Crowds throng at 24th March 2018 public meeting
20th April 2018. This detailed history of the anti-Sterlite movement by Ilangovan Rajasekaran was first published in Frontline magazine on April 17. Reproduced with permission of Frontline and the author here.
In Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district, protests against Sterlite’s copper smelter plant get a second wind as local residents’ health and environmental concerns over the company’s expansion plan lead to the revival of a long-forgotten people’s movement.
PEOPLE of the port town of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu had never before poured out onto the streets in such large numbers as they did on March 24 in solidarity with the 100-odd residents of Kumareddiapuram who are waging a battle against the proposed Rs.3,500-crore expansion plan of Sterlite Industries (India) Limited’s giant copper smelter plant situated in the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (SIPCOT) complex that adjoins Kumareddiapuram and a few other villages.
Anil Agarwal’s London mansion
24th March 2018 A noisy protest took place at 42-44 Hill Street in Mayfair, London, today, as British Tamils armed with traditional Parai drums joined with major demonstrations in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, India, against the expansion of British company Sterlite’s copper smelter in the State. The London protest, which took place at the $20 million home of company boss Anil Agarwal, was called by Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in UK and Parai – Voice of Freedom.
See a short video of the London protest HERE
Coverage in Hindustan Times – British Tamils protest outside Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal’s home in London
The News Minute – Can you hear the voice of UK Tamils? Sterlite protests outside Vedanta founder’s house in UK
Meanwhile in Tuticorin 250,000 people packed the streets for a major demonstration and public meeting organised by the Anti Killer Sterlite People’s Movement. Shutters on shops throughout the town were also down today following a total shutdown (bandh) called by The Merchant’s Association. This is the biggest protest yet against the Sterlite plant, and comes on the 40th day of continuous protest in the town, demanding that the plant is permanently closed and the expansion stopped. Permission for the protest was initially turned down by police but was successfully challenged by activists and granted by the High Court on 14th March.
16 March 2018. The AGM of Lonmin Plc in London yesterday was met with angry protests as three delegates from Marikana in South Africa addressed crowds before attending the meeting. Families and victims of the Marikana massacre, in which 34 platinum miners were shot dead by private security and police while on strike in 2012, still have no apology, no compensation and no justice.
At a public meeting later that day, the delegates – Jo Seoka, retired Bishop of Pretoria; Thumeka Magwangqana from Marikana women’s organisation Sikhala Sonke (“We cry together“); and Andries Nkome, the attorney 275 arrested and injured miners – described in detail the chilling events of the massacre, and the traumatised and impoverished state of the community today.
The Farlam Commission into the killings have now proven that orders to take drastic action against the striking miners came from government level, including from Lonmin Non-Executive director and 20% shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now President of South Africa. Platoons of heavily armed police were ordered to the strike with a number of mortuary vans instead of ambulances, showing that there was calculated intent was to kill large numbers of people. Razor wire was spread out around the miners to prevent them from running into the townships, and instead funnel them into the line of fire.
Children’s placards read: ‘Sterlite: mercy killers’
15th February. On Monday up to 500 people declared a hunger strike and indefinite protest against the planned expansion of Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. Two days into the protest police rounded up and arrested 270 people including many women and children, eventually releasing all except eight so-called ringleaders including social worker and Anti Sterlite Struggle Federation Coordinator Professor Fatima Babu, who are still being held by police. Large groups of school children and their mothers made up the majority of the protest. Their placards and statements to the media demand an end to years of toxic pollution from the plant, which is causing respiratory diseases and fainting, especially affecting the children, with long term consequences to their health. Water is also being polluted, and huge amounts used by the plant, in an already water-stressed area.
Lionel Persey QC passed the judgment against KCM
18th Jan 2018 In the third major London case against Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) since 2014, the English High Court on January 2nd ordered KCM to pay $139 million plus costs to Zambian government entity ZCCM Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH) for sums owed as part of a copper and cobalt price participation agreement dating back to 2004, when Vedanta took over the Zambian copper mine. ZCCM-IH is the 20.6% shareholder of KCM. In February 2013 various claims of non-payment against KCM were the subject of a Settlement Agreement in which KCM agreed to pay a total of $119 million to ZCCM-IH in two instalments. However they subsequently reneged on the agreement after paying only $19 million, forcing ZCCM-IH to take them to London courts. In the High Court’s January summary judgment a further $36 million was awarded for KCM’s further breaching of the Settlement Agreement by making payments to its parent company Vedanta Resources while the amounts due to ZCCM-IH were still outstanding. (Download the full judgment here)
12th December 2017. Despite the cold, a loud and theatrical protest was again held outside the AGM of British mining company Global Coal Resources Management (GCM) at the Aeronautical Society in 4 Hamilton Place in London at 10am today. In solidarity with the communities in Phulbari, where three people were shot dead as paramilitary officers opened fire on a demonstration of 80,000 people in 2006, protesters reaffirmed that they will not sleep until GCM is ousted from Bangladesh. A parallel protest followed by a press conference was held in Phulbari against the plans by GCM, an AIM-listed company who want to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh. Inside the AGM in London, dissident shareholders asked questions on behalf of the communities in Phulbari and Dinajpur by accusing the company of human rights abuses as the CEO of the company has filed multiple arbitrary charges against 26 frontline defenders, indigenous farmers, small entrepreneurs and local leaders who opposed the mine.
A full report of the AGM proceedings from dissident shareholders can be found here: Flogging a Dead Horse: the 2017 GCM Resources AGM
Albanese with Zambian government ministers on behalf of Vedanta in 2014
20th October 2017. On Tuesday the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a fraud case against Rio Tinto and two of its executives Tom Albanese (until recently Vedanta’s CEO) and Guy Elliot for inflating the value of a misguided coal deal with Mozambique in 2011. Rio Tinto was immediately fined £27.4 million by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK for breaching UK listing rules. Albanese and Elliot now face major fines for ‘ill gotten gains’ plus interest, as well as a ban on serving as directors of any public company.
Albanese presided over multiple human rights violations while serving as Rio Tinto CEO, and was finally forced to leave in 2011 following the disastrous $44 billion dollar decision to merge with Alcan in 2007 that had written off $9 billion, followed by the failed Mozambique coal deal (see previous article on this website). Guy Elliot has exercised considerable influence over India’s mineral policy, telling Indian decisions-makers it should include a fast-track clearance procedure, and allow ‘security of tenure’, i.e. grant long-term lease rights to foreign mining companies in a speech at the India-UK Business Leaders’ Forum in June 2006.
Please read the Financial Times article: Rio Tinto charged with fraud in US and fined in UK for more information.
13th October 2017. Judges today threw out Vedanta’s appeal to the May 2016 High Court judgment allowing Zambian farmers to have their case against the company heard in the UK. The judgment adds further weight to precedents holding UK companies legally responsible for the actions of their subsidiaries.
Judges today released their verdict on Vedanta’s appeal in the case of the Chingola communities suing UK company Vedanta Resources, and their Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), for pollution causing illness and loss of livelihood.
Press coverage: New York Times – Zambian Villagers Win Right to Sue Vedanta in English Courts
Newsclick – Zambian villagers can now sue Vedanta in England over poisoning their water.
Legal analysis at Lexology.com – Jurisdiction and parent company liability – Court of Appeal keeps door ajar for extra-territorial human rights related claims
7th September. This year was Vedanta’s 14th AGM, since registering on the London Stock Exchange in December 2003, and the 14th year that dissident shareholders have attended the meeting to hold the company to account for their environmental and human rights abuses. The minutes published by activist shareholders every year, documenting the company’s response to these, and other questions, represent important disclosures on Vedanta’s operations, finances and legal issues. Please spread them far and wide!
Minutes of Vedanta Resources’ 2017 AGM
In the beginning
1. After lengthy introductory remarks, the Chair, Anil Agarwal, opened the meeting. He called 2017 a year of great potential for Vedanta, noting they were now the sixth largest diversified resources company. He claimed that since 2003 the group has returned over £2 billion to shareholders, and heralded Vedanta’s positioning, because India and Africa give a unique opportunity for growth. While other companies look to China, he said, Vedanta has India, which is the fastest growing country in the world. Vedanta claims to be one of the biggest tax payers in India. By way of demonstrating his political connections in India, Mr. Agarwal noted he was able to join the Indian State visit to South Africa.
2. He assured shareholders that safety across the company continues to be a priority, claiming again that they are making zero harm, zero waste and zero discharge the ultimate goal. There is some way to go, but he claimed they will not stop until they have achieved this. Agarwal highlighted the ‘challenge’ of climate change and claimed that Vedanta takes its responsibility to society seriously, with various claims to be helping up to 2 million people, especially women and children. In July the company had held its third annual sustainable development meeting with various stakeholders in London. They claimed to welcome ongoing dialogue with NGOs, governments and stakeholders.
14th August 2017. Loud and theatrical protests were again held outside the AGM of British mining company Vedanta Resources’ at the Lincoln Centre, Lincoln Inn Fields, London at 2pm today accusing the company of major environmental and human rights abuses across its operations. Parallel protests and meetings were held today by affected communities and their supporters at several locations in India and Zambia. Inside the AGM, dissident shareholders asked questions on behalf of Zambian villagers who are suing Vedanta in the UK for twelve years of polluted water, as well as tribal inhabitants of the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha, India who accuse Vedanta of murdering and harassing them with state collusion.
Please see the video of today’s protest in London!
and excellent photos from Peter Marshall here.
Coverage on Xinhau news: Environmental protesters picket annual meeting of mining firm Vedanta.
Dissident shareholders in London poured scorn on Vedanta’s 2017 Annual Report, which claims that the company ‘demonstrate world-class standards of governance, safety, sustainability and social responsibility’. They say it represents a poor attempt to don the ‘cloak of respectability’ of a London listing noting that Vedanta was again excluded from the Norwegian Pension Fund’s investments this year following an investigation which found “numerous reports of Vedanta’s failure to comply with government requirements”at four subsidiaries in Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Zambia. The report concludes, “there continues to be an unacceptable risk that your company will cause or contribute to severe environmental damage and serious or systematic human rights violations.”
On Sunday farming communities living downstream of copper mines run by Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) in Chingola, Zambia, held a meeting in Hippo Pool to renew their resolve in their twelve year struggle against the company for severe water pollution which has caused major health problems, and rendered land uncultivable. Police had refused them permission to hold a protest. Government officials visited their villages in Spring this year asking them to drop their London case against Vedanta and settle out of court with the company. The Headmen of Hippo Pool village submitted this statement to the Vedanta board and shareholders which was asked by Shoda Rackal from Women of Colour in Global Women’s Strike:
“The people here are sick and tired of pollution which is killing us through illness and loss of our crops and fish. The pollution must end at all costs. Whether we receive compensation or not, we are asking you to stop polluting us now.”