Activists have withdrawn a resolution that was to be voted on by BHP shareholders on Wednesday calling on the company to immediately stop mining that could “disturb, destroy or desecrate” Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which proposed the resolution, said it agreed to withdraw the resolution on Tuesday at the request of a peak body of traditional landowners, which has struck a deal with BHP.
BHP’s deal is with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, which was set up in June after Rio Tinto blew up 46,000-year-old rock shelters in the Pilbara.
ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien said the agreement was struck only “at the 11th hour” after BHP chairman Ken MacKenzie became directly involved in negotiations with Aboriginal leadership.
“The negotiations got serious when the chairman got involved,” she said.
BHP has agreed to support changes to state and federal laws to make sure traditional owners give “free, prior and informed consent” before striking agreements with mining companies.
It has also agreed to set up places to keep artefacts taken from sites that “are a source of pride”, ACCR said.
In the case of Juukan Gorge, Rio Tinto sparked outrage by keeping artefacts rescued from the blast in shipping containers in the Pilbara.
BHP said it had agreed with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance a “set of shared principles around Aboriginal heritage in Australia which reaffirm BHP’s commitment to free, prior and informed consent in agreement making”.
“Together we agree regulatory regimes should respect and reflect these rights.”
The president of BHP’s Australian minerals division, Edgar Basto, said he acknowledged the trust put in BHP by traditional owners and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.
“I look forward to our continuing partnership to deliver the commitments we have made together and our shared objectives for mutual benefit,” he said.
Jamie Lowe, the CEO of the National Native Title Council – which is a key member of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance – said that negotiations were still ongoing.
“But in light of the progress that’s been made, the resolution has been taken off the table, in good faith,” Lowe said.
“We welcome BHP’s commitment. Now it’s time for action. Aboriginal people are fed up with their culture being destroyed and they’re taking action,” he said.
BHP’s annual meeting is scheduled to take place by video link on Wednesday at 5pm.
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