New report reveals how UK companies get away with human rights abuses overseas as Parliamentary Inquiry is launched

June 3, 2009

Monday 4 May 2009, by The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition

UK companies that have committed human rights abuses overseas far too often get away with it, a new report launched today (1 May) reveals.

Reviewing examples from Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Georgia and Nigeria. the report, entitled “The Reality of Rights: Barriers to accessing remedies when business operates beyond borders”, finds that in cases of alleged human rights violations, systemic failures have too often led to victims not receiving adequate redress.

Although previous research in this area has highlighted legal obstacles to victims seeking justice, this is the first comprehensive study of the very real political, social and economic obstacles that prevent victims receiving adequate remedy.

The report’s key findings include:

• Governments’ desire to attract foreign investment undermines their protection of the rights of those affected by the investment;

• A serious lack of trust in the independence of legal systems undermines victims’ desire to pursue claims; 

• Victims are pressured not to act and those that still want to often can’t afford to.

The report concludes that the UK Government has a responsibility to ensure UK companies do not continue to get away with violating human rights abroad. A new UK Commission on Business, Human Rights & The Environment is proposed to provide guidance to companies on what standards they must adhere to when operating abroad, and act as a forum for hearing and resolving allegations of infringements.

The findings of this report will be submitted to The Joint Committee on Human Rights, who have just launched an Inquiry into Business and Human Rights (deadline for submissions today, 1 May).

Hannah Ellis, Coordinator of The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition said:

“Too many UK companies are breaching human rights when they operate abroad Our report reveals why so many companies continue to get away with it.

“The Government has no excuse not to act now. We believe the solution is a new UK Commission for Business, Human Rights & The Environment. We hope it will be discussed urgently by the Government..”

Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and former President of Ireland, who contributed the foreword to the new report, said:

“The innovative approach this report puts forward is a significant contribution to ongoing debates which should be taken seriously by governments and businesses committed to responsible action at home and abroad.”

For more information, please contact: • The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition: Hannah Ellis. +44 (0) 207 566 1601. +44 (0)7952 876 929 Hannah.ellis@corporate-responsibility.org http://www.corporate-responsibility.org. • The London School of Economics and Political Science: Sue Windebank. + 44 (0) 20 7849 4624 S.Windebank@lse.ac.uk http://www.lse.ac.uk

Download the report: The Reality of Rights: Barriers to accessing remedies when business operates beyond borders


Bangladesh PM Hasina asked to fulfil her pledge against open-pit mining

April 22, 2009

Power crisis ‘artificially created’, ‘evil circle’ in power ministry

NewAge, April 22, 2009

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Tuesday requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to fulfil the commitment she had made as the leader of the opposition in 2006 to not allow open-pit mining in the country.
   

‘The former opposition leader and the incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, visited Phulbari in Dinajpur on September 4, five days after the Phulbari tragedy, and made a strong announcement that she would resist any move to operate any open-pit mine there as well as any other place in the country,’ said the committee’s convenor, Sheikh Md Shahidullah, at a discussion meeting in the National Press Club.
   

He said that Sheikh Hasina had also extended her full support to the agreement that the committee signed on behalf of people of Phulbari with the then BNP-led four-party government for cancelling the contract with Asia Energy for mining the Phulbari coal-field and for banning open-pit mining.
   

The then government signed the six-point Phulbari agreement with the committee, who represented the people of Phulbari, after three persons were killed on August 26, 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on people demonstrating against the Asia Energy’s proposed open-pit mine at Phulbari.
   

Hasina held a public meeting in the premises of the Phulbari Government College on September 4 to protest against the killing. Influential AL leader Matia Chowdhury, who is now the agriculture minister, Mostafizur Rahman Fizar, who is now the state-minister for forest and environment, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal’s president, Hasanul Haque Inu, were present at that meeting.
   

Shahidullah, at a the discussion meeting on Power Crisis, Evil Circle in Energy Ministry and Aggression of the Multi-National Companies, alleged that a minister, who is a relative of Hasina, had reportedly said that the open-pit mining was the only way to overcome the current energy crisis.
   

He said that energy shortage could be mitigated by underground mining of various coal-fields. ‘If we go for underground mining, we can extract 10-20 per cent of our coal reserve and with this amount we can meet our demand for 20 years. If we do open-pit mining, there will be environmental disaster and the extracted coal will have to be exported because of the high cost of extraction,’ he claimed.
   

The member-secretary of the committee, Professor Anu Mohammad, said that the current power and energy crisis has been ‘artificially created’ so that the country’s gas- and coal-fields can be handed over to foreign companies on the plea of exploration and production. ‘It is like blackmailing the nation to force the launching of projects beneficial to the foreign companies,’ he said.
   

The former director-general of the Power Cell, BD Rahmatullah, also claimed that the power crisis has been artificially created to push more controversial power projects like rental power plants.
   

He blamed the previous BNP-Jamaat government for failing to commission new power plants and observed that the present government had also failed to take any initiative to do so.
   

He also blamed the bureaucracy for the current crisis and observed that the secretariat should be ‘bombarded’ to root out ‘hooligans’.
   

Shahidullah said that certain quarters were blaming the national committee for the delay in formulating the coal policy and awarding of offshore gas blocks. ‘It is the government, which is delaying, not we. The coal policy is being delayed so that it can be formulated in a way that will favour the multinational companies,’ he observed.
   

‘We demand that the coal policy should be formulated immediately, keeping the peoples’ interest in mind. The government should also scrap the bidding process for offshore blocks that took place during the tenure of the interim government and go for fresh bidding after framing a new model production sharing contract by taking the people’s opinion,’ he said.
   

He claimed that the PM’s adviser, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, was the leader of the ‘evil circle’ in the power and energy ministry, and the new chairman of Petrobangla, Muktadir Ali, was a ‘member’ along with others, and demanded their removal.
   

Justice Golam Rabbani, Professor Shamsul Alam, journalist Syed Abul Maksud and leftist leader Ruhin Hossain Prince were present on the occasion, along with others.


Asia Energy behind coal mine advocates

August 26, 2008

Tanim Ahmed, NewAge, August 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

UK-based Asia Energy has been behind the organised campaign of a group of civil society fronts in favour of swift coal extraction in northern Bangladesh, reveals a New Age investigation.
 These fronts, platforms and associations, were initiated and supported by the subsidiary of Global Coal Management Resources to demonstrate public support for its proposal for an open pit coal mine stretching 65 square kilometres at Phulbari of Dinajpur, countering strong national and local opposition.
   

Two years ago on August 26, several thousand people took to the streets protesting against the proposed open pit mining, which was feared to displace over one lakh people and affect the life and livelihood of another two lakh people.
   Three people were killed and dozens others injured as law enforcers opened fire on the protesters on the day in 2006.
   

According to Asia Energy, Phulbari coal mine would produce some 520 million tonnes of coal over 35 years and displace 50,000 people.
   The associations or platforms, particularly active in the northern districts in advocating swift coal extraction include the Greater Rangpur-Dinajpur Business Development Forum, comprising different business bodies and businessmen, the Greater Dinajpur District NGO Alliance for Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, evidently an association of 30 local non-governmental organisations and North Bengal Mineral Resources Reporters’ Forum, an association of journalists.
   

Office bearers of these forums deny their links with Asia Energy and claim to be promoting mineral extraction for the benefit of the northern region that has remained neglected for long, and reduction of disparity compared to the rest of the country.
   

The business development forum was founded by Nazrul Islam, a former executive chairman of Bangladesh’s Board of Investment, and a retired additional secretary of the government. Nazrul continues to serve as the forum’s chairman. But he is also the executive director for Asia Energy Bangladesh.
   

Nazrul insisted that there was no conflict of interest in the two offices he holds. ‘I have been involved in such forums and associations for a long time,’ he said mentioning a number of high offices he held in the past on district committees in northern Bangladesh.
   

Rafiqul Islam, president of Dinajpur Chamber of Commerce, also a member of the business development forum said it was entirely driven by Nazrul, who previously served Asia Energy in the capacity of a consultant.
   

Rafiqul had refused to read out a pre-drafted speech handed to him at a public meeting of the forum on May 2 this year in Dinajpur. ‘I found it was contrary to our national interests.’ He told the meeting that an open pit coal mine was not acceptable considering the situation of Bangladesh. ‘We must not compromise fertile, arable land for coal extraction.’
   

The alliance of non-governmental organisations apparently comprising of 36 organisations, maintains a Dhaka office with the same address as that of Asia Energy.
   

The web pages—www.gddna.com and http://www.rangpur-dinajpur-forum.com—have identical IP addresses and other web hosting details, suggesting that the two are run and operated from a single source.
   

Hamidul Haque, chairman of the alliance, also chief executive of the Palli Gano Sanghati Parishad, said the association’s contact person in Dhaka is one Ahsan Habib, who happens to be Asia Energy’s manager for equipment, mobilisation and support. Hamid said Ahsan provided the alliance with all the necessary support for maintaining and uploading their NGO alliance website.
   

He said the platform, similar to the other platforms, was not in any way suggesting that Asia Energy be given the contract for Phulbari. ‘If they do get involved however, we will become involved in handling the environmental projects to mitigate the adverse impacts on environment and agriculture.’ But he denied that the association had any links with Asia Energy.
   

Hamid claimed the association ‘intends to accelerate the utilisation of natural resources including minerals as available in the Dinajpur region for the holistic and sustainable development involving the community’.


But an email sent by alliance to the Asian Development Bank gives a proof of its bias towards Asia Energy. It requested the lending agency to ‘reconsider its decision regarding financing the Phulbari Coal Project’ after it was reported in the media that the lending agency’s private sector division had decided to pull out of the project, thus withdrawing a $100 million political risk guarantee.
   

The email, dated April 10 this year, to relevant high officials of the lending agency including the ADB president and the country head, reads, ‘We are very much disappointed with this news. To us, this decision will not help the people of the country rather lead the energy security of the country in a vulnerable position. Because Phulbari Coal Project would be a major development [work] in the north-west Bangladesh.’
   

Denying all allegations of driving the platforms, Nazrul said, ‘Asia Energy is absolutely transparent. We have no involvement with these groups.’ Regarding an Asia Energy staff providing technical support, he said, ‘I am not aware of such a thing. I do not think it is indeed the case.’


Open letter to financial institutions investing in GCM Resources Plc regarding the Phulbari Coal Project, Bangladesh

August 21, 2008

August 2008 

110 organizations from 31 countries have endorsed an open letter to the private investors of GCM Resources Plc declaring solidarity with community representatives in Bangladesh regarding investment in the Phulbari Coal Project. The letter was sent to UBS, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Fidelity Investments. 

Latest:

Reply from UBS (PDF)

Reply from Credit Suisse (PDF)

Dear Investor: 

We are writing to you in solidarity with community representatives in Bangladesh regarding your institutionís involvement in the Phulbari coal mine, otherwise known as the Phulbari Coal Project. Community representatives opposing the project cannot be identified due to fear of recrimination under the current military backed government in Bangladesh. 

We understand that your institution has obtained or is managing over a 3 percent shareholding in Global Coal Management Resources plc. (GCM) which, through a wholly-owned subsidiary, is primarily focused and committed to the development of the Phulbari Coal Project in Bangladesh (GCM 2007 annual report).   

With this letter, we formally bring to your attention the fact that the project, and therefore your financial institution through its shareholding in GCM, is associated with numerous human rights violations and risks future abuses if project development continues.  

Such abuses violate or risk violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and in many cases do not meet standards under the Equator Principles, which are widely considered best practice for mitigating social and environmental impacts in project finance.  

Although the Equator Principles do not technically apply to equity financing for parent companies, several Equator banks apply the Principles to non-project finance transactions where use of proceeds is known.  In the case of GCM, it is very likely that new capital (through share issues, for example) will be deployed towards the mine; for example, from June-December 2007, GCM spent £940,000 exploring and developing the Phulbari project (Interim Report for the six months ended 31 December 2007). Especially given GCMís difficulties in obtaining project loans for the mine, equity financiers such as your institution take on a greater role and responsibility in financing this project, and the environmental and human rights abuses that are occurring. 

Following is a list of some of the human rights abuses associated with the Phulbari coal project, including reference to selected applicable international standards that have been or have the potential of being violated:  

1) On 26 August 2006, the Bangladesh Rifles, paramilitary force, indiscriminately discharged firearms into a crowd of over 50,000 residents who were demonstrating in opposition to the mine project. This shooting resulted in the deaths of three people, including a fourteen year old boy, and left over 100 people injured.  

  • Right to life, liberty and security of person, Article 3, UDHR 
  • Right to freedom of opinion and expression, Article 19, UDHR 
  • Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Article 20, UDHR 

2) In February 2007, Mr. S.M. Nuruzzaman, one of the leaders of the social movement in opposition to the project, was falsely arrested and subsequently tortured. The Bangladeshi ëjoint forcesí were reportedly directed by officials of Asia Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Global Coal Management, to arrest Mr. Nuruzzaman.  

  • Right to the freedom from torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Article 5, UDHR 
  • Right to equality before the law, Article 7, UDHR 

3) Since January 2007, Bangladesh has been under a state of ìEmergency Rule.î Through its project dealings with the Bangladeshi military regime, GCM is providing implicit support to a military- backed interim government which has suspended civil rights, including public gatherings. Though the government is currently under a process of relaxing some of these rules that violate civil liberties, it continues to be difficult for communities in the Phulbari region to express themselves freely regarding the project. 

  • Right to participate in government, and requirement of democratic elections, Article 21, UDHR  
  • Right to freedom of opinion and expression, Article 19, UDHR 
  • Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Article 20, UDHR 

4) As demonstrated by the magnitude of community opposition to the project, GCM has not met the principle of free, prior and informed consultation and has not incorporated concerns of the community into project planning. GCM has not disseminated a draft Environmental Impact Assessment, Resettlement Plan, and Indigenous Peoples Development Plan to community members in an accessible form, for non-literate community memebes, or in the Bangla language.   

  • Consultation and Disclosure, Principle 5, Equator Principles 

5) With regards to the economic and physical displacement of an estimated 2,200 indigenous persons, GCM has not made any significant efforts towards obtaining their free, prior and informed consent to the project activities or to displacement, in direct violation of the right of all peoples to self-determination by virtue of which they can freely determine political status, and pursue economic, social and cultural development. Failure to consult adequately and to seek and obtain consent from indigenous peoples is in contravention of the spirit and letter of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

  • Self-determination, Shared Article 1, ICCPR and ICESCR and Article 3, UNDRIP 
  • Free, prior and informed consent for any relocation, Article 10, UNDRIP 
  • Collective rights to lands and territories, Article 26, UNDRIP 
  • Control over development priorities, Article 32, UNDRIP 

6) Expected environmental damage due to the open-caste mine will result in a massive reduction of ground water, threatening the availability of potable water and irrigation for agriculture much beyond the mine life of 30 plus years.  Furthermore, without proper study, field tests, and appropriate mitigation, acid-mine-drainage is likely to contaminate both soil and water in the project area. Experts contend that adequate precautions against acid-mine drainage in Northwest Bangladesh for a mine the size of Phulbari will detrimentally affect the economic viability of the project. These issues have not been adequately addressed in project documents, despite concern raised by the community in this regard.  

  • Right to an adequate standard of living, right to health and well-being, Article 25, UDHR 

7) The Phulbari Coal Project is expected to relocate at least 50,000 people, although some studies indicate that the physical displacement impacts will include well over 100,000 people.  Additional displacement impacts will be felt by those who are economically displaced by the project and by host communities which will be expected to absorb the tens of thousands of displaced peoples. There is currently no plan to replace agricultural land and there is no available information on how livelihoods of the displaced will be restored. Loss of livelihood will inevitably result in impoverishment of displaced people, which could lead to the risk of death and poor health, in addition to the lost economic base. Concerns expressed by community members regarding the inadequacy of information about and deficiencies of plans for resettlement, compensation, rehabilitation and employment opportunities have not been satisfied.  

  •  Action Plan and Management System, Principle 4, Equator Principles 
  •  Right to an adequate standard of living, right to health and well-being, Article 25, UDHR 
  • Right to adequate housing, Article 11(1), CESCR 

8) Over 80 percent of the land expected to be taken for this project is currently used for farming and Phulbari is considered the agricultural breadbasket for the country.  Moreover, the Phulbari region remains one of the few areas in Bangladesh that does not face annual flooding.  There is no information or study on whether or how food supplies will be replaced and the subsequent impacts on food security within Bangladesh. 

  • Right to an adequate standard of living, right to health and well-being, Article 25, UDHR 
  • Right to be free from hunger, Article 11(2), CESCR 

GCM and the government of Bangladesh have made numerous public statements that, despite the human rights abuses associated with this project, show they are committed to moving forward with the mine. 

Through its investments in GCM, either on its own account or on behalf of clients, and since the company has established a special purpose entity to develop the Phulbari Coal Mine project, your institution is giving consent and support for the continued development of this flawed project. To take no action, is an indication in support of GCM and the Phulbari Coal Mine project. 

Due to the gravity, range and proportions of human rights abuses associated with the project and dealings in Bangladesh under the current political structure, and taking into account the interests of those human rights which are at risk, we respectfully request your financial institution and any other group members which may be involved in this venture, to commence an exit strategy to cease provision of all financial services to the company and divest all GCM shares over which you have control. 

We are pleased to provide you with more information upon request. For comments or questions, please contact the International Accountability Project at iap@accountabilityproject.org.  

This letter is endorsed by the following organizations: 

1. Association “For Sustainable Human Development”, NGO in Special Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC, Armenia 

2. AID/WATCH, Australia 

3. Blue Mountains Conservation Society Inc, NSW, Australia 

4. Courthouse Climate Action Group, Australia 

5. Friends of the Earth, Australia 

6. Jubilee, Australia 

7. Locals Into Victoriaís Environment, Australia 

8. Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Australia 

9. Oxfam Australia Queensland Committee and the University of Queensland Environment 

Collective, Australia 

10. Resistance, Australia 

11. Rising Tide Newcastle, Australia 

12. Sutherland Climate Action Network, Australia 

13. FIAN, Austria 

14. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan 

15. ActionAid, Bangladesh 

16. BanglaPraxis, Bangladesh 

17. Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), Bangladesh 

18. Solidarity Workshop, Bangladesh 

19. VOICE, Bangladesh 

20. N ̇cleo Amigos da Terra, Brasil 

21. Green Policy Institute, Bulgaria 

22. FOCARFE, Cameroon 

23. Friends of the Earth, Cyprus 

24. Friends of the Earth, Finland 

25. Les Amis de la Terre, France  

26. Asienhaus, Germany 

27. FIAN International, Germany 

28. Urgewald, Germany 

29. Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action, India 

30. Indian Social Action Forum -INSAF, India 

31. Nadi Ghati Morcha, India 

32. National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, India 

33. North East Peoples Alliance on Trade Finance and Development, India 

34. Public Interest Research Centre, India 

35. Urban Research Centre, India 

36. Debtwatch, Indonesia 

37. Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), Indonesia 

38. Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, Italy 

39. Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society, Japan 

40. NGO Globus, Kazakhstan 

41. Community Environmental Promotion and Cultural Association (CEPCA), Lao PDR 

42. Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Nepal 

43. National Concerned Society, Nepal 

44. Nepal Policy Institute, Nepal 

45. Water and Energy Federation Nepal (WAFED), Nepal 

46. BankTrack, Netherlands 

47. Both ENDS, Netherlands 

48. Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth, Netherlands 

49. Participatory Development Initiatives, Pakistan 

50. Umeedenao Citizen Community Board, Pakistan 

51. 11.11.11, Philippines 

52. Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), Philippines 

53. EmPOWER Consumers, Philippines 

54. Freedom from Debt Coalition, Secretary General, Philippines 

55. NGO Forum on the ADB, Philippines 

56. ODA Watch, Philippines 

57. Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement, Philippines 

58. Public Services International Research Unit, Philippines 

59. NGO Environmental Law Center “Armon”, Republic of Uzbekistan 

60. Friends of the Earth, Scotland 

61. Wave, Scotland 

62. Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka 

63. Aktion Finanzplatz Schweiz, Switzerland 

64. arbeitskreis tourismus & entwicklung, Switzerland 

65. Basler Appell gegen Gentechnologie, Switzerland 

66. Berne Declaration, Switzerland 

67. berwegerconsulting, Switzerland 

68. BeTrieb, Switzerland 

69. fair-fish association, Switzerland 

70. Greenpeace, Switzerland 

71. Gr ̧ne Partei der Schweiz, Parti Ècologiste suisse, Switzerland 

72. HEKS, Swiss Interchurch Aid, Switzerland 

73. medico international schweiz, Switzerland 

74. Responsible for Projects of medico international schweiz, Switzerland 

75. Schweizerisches Rotes Kreuz Kanton Zurich, Switzerland 

76. SOLIFONDS, Switzerland 

77. Swiss Red Cross Canton Zurich, Switzerland 

78. World Without Mines, Switzerland 

79. Youth Ecological Centre, Tajikistan 

80. Forest Peoples Programme, U.K. 

81. Platform, U.K. 

82. The Corner House, U.K. 

83. War on Want, U.K. 

84. World Development Movement, U.K. 

85. Adrian Dominican Sisters, U.S.A. 

86. Congregation of St. Joseph, U.S.A. 

87. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes, U.S.A. 

88. Crude Accountability, U.S.A. 

89. Environmental Defense Fund, U.S.A. 

90. Friends of the Earth, U.S.A. 

91. Forest Ethics, U.S.A. 

92. Gender Action, U.S.A. 

93. Global Response, U.S.A. 

94. International Accountability Project, U.S.A. 

95. International Rivers, U.S.A. 

96. Maryknoll Sisters, U.S.A. 

97. Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investments, U.S.A. 

98. Mission Hospital, U.S.A. 

99. National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW), U.S.A. 

100. Oil Change International, U.S.A. 

101. Pacific Environment, U.S.A. 

102. Rainforest Action Network, U.S.A. 

103. Region VI Coalition for Responsible Investment, U.S.A. 

104. School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund, U.S.A. 

105. Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, U.S.A. 

106. Sisters of Charity of New York, U.S.A. 

107. Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, U.S.A. 

108. Sustainable Energy and Environment Network, U.S.A. 

109. Instituto del Tercer Mundo (ITEM), Uruguay 

110. Rural Development Services Centre, Vietnam