Australian mining companies fall short on gaining consent from the world’s Indigenous peoples: new report

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases, Mining, News article written on the 17 May 2013

The vast majority of Australian mining, oil and gas companies have no clear public commitment to gain the consent of Indigenous peoples before commencing projects on their land, according to a new report.

Launched ahead of next week’s global conferences on mining, which will be held in Sydney, The Right to Decide: Company Commitments and Community Consent report, found only one Australian company had policies and a position to consider Indigenous peoples’ rights, including their ablility to participate in decisions that affect them, their land and natural resources.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said while some companies were improving their policies and disclosure on approaches towards Indigenous peoples’ rights, the report findings revealed much more was needed.

“This is a critical issue for the Australian mining industry,” Dr Szoke said.  “Australian companies are not only trying to access minerals on Indigenous peoples’ land here in Australia, but are increasingly venturing overseas to do the same.”

Dr Szoke said the Australian mining sector – like the global mining sector – was facing growing calls from Indigenous peoples to respect their rights to land and their right to determine how it was used.

“Without the consent of affected people, mining companies will find it more and more difficult to access land for mine development and operation,” Dr Szoke said.

“Projects risk being delayed or shut down if communities directly affected are not involved in decision-making, do not give their consent, or are denied the opportunity to share in the benefits from these projects.”

Mining projects in developing countries can cause harm in a number of ways, including environmental degradation – leading to devastating effects on peoples’ ability to feed themselves and make a living – contamination of water sources for drinking, farming and fishing, deterioration of health including malnutrition, declining social cohesion, and destruction of places of cultural and spiritual significance.

Dr Szoke said the UN-enshrined principle of ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ required Indigenous peoples and local communities to be adequately informed about mining, oil and gas projects in a timely manner and given the opportunity to approve or reject projects before they started.

According to investor research group Corporate Analysis Enhanced Responsibility (CAER), which worked with Oxfam to develop the report, companies needed to understand the potential legal, reputational and financial risks of attempting to operate without this consent.

CAER CEO Duncan Paterson said: “They also increasingly run the risk of losing investor support, since investors know that without consent, projects may be delayed or disrupted, adding unforeseen costs.

“Investors are becoming savvy when deciding where to put their money. Key human rights principles such as the right of Indigenous peoples to consent to the use of their land will play a greater role in where they choose to invest.”

The report reviews the statements and guidelines of 53 mining, oil and gas companies among the top 200 listed companies on the Australian Securities Exchange, and finds only Rio Tinto has a clear public commitment to the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples.

The report also finds only 14 companies have published a commitment to uphold human rights throughout their operations, which is particularly concerning given the extractives sector accounts for two-thirds of the alleged human rights abuses by private corporations, reported by NGOs.

Notes to editors:  Dr Szoke is speaking at the international Mining for Development Conference in Sydney on Monday 20 May, on the impacts of mining on women.

Link to report:

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