Vedanta faces protests at AGM over ethical record

Alistair Dawber@AlistairDawber
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:06

The environmental and human rights record of the miner Vedanta Resources will be put under the spotlight during its annual meeting next week, when the India-based group will face protests from pressure groups and an attempt by activist shareholders to remove members of the board.

Vedanta, the world's biggest zinc producer, declined to comment yesterday on reports that the shareholder lobby group Pirc will propose the removal of Naresh Chandra, a non-executive director who chairs the London-listed group's health, safety and environment committee and its remuneration committee. Mr Chandra, a former Indian home secretary and ambassador to the United States, joined Vedanta's board in 2004. He was not available for comment yesterday.

Pirc, which also called on shareholders not to back the re-election of directors Euan McDonald and Aman Mehta, said: "The failure of the group to engage with explicit investor-led [environmental, social and governance] concerns over the impact of group activities... [is] evidence of a lack of competent oversight, in our view."

Vedanta has consistently been attacked by a range of groups. Human rights and environmental organisations have criticised the company for its bauxite project in the Niyamgiri hills of eastern India's Orissa state. The local Dongria Kondh tribe argues that if the Indian government gives Vendanta's proposed mine a green light, their way of life will be lost. Pressure groups also complain that the project will be an environmental disaster.

Last year, the company's safety record was widely condemned after more than 100 workers were killed when a chimney collapsed at an aluminium plant in central India in which Vedanta has a 51 per cent stake through its subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Vedanta had said the plant benefited from a "relatively low cost of operations and large and inexpensive labour and talent pools".

Some of the company's biggest institutional investors, including Wellington Management Company and Standard Life Investments, refused to comment yesterday.

A clutch of non-corporate investors have sold their Vedanta shares in recent years, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Church of England and the Norwegian state pension fund. All blamed the company's ethical record. According to one analyst, the company "couldn't care less" about its reputation. However, in recent months, Vedanta has tried to reassure potential investors. Earlier this month, it published a 56-page document to accompany its annual report, which sought to highlight its social and environmental work.

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