This open letter signed by a number of UK MPs and other public figures expresses concern about the track record of Vedanta and asks UK parliamentarians and ombudsmen to monitor the upcoming decision making on Niyamgiri, and ensure it is fair and adheres to UK and international conventions:
14th May. Open Letter
Dear: Hon. Members of Parliament, Lord Adair Turner – Financial Services Authority and UK Listings Authority, Martin Wheatley – Financial Conduct Authority, UK National Contact Point for the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.
We are public figures concerned with the activities of British registered company Vedanta Resources and the environmental and social violations the company has been convicted of in India, Zambia and elsewhere. For example, in March Vedanta’s copper plant in Tamil Nadu, India was shut down following a major gas leak which affected thousands of people living near the factory. In particular we are registering our concern about the behaviour of Vedanta with regards to their proposed Niyamgiri mine and existing Lanjigarh refinery in Kalahandi, Odisha.
On 18th April the Supreme Court of India gave their final verdict on a challenge by Vedanta and the Odisha state owned mining company OMC to the previous Minister of Environment’s decision to stop the planned mine. The verdict gave the decision back to the inhabitants of the mountain who must hold public meetings in which they will assess whether the mine would violate their cultural and religious rights as they have repeatedly claimed.
We are concerned with the track record of Vedanta and the supporting Odisha state at Niyamgiri, and are keen to ensure that this decision making process should be fair, fully informed and un-influenced by Odisha state (and its officials including police) or Vedanta itself – following the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent.
Major investment bank Societe Generale have recently downgraded their rating of Vedanta to junk status and reported that their approach to the Niyamgiri project was ‘excessively risky’ – going ahead with building a major refinery without permission to mine ore from the mountain. They also note that Vedanta lied that there was no forest land within 10km of the mining site, which is in fact in the heart of a forest.1
Vedanta is a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange and overseen by the UK Listings Authority. If Vedanta fails to adhere to Indian and UK law and basic human rights and environmental conventions – including the Indian 2006 Forest Rights Act – they should be investigated, held to account and de-listed from the London Stock Exchange.
The Niyamgiri project has been racked with controversy since its inception ten years ago and has been consistently opposed by people’s movements and NGOs in India and worldwide. Some of the concerning violations at Niyamgiri include:
*Accusations of murder of local tribal activists Arsi and Sukru Majhi in 2005 and 2009 respectively.
Taking this historical evidence into account we are worried that Vedanta and the Odisha state and its officials will attempt to unfairly influence the current decision making process by bribery, hospitality and gift giving, harassment, restriction or control of information and lobbying of the Minister of Environment and Forests not to accept a negative ruling by the public hearings.
Several high profile MPs and financiers have recently called for the de-listing of Vedanta for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations such as those committed at Niyamgiri. Most recently MP John McDonnell raised a debate in the House of Commons calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to use its powers to investigate and de-list companies guilty of major human rights violations such as Vedanta. Labour MP Lisa Nandy described Vedanta as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ and quoted Richard Lambert – the former Director General of the CBI – who said: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’.
We wish to register our concern with the activities of Vedanta around the Niyamgiri mountain in the coming months, and note that we will be monitoring the process via reports from lawyers, and social activists on the ground in Odisha, including the delegation from London research campaign Foil Vedanta.
We demand that the Financial Conduct Authority use its new powers to formally investigate Vedanta for its legal violations and consider taking appropriate action against them including de-listing from the London Stock Exchange.
Lord Browne of Laydton (House of Lords)
Caroline Lucas MP
John McDonnell MP
Lisa Nandy MP
Bob Doris MSP
Jackie Baillie MSP
The Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd AS/MP
Asma Agbaria-Zahalka – Chairwoman – Da’am workers party, Israel.
Professor Nigel Thomas – Lancaster University.
Kate Hudson – CND
1Societe Generale report, 25h March 2013. See Vedanta Resources falls on bearish Société Générale note, The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/marketreport/9953367/Vedanta-Resources-falls-on-bearish-Societe-Generale-note.html