James Moore: Celebrity campaigners are right about Vedanta but battle is not yet won


Outlook So score one for the good guys? Vedanta – or perhaps "the world's most hated company" – suffered a reverse yesterday after its much-criticised plans to mine bauxite on sacred tribal land in the province of Orissa in eastern India were shot down by the country's environment ministry.

Cue a chorus of huzzahs from assorted celebrity campaigners including Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley and (here it comes) Bianca Jagger. Pardon my cynicism, but when I see these sort of names attached to a cause, I always feel just the teensiest bit suspicious that, well, what we are seeing is a bunch of luvvies trying to prove that they care about stuff, and stuff. "Evil big company vs poor little people" is such an easy narrative to peddle, but reality isn't always as simple as starry names sometimes like to suggest.

Sadly, in many poor parts of the world, people are only too willing to put up with the behaviour of companies such as Vedanta because, in return for the commodities they pull out of the ground, and the pollution and destruction this causes, they do bring with them other commodities that are often in very short supply: namely jobs.

What celebrities and others often fail to register is that it's hard to get cross about big company X riding all over the natives down the road when big company X puts food in front of your family. You are more likely to feel angry about the people getting in the way of the big company if that food is threatened. This uncomfortable dilemma should not, however, give companies such as Vedanta carte blanche to behave badly.

And in this case, there is a tide of opinion suggesting that Vedanta has been behaving badly. But its corporate logo might just as well be a raised middle digit, based on the way it has carried on. The celebrity campaigners are – in this case – are very much on the right track. And it's not just the usual suspects (Amnesty, Survival International) who have joined them.

Professional investors such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Church of England became so frustrated at the company's refusal to engage with their concerns about its practices that they gave up and dumped the shares (although not before they had turned very big profits).

Vedanta has been given plenty of chances to explain itself, and to take action to improve the situation, by people who can see that there is sometimes more nuance to debates such as the one in Orissa. It has spurned them all.

It is only in recent weeks that the message that it has something of a PR problem appears to have wormed its way through Vedanta's thick corporate skull. The belated attempts at engagement have been half-hearted at best and it would, anyway, take more than some PR fluff to solve the problem.

Of course, Vedanta's reverse should not be seen as the war's end; it is merely one battle in what may still prove to be a long struggle. It is worth remembering that Vedanta has the backing of local politicians in Orissa. It could also reverse yesterday's decision on appeal, so there is a way to run yet.

Vedanta's various opponents should gird their loins. Those opponents do, however, have one thing working in their favour. India is a democracy and politicians in democracies tend to be highly receptive to negative opinion (and publicity). Sadly, natural resources are frequently found in parts of the world overseen by less savoury governments, whose response to celebrities, charities and even investors practising ethical engagement, is every bit as Anglo-Saxon as Vedanta's.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments