When the Independent referred to FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources as the world’s most hated company, it wasn’t joking. Two and half years and later, the mining company is still sparking protests on several continents over its human rights abuses and environmentally destructive operations.
Vedanta's mine would destroy the home of the Dongria Kondh. © Lewis Davids/Survival
Most infamously, Vedanta wants to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills in the Indian state of Odisha, despite the determined resistance of the Dongria Kondh indigenous people who live in the hills. The Dongria, for whom Niyamgiri is sacred, say the mine would destroy their forests and rivers and their way of life.
Vedanta has already built a bauxite refinery at the foot of the Niyamgiri Hills, causing pollution and disease, and taking away the homes of more than one hundred families.
Last week saw anti-Vedanta protests by indigenous people and farmers in Odisha mirrored by demonstrations at the company’s London headquarters and the United Nations in New York. Several World Development Movement people joined Foil Vedanta and other groups at the noisy London protests.
The latest demonstrations were timed to coincide with an expected decision on the mine in India’s Supreme Court. Following sustained national and international campaigns, the Indian central government has refused to grant Vedanta permission to go ahead with the mine. But the company, headed by former scrap-metal dealer Anil Agarwal, has not taken no for an answer, and has taken the issue to court. The court’s decision, expected last Friday, has now been delayed until Monday 21 January. Further protests are planned for that date.
Vedanta's aluminium refinery at Lanjigarh, Odisha. © Survival
Campaigners are calling on the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to de-list Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange. Richard Lambert, former director general of the CBI, wrote in the Financial Times: “It never occurred to those of us who helped launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…Perhaps it is time for those responsible for the index to rethink its purpose.”
In November, John McDonnell MP made the case in parliament for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the FCA, including possibly de-listed “because of their behaviour in the developing world."
Investors including the Church of England and the Norwegian government have pulled their investments in the company over the planned Niyamgiri mine, giving force to campaigners in India and abroad.
But a few high-profile divestments, an avalanche of bad publicity, have not been enough to deter Vedanta, which appears to want to open the mine at all costs - particularly since without the mine, bringing raw material from elsewhere to the refinery at Lanjigarh would be much more expensive.
A listing on the London Stock Exchange gives companies like Vedanta access to vast financial resources, as well as a cloak of legitimacy, however thin. As long as the City of London is home to mining companies that pursue profit at the expense of the lives of people in the countries in which they operate, it will hold part of the responsibility for the crimes they commit.