The Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP) for an international standard on responsible business conduct has agreed to investigate a complaint lodged on behalf of thousands of people in Papua New Guinea who say they have not given consent for Pan Aust to build an enormous copper and gold mine in their area.
The PNG and Australian not-for-profits, Project Sepik and Jubilee Australia Research Centre, lodged the complaint to AusNCP on behalf of 2638 Indigenous members of 64 villages along the Sepik River.
AusNCP promotes the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and helps resolve complaints made against multinationals in relation to the guidelines.
The complaint asserts that Brisbane-based company Pan Aust Limited, which is Chinese-owned, has failed to uphold the right of Indigenous communities to give their free, prior and informed consent for its Frieda River Mine and proposed tailings dam.
The tailings dam, which would cover more than 31,000 acres, would need to safely hold waste from the mine forever. But it would be in an earthquake-prone area that gets heavy rain, with more than eight metres of rainfall a year. If the dam bursts, it could destroy the Sepik River, its surrounds and the livelihoods of 430,000 people who depend on them. Independent assessments of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement found that it downplayed exceptional risks from dam rupture and failed to mention the need for a plan to maintain the dam forever.
“We welcome the announcement that our complaint has been accepted,” said Emmanuel Peni, Co-ordinator, Project Sepik. “It encourages us that our voices will be heard. We’re not just protecting our home; we’re not just protecting our river. We’re protecting a river that belongs to the world and forests that are lungs of the world.”
“The Australian-based company Pan Aust and the relevant PNG authorities are planning this mine without properly consulting one of the vital stakeholders in the project, the downstream communities along the Sepik River,” said Dr Luke Fletcher, Executive Director, Jubilee Australia Research Centre. “We and Project Sepik initiated this complaint to ensure that the Sepik communities can exercise their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”
“As Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters highlighted, extractive projects too often come at the expense of Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage. We are hopeful that acceptance of the Sepik communities’ complaint is part of an important shift toward increased awareness of the impact of extractive sectors on Indigenous peoples,” said Dr Fletcher.
The role of the Australian National Contact Point is to promote the use of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to contribute to the resolution of issues relating to their implementation. The Australian National Contact Point is the only non-judicial grievance mechanism that Australia has for such instances.
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises set out international standards for businesses operating across more than one country. They are a set of recommendations, agreed to by governments, on how businesses can operate responsibly. The Guidelines cover a range of topics including: Environment; Human rights; Labour rights; Corruption; Transparency; and Tax.
The Australian OECD National Contact Point, based in the Department of Treasury, has the power to investigate complaints made against Australian companies operating overseas, where those companies are alleged to have breached the Guidelines. The National Contact Point can issue findings on whether companies are in breach of their obligations under the Guidelines and recommend actions to address any breaches that have occurred.
Project Sepik is a not-for-profit organisation based in Papua New Guinea that has been working in the Sepik region since 2016. Project Sepik advocates for the vision of a local environment with a sustained balance of life via the promotion of environmentally sustainable practices and holding to account those that are exploiting the environment.
Jubilee Australia Research Centre
Jubilee Australia Research Centre partners with and amplifies the voices of local communities in the Asia Pacific region in the fight against an extractive and unequal economic system, produces quality investigative research and advocates for just solutions that centre communities. www.jubileeaustralia.org