‘GUILTY’: UK government blasts Vedanta in unprecedented attack

October 12, 2009

The UK government has attacked Vedanta’s treatment of the Dongria Kondh. © Survival

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Government demands a ‘change in the company’s behaviour’.

The UK government today blasted FTSE-100 company Vedanta Resources over its treatment of the Dongria Kondh tribe in Orissa, India.

The damning verdict came after a nine month investigation into a complaint submitted by Survival International against Vedanta’s proposed bauxite mine on the Dongria Kondh’s sacred mountain. The complaint, upheld by the government, was brought under the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises – the key principles for ethical corporate behaviour.

In an unprecedented attack on a major British company, the government ruled that Vedanta, ‘did not respect the rights of the Dongria Kondh’; ‘did not consider the impact of the construction of the mine on the [tribe’s] rights’; and ‘failed to put in place an adequate and timely consultation mechanism’. Devastatingly, it concluded, ‘A change in the company’s behaviour’ is ‘essential’.

Astonishingly, despite repeated requests from the UK government, the company ‘failed to provide any evidence during the examination’. This is the only time a company has refused to participate in an OECD investigation.

Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy has said, ‘If Vedanta is allowed to go ahead with its plans for mining the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa for bauxite it will lead to the devastation of a whole ecosystem, and the destruction of not just the Dongria Kondh tribal community, but eventually all those whose livelihoods depend on that ecosystem.’

Martin Horwood MP, Chair of the All-Party Group for Tribal Peoples, said today, ‘I am delighted that the UK government has issued this damning verdict on Vedanta. This is further powerful evidence that Vedanta must fundamentally change the way it operates.’

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘We’re very pleased that the UK government has finally taken a stand on this – it’s already one of the most notorious mining projects in the world. Vedanta failed even to inform the Dongria Kondh that it plans to turn their sacred mountain into a vast open-pit mine, yet the tribe has the right under international law to give – or withhold – their consent. This is, after all, something which will have a dramatic, terrible impact on their lives.’

The ruling is the third major embarrassment in five months for Anil Argarwal (majority owner of Vedanta): in June an environmental award was withheld at the last minute when details of the Orissa mine were brought to the jury’s attention; and in August India’s Environment Minister admitted that the project should never have been approved.

Vedanta’s proposed mine site is sacred to all Kondh people, hundreds of whom have been engaged in months of protests and blockades against the mine.

Full text of the government’s statement is available here

Full text of Survival’s complaint is available here

British actress Joanna Lumley has narrated a short film, ‘Mine’, about the Dongria Kondh’s struggle.

Dongria Kondh