Shareholders at the annual meeting of British mining company Vedanta Resources found themselves thrust into an ongoing debate between the corporation and human rights activists on Monday, when supporters of India’s Dongria Kodh tribe made an impassioned appeal to halt plans for a bauxite mine they believe could end the tribe’s way of life.
Vedanta plans an open-pit bauxite mine to tap the resources in Orissa’s Nyamgiri Mountain. The Dogria Kodh people, who number only about 8,000, depend on the mountain and surrounding ecosystem for their way of life, and hold the land to be the sacred home of their god Niyam Raja.
Opponents of the mine charge the business venture threatens the tribe’s cultural and economic rights.
“We have been living in harmony with this mountain, these forests, these animals for generations. . . . This is a life and death battle. . . . It is not too late to stop the extinction of my people’s way of life,” tribe member and activist Sitaram Kulisika reportedly told the meeting. “Last year Vedanta directors promised not to mine without our consent. I am here to request all shareholders to honor that promise and save our livelihood and our god.”
Anti-poverty advocacy group Action Aid bought a single share of Vedanta stock for Kulisika so that he could plead his case in person before shareholders. Vedanta’s major shareholders include the Church of England, city councils and HSBC Investments.
The case is emblematic of others in which corporations, governments and communities find themselves at loggerheads over the use of local resources. In many cases, communities feel that their concerns are unheard, and that the resources extracted provide little benefit — and much damage — to local residents. A recent move by Peruvian officials to grant drilling, mining and logging concessions on indigenous lands without consulting local communities set off a storm of deadly protests. The government subsequently scaled back its plans, but tensions remain.