CBUS, the $54 billion super fund for construction industry workers, also confirmed a small investment in the firm, which is majority controlled by the Chinese government.
Failures by mining companies to preserve Indigenous artefacts have come into sharp focus after resources giant Rio Tinto last month decimated a 46,000-year-old site in Western Australia against the wishes of its traditional owners.
The Rio blast sparked an emergency Senate inquiry into how state and federal laws protect Aboriginal heritage.
There has also been rising scrutiny in the investment world over responsible and sustainable investing and best strategies for lifting corporate environment, social and governance standards.
The Gomeroi people last month filed submissions in the Federal Court against federal environment minister Sussan Ley in an attempt to overturn the mine’s 2015 approval.
Gomeroi woman Dolly Talbott called on major institutional investors to boost transparency about where they put their clients’ money.
“They have an obligation to their people investing to make sure their investors know exactly where their money is spent,” she said.
“If you believe in preserving and looking after sacred sites, they need to know where they’re putting their money and what these companies are doing.”
She said all Australians should be angered about cultural artefacts that will be destroyed if the mine proceeds, which include ceremonial corridors, burial sites and other items.
“Our direct ancestors are buried out there. You don’t go and blow up European burial sites so why should they be able to do that to us?” she said.
“It’s totally disrespectful and it’s something the whole of Australia should be up in arms about. While it’s our history and they’re sacred to us, history should be important to all Australians.”
China Shenhua’s annual general report released in March lists BlackRock as owning 7.97 per cent of the company. According to Bloomberg, its stake now stands at 5.97 per cent, worth more than $3.4 billion. Blackrock did not respond to repeated requests for comment over the investment.
CBUS confirmed it owns around $4.5 million worth of shares in the company through a passive index fund.
The fund said it was considering divesting its stake as part of its broader climate change strategy and would ask its investment managers to incorporate First Nations heritage issues into engagement strategies.
“The sacred sites of our First Nations Peoples should be protected,” CBUS head of responsible investment Nicole Bradford said.
BlackRock has positioned itself as a leader in socially responsible investing and last year pledged to reduce its holdings of thermal coal. The firm’s founder, Larry Fink, has also been a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Market Forces campaigner Will van de Pol said the outrage over Rio Tinto’s blasting should serve as a reminder for super funds about the role they play in actively managing investments.
“The Western Australia example should serve as a turning point that should have come long ago,” Mr van de Pol said. “But at least from now on, we need to see super funds ensuring that that sort of destruction never happens again on their watch.”
“As a firm committed to racial equality, we must also consider where racial disparity exists in our own organisations and not tolerate our shortcomings,” Mr Fink said in a public letter on May 31.
An archaeological report commissioned by China Shenhua Energy said it could preserve roughly half of the more than 60 significant artefacts identified by adding fencing or moving them to another location.
China Shenhua Energy was contacted for comment.
Charlotte is a reporter for The Age.
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