Condemning British company GCM Resources for breaching international guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour, the UK government has urged it to assess its planned coalmine in Bangladesh and see if it would affect human rights of locals.
The UK government's findings, released on Thursday, state that the project “has aroused considerable opposition in Bangladesh, leading to violent protests, and an even more violent response by the authorities there”.
The UK government statement follows an investigation into GCM's activities in Phulbari of Dinajpur, where it wants to open a massive open-pit coalmine.
The investigation concluded that the company had breached the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises by failing to “foster confidence and mutual trust” with the people who would be affected by the mine.
The investigation failed to consider how the mine would affect the people of Phulbari, if it were to be built, and its conclusions were limited to GCM's record in the planning phase.
An internal review of the investigation affirmed that the OECD guidelines do apply to human rights abuses that would occur if the project went ahead. However, the report of the investigation failed to address the concerns of its internal review and did not correct the decision to exclude all potential impacts of the project from the investigation.
Christine Haigh, campaigner at the World Development Movement, said, “The UK government's investigation is right in pointing to the company's failures to date. But by omitting to consider the inevitable effects this mine would have on the region's population, the investigation does little to ensure that their rights are protected. If it goes ahead, the Phulbari coalmine will be a human rights disaster. Local people have repeatedly made it clear that they don't want it and GCM should expect continued resistance if it pushes ahead against their wishes.”
The investigation followed a complaint submitted by the World Development Movement and International Accountability Project.
The GCM's planned Phulbari coalmine has provoked repeated protests by locals. Three people were killed and many more injured when paramilitary officers opened fire on a mob protesting against the project in 2006. Protests in 2013 forced the company's then CEO Gary Lye to abandon a visit to the area.
The mine would force up to 220,000 people out of their land, destroying their homes and livelihoods.
The UK government states that the GCM must take into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which stipulates that no developments could take place on indigenous people's land without their “free, prior and informed consent”. Bangladesh's National Indigenous Union says that the mine would displace or impoverish 50,000 indigenous people from 23 villages.
Seven UN human rights experts have called for an immediate halt to the project, citing threats to fundamental human rights, including the rights to water, food, adequate housing, freedom from extreme poverty and the rights of indigenous people.
Kate Hoshour from International Accountability Project said, “There are grave concerns about the high risk of further violence in Phulbari if GCM persisted in its efforts to force this project forward despite massive local opposition. The UK government should be taking all possible action to avert further harm, rather than restricting its assessment to harm that has already been inflicted. The government should also recognise and condemn the ongoing violation of the rights to self-determination and to free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous people who have been fighting to halt this project since 2006.”
Rumana Hashem, co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidarity Group and an eye witness to the protests against the project where three people were killed in 2006, said, “It is good that the UK NCP has recognised the considerable opposition to this project in Bangladesh. But the investigators simply failed to highlight the concerns for human rights violations and the severity of the issues. I have seen how local people died protesting about how the project would rob them of their homes and land, and how the locals have resisted the project so far. I am appalled that after receiving several first-hand accounts from Phulbari, the UK government has reduced its recommendations to this narrow framework. Despite the failure of the UK government to hold this UK-based company to account, it is clear that the people of Phulbari will resist the GCM's project from going ahead.”