“We aren’t stopping at BHP – we are going to line up at every future mining company [annual general meeting]. We’ve got our timetable sorted.”
Condemnation over the Juukan Gorge blast has put the entire mining industry on notice. BHP has halted plans to destroy up to 40 significant Aboriginal sites at its $4.5 billion South Flank project and re-consult with traditional owners, the Banjima people, while Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue is reviewing plans to damage sites of significance to the Wintawari Guruma people.
The latest push for a moratorium has already caused friction with mining industry leaders. Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable on Sunday said a moratorium would unnecessarily stall mining, infrastructure and other activities for an “unknown and possibly extended period of time”.
“The industry is committed to working with traditional owners and communities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes that support local aspirations and priorities,” Ms Constable said.
“A broad-scale moratorium would fail to recognise the extensive engagement and agreement-making processes which take place over many years.”
Fund manager Aberdeen Standard, a top shareholder of BHP and Rio Tinto, said there had been a groundswell of investor attention on inequality between miners and traditional owners this year following the blasting of Juukan Gorge, which had been amplified by the issues raised in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I certainly think this hasn’t been an issue with mainstream investors before and this does mark a shift into the mainstream,” said Danielle Welsh-Rose, Aberdeen’s ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment director for Asia-Pacific.
“I think we are seeing a significant moment.”
Ms Welsh-Rose said Aberdeen had developed an internal position concerning Indigenous rights and corporate risk following Juukan Gorge in order to guide their expectations and engagement with companies. She said the upcoming shareholder resolutions may become “catalysts for change” even if they are non-binding.
“What it does is draws attention, increasing the focus of management and boards on the issue,” she said.
James Fitzgerald of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which is preparing the resolutions in conjunction with the First Nations alliance, said it was time for mining companies to “match their performance with their promises” on Indigenous engagement.
“Our indigenous partners have clearly had enough of miners walking both sides of the street, taking advantage of sub-standard heritage-protection laws while trumpeting themselves as having excellent credentials,” he said.
Describing the Juukan Gorge as the “tip of the iceberg”, Mr Christian said the group would bring the decades-long power imbalance into focus by lodging the motions at investor meetings and engaging with fund managers beforehand.
“We’ve seen a shift in shareholder sentiment and shareholder concerns about the social credentials and social impact,” he said. “We really do hope the shareholders get behind us at the BHP AGM and support the resolutions we put forward.”
For nearly 30 years since traditional ownership rights were recognised, Indigenous owners in WA’s iron ore-rich Pilbara have been entering into legally binding native title agreements with mining companies under which miners provide valuable royalty streams in exchange for the impact to their ancestral land. Legally, however, the legislation affords traditional owners no right of review after a decision is reached, and no power to prevent projects that would harm significant sites.
Start the day with major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion from our leading business journalists delivered to your inbox. Sign up for the Herald‘s here and The Age‘s here.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Credit: Source link