Vedanta Resources: the world's most hated company?

Protesters descend on FTSE 100 mining group's AGM – but chief executive describes criticism as 'lies'

Vedanta Resources' highly successful financial year, and its annual meeting, were overshadowed yesterday when more than 100 protesters, some dressed as characters from James Cameron's Avatar film, came to object to what they say is the company's shocking human rights and environmental record.

Police stopped protesters storming the meeting, as pressure groups and celebrities lined up to attack the mining group's record over its treatment of the Dongria Kondh tribe, which, they claim, will be devastated if Vedanta's planned bauxite mine in India's Orissa state goes ahead.

But it is all nonsense, says the FTSE 100-listed group, and the Church of England, state pension funds from Norway and the Netherlands, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and even BP, whose pension fund trustees have reduced their stake in the miner, are all wrong in their criticism: that Vedanta puts the pursuit of profit ahead of human rights.

In an interview earlier this week, MS Mehta, Vedanta's chief executive, described accusations against the group as "lies and hoax," adding that the planned mine and an alumina refinery in the Lanjigarh region are not damaging to the environment, and, in fact, are good for the people that live in the forests neighbouring the sites.

Pressure groups argue that the group's refinery and the proposed mine in the Niyamgiri mountains, will destroy the local environment and effectively end the way of life of the tribe, which has lived in the region for generations. Survival International, Action Aid and Amnesty International also claim that the mountain that will be mined is sacred to the Dongria Kondh.

Until this week, Mr Mehta and the rest of the Vedanta board had repeatedly rejected requests for interviews. However, faced with yesterday's protests and a move by Pirc, the activist investor group, to unseat several board members, Vedanta has realised its policy of ignoring the criticism is not working. Aviva was one institutional backer to vote against the group on three resolutions at yesterday's meeting.

Issuing a statement to coincide with the AGM, the group said: "Vedanta strongly denies any allegations of pollution of the environment in Lanjigarh or of any violation of human rights. Vedanta is working closely with 2.5 million people spread across 425 villages in India and will be benefiting the lives of another 1.6 million underprivileged children in the coming 2-3 years through its various [corporate and social responsibility] programmes."

Mr Mehta said: "Maybe we've been naive not to talk more in the past, but I would not like to hazard a guess about why Vedanta is targeted in this way. The region is one of the most backward in India. We have provided schools, hospitals and infrastructure for the Dongria Kondh and have offered financial support far beyond the necessary levels." Vedanta says that 3 per cent of the tribe live within 2 miles of the mine, and the, "applied forest area for the mining project is neither a wildlife sanctuary nor a national park nor a biosphere reserve".

Mr Mehta argues that because of the limited drilling involved with bauxite mining, it is considered "eco-mining" and there was "hardly any impact" on the water supply. There is also "no proof that the mountain is sacred," the group says.

Vedanta claims that it has always been open with investors, a point refuted by a number of non-City backers. Earlier this month PGGM, the Dutch health sector pension fund sold its €5.8m stake, saying that efforts to discuss the Orissa project had failed for two years. PGGM's comments echo those of the Church of England, which in February said: "After six months of engagement, we are not satisfied that that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in the future to show, the level of respect for human rights and the local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing body holds shares." The Church also sold its holding in Vedanta.

Vedanta claims that representatives of the Church spent 3 days touring the Orissa sites, and that the visitors had been impressed.

Yesterday, the Church said that its comments referred to Vedanta's facilities, and specifically not the social impact of the company's operations. "The Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group recommended disinvestment from Vedanta Resources after six months of research into the company's operations and several meetings with the company. We took into account both the facilities shown to us by the company and the accounts of villagers affected by Vedanta's operations, during a week-long visit to India," said a spokesman.

"We continue to monitor the company's approach and will be pleased to review our recommendation to the Church investing bodies if the company addresses the issues we raised. To date our concerns have not been addressed."

The actor Michael Palin, and other celebrities, including Bianca Jagger, who delivered a petition signed by 30,000 people on behalf of Amnesty, and Joanna Lumley all made protests at yesterday's meeting. Mr Palin, said: "I've been to the Nyamgiri Hills in Orissa and seen the forces of money and power that Vedanta Resources have arrayed against a people who have occupied their land for thousands of years... The tribe I visited simply want to carry on living in the villages that they and their ancestors have always lived in."

Survival, which Vedanta refused to meet, says it will continue to protest, but despite saying last year that Vedanta had failed, "to put in place an adequate and timely consultation mechanism fully to engage the Dongria Kondh," the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed yesterday that Vedanta's ethical record will not be discussed during the UK Government's high-profile trade trip to India this week.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee