companies Anglo American, Oxus Gold, Global Coal Management, Monterrico Metals and Xstrata in countries such as South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Peru, Zambia and Colombia.

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