UK government highlights opposition to GCM Resources plan for Bangladesh coal mine

Thursday, 10 September, 2015

The UK government has published a statement today that highlights the fierce opposition to British company GCM Resources’ plans for a massive open cast coal mine in Phulbari, north-west Bangladesh. The statement notes protestors “calling strikes, blockading roads and occupying the company’s local offices”.

GCM’s planned Phulbari coal mine has provoked repeated protests by local people. Three people were killed and many more injured when paramilitary officers opened fire on a demonstration against the project in 2006. Protests in 2013 and 2014 forced the company’s CEO Gary Lye to abandon visits to the area.

The government’s statement expresses “regret” that the company had failed to update its plans or produce a human rights impact assessment for the project, as recommended in the findings of its investigation under the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, which were published in November 2014.

Campaigners in Bangladesh say that any moves by GCM to move forward with the project, including by updating its plans, would provoke further resistance. They are demanding the company’s complete withdrawal from the project.

The UK government’s investigation, which followed a complaint submitted by the Global Justice Now and International Accountability Project in 2012, condemned the company for breaching international guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour, stating that the project “has aroused considerable opposition in Bangladesh, leading to violent protests, and an even more violent response by the authorities there”.

Today’s statement also notes ministers and officials in the Bangladesh Government who say that GCM does not have a valid contract with them, and that they have no intention of letting open cast coal extraction take place in the region, which includes some of the country’s best agricultural land. These statements follow demands made by protesters against the project that the Bangladesh government should ban open cast mining and remove GCM from the country.

Christine Haigh, campaigner at Global Justice Now, said:

“Today’s statement is further evidence that the Phulbari coal mine cannot go ahead. If it does, it will be a human rights disaster. Local people have repeatedly made it clear that they don’t want it and any moves by GCM to move this project forward will be met by further resistance.”

“While GCM are claiming this report vindicates them, in reality it does anything but. The main problem is the inability of the British government to enforce human rights standards on companies like GCM, leaving people affected by British companies around the world with no right to legal redress for the injustices they face. This must change."

The mine would force up to 220,000 people from their land, destroying their homes and livelihoods, and would threaten the Sundarbans - one of the world’s largest remaining mangrove forests and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
The UK government states that GCM must take into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which stipulates that no developments can take place on indigenous peoples’ land without their ‘free, prior and informed consent’. Bangladesh’s National Indigenous Union says 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 peoples.
 
For more information contact Global Justice Now on 07711 875 345.

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