Vedanta in Tasmania: Not the corporate miner we want

Isla MacGregor

Vedanta, owner of Copper Mines of Tasmania, has been the target of the Foil Vedanta group in the UK. Foil Vedanta is a grassroots solidarity group based in London where Vedanta is registered and listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Vedanta has been referred to as the world's worst miner as a result of continuing human rights abuses, environmental destruction, widespread pollution and breaches of Occupational Health and Safety regulations for workers in numerous countries.

In 1999 the Mount Lyell mine, now known as Copper Mines of Tasmania, was acquired by Sterlite Industries − part of the Vedanta group of companies − which has operations in India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Liberia, Namibia, South Africa, Ireland and Tasmania.

Foil Vedanta outlines its concerns about Vedanta in India:

"The company is being opposed everywhere it operates for violations of law, pollution and human rights abuses: In Chhattisgarh up to 100 people were killed when a chimney they were constructing collapsed on workers.

"In Goa mine waste floods have destroyed homes, while Vedanta were found guilty of illegal mining on a massive scale.

"In Tamil Nadu their subsidiary Sterlite have poisoned the town with gas leaks and dumped toxic waste near people's homes.

"In Odisha a ten year struggle by tribal communities and farmers led to a historic victory in 2013 when Vedanta was stopped from mining the sacred Niyamgiri hills for bauxite, costing the company up to $10 billion."

In Sri Lanka, according to Foil Vedanta, the company is drilling near fragile coral reefs with the support of the Sri Lankan government; while in Zambia it has poisoned one of the main rivers causing birth defects as well as depriving the Zambian government of tax revenue. In April 2015, the Supreme Court of Zambia upheld a 2011 High Court verdict which found Vedanta guilty of water pollution which poisoned thousands of Chingola residents in 2006. The High Court awarded payments to 2000 claimants who had suffered illness and liver and kidney damage as a result of drinking the water.

In February 2015, the New York Times profiled Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal in an article on foreign wealth flowing into New York for property buy-ups. The article states:

"Mr. Agarwal and his company, Vedanta Resources, are known in some parts of the world for having left financial and environmental problems in their wake. He moved his company from India to London in the late 1990s, after it was banned from the Mumbai stock exchange for involvement in a prominent insider trading case. An Indian judge later overturned the ban, saying that there was insufficient evidence of a connection to the trading, and that India's securities regulator did not have the power to impose the penalty. The regulator is still appealing that ruling, a spokesman said."

Vedanta in Tasmania

It is time that we start to think more carefully about which corporations, be they mining or logging, that we will allow to operate in Tasmania or anywhere in Australia.

It is time that the Tasmanian community took a stand against supporting any company that conducts itself like Vedanta. We need to move away from the piecemeal approach to conservation in Tasmania, which has to date primarily been directed at protecting Tasmania's wild areas or forests. We have a duty to support our brothers and sisters in other parts of the globe whose lives are being lost or devastated by the rapacious and unregulated conduct of large corporations.

We have to move beyond a NIMBY approach to environmental protection to one that acknowledges the need for integrated policy development on resource extraction, corporate conduct and governance, move back to independent government regulation, rebuilding public good services and government accountability based on community oversight.

As Miriam Rose from Foil Vedanta states:

"Vedanta operates with a pattern of abuse across India and Africa which we have studied for 12 years since this company launched on London Stock Exchange. This includes de-unionising workers, increasing contract labour, operating without adequate permission, pollution incidents and illegal waste dumping, tax evasion, illegal mining, misdeclaring volumes of mined ores, high debt and high risk, and failure to enact mine closure plans.

"To manage risk as a result of this corner-cutting approach they tend to have high profile CSR projects − sponsoring local sports, schools, health clinics etc, as well as sponsoring politicians and other public figures.

"Tasmania must not become the latest victim of this company."

More information:

Foil Vedanta: www.foilvedanta.org

London Mining Network: http://londonminingnetwork.org/page/14/?s=Vedanta&paged=7


The beauty and scourge of Tasmania's mining industry

Tasmania's clean and green image is being put under the spotlight with Entropy 1, a collection of images from Tasmanian environmentalist Isla MacGregor, who has had a 30-year fascination with the 'conflicted zones' of Tasmania's West Coast. Isla's images show how the uncontrolled mining of the past has left a weird and ravaged landscape and these images are beautiful and perverse at the same time. Her aim has been to bring another "truth to the art of photography of the Tasmanian landscape and the collision between human activities and our ecology."

Isla first came to Tasmania in 1979 and for a few weeks lived in the small mining town of Rosebery on Tasmania's west coast. It was against the backdrop of the stunningly beautiful Mount Murchison that Isla fell in love with Tasmania. During those few weeks she explored many of the area's legacy mine sites, and revived her passion for mineral collecting and geomorphology.

Isla seeks to explore the conflicted zone between the romanticised imagery of artists and historians, the deep connection to place felt by mining folk, and the severe degradation of the environment that follows mining activity. The evocative images of the roaster at The Tasmanian Smelters at Zeehan, set against the flayed hills, are nostalgic reminders of the hardships endured by many early mining families on the west coast.

Tasmania has over 4,000 mine sites. There are 682 abandoned mines, 215 of which are polluting over 75 waterways known to be contaminated with acid mine drainage and some with a noxious cocktail of heavy metals – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

Isla's photo exhibition has been featured by Australian Geographic and can also be viewed at the Mining Legacies website:

www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2015/05/galle...

www.mininglegacies.org/legacy-mines/entropy

In Hobart, the exhibition can be seen at Mount Wellington Restaurant, Fern Tree Tavern.

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, edition #124, September 2015, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction