Complaint filed against British coal miner GCM over Bangladesh mine

  • Protest at London AGM today
  • Emails reveal UK government attempts to avoid disclosing relationship with GCM

Campaigners have filed a complaint against British coal miner GCM Resources over a controversial open-pit coal mine in Bangladesh, ahead of the company’s AGM in London today.

The complaint by the World Development Movement and International Accountability Project claims that the mine planned by the London-based and AIM-listed company would breach OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by violating the human rights of the people who would be forcibly displaced and impoverished by the project.

GCM faces protests at its London AGM today. Its Phulbari Coal Project has been stalled since 2006 by fierce opposition within Bangladesh. 

Photo of protest outside the GCM resources AGM

A series of emails obtained via Freedom of Information requests made by London Mining Network reveal attempts by the UK government to avoid disclosing the nature of its relationship with GCM. Information requested by the group was refused on the basis that it would “prejudice the UK Government's internal relations with the Bangladesh Government”. 

In a UK parliamentary debate on mining practices of UK-based companies on 28 November, John McDonnell MP cited and condemned GCM Resources and its proposed open-pit coalmine as particularly egregious examples of "destructive," "outrageous" and "shocking" mining company practices that are damaging the UK's reputation.

Richard Solly of London Mining Network said:

We know from Freedom of Information requests that meetings have been taking place between UK government officials and GCM executives. The refusal of the government to disclose information on its relationship with GCM suggests that it is too embarrassed to reveal what else it has been getting up to on the controversial company's behalf. It is an outrage that the UK government is aiding and abetting GCM in pursuing a project with such catastrophic potential and against such sustained and massive popular opposition."

The mine threatens to displace 220,000 people, destroy a major food-producing agricultural region, and pollute of the world’s largest remaining mangrove forest, the Sundarban Reserve Forest, a UNESCO-protected World Heritage site. 

In February 2012, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a joint UN press release that called for an immediate halt to the Phulbari Coal Project. 

Further information

The OECD Complaint

As a multinational enterprise operating in an OECD adhering country, GCM is obliged to avoid infringing on the human rights of others, and avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts in the context of its activities.  In breach of these guidelines, GCM’s continuing efforts to force its proposed Phulbari Coal Project forward in the face of massive and sustained opposition involving tens or hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi citizens have already resulted in severe violations of fundamental human rights, including the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

If allowed to move forward as planned, GCM’s Phulbari Coal Project threatens to violate fundamental human rights recognized in an international framework of human rights that includes the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as the Equator Principles, which GCM claims it will uphold in implementing this project.

John McDonnell MP and the GCM Freedom of Information Access requests

Speaking at a parliamentary debate on mining on 28 November 2012, John McDonnell referred to the FOIA requests made by London Mining Network. Saying:

What is interesting is that the company is one of those that have been promoted by this Government, as it was by the previous Government. Despite receiving a series of freedom of information requests recently, the Government have refused to provide information about their relationship with the company and about the support they have given it and its operation in Bangladesh. In its response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explains it will not provide the information, 'because we consider that the disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh,' and because it would 'prejudice the UK Government's international relations with the Bangladesh Government.'

In other words, the Government would be ashamed of the support they have given this company if it came to light, and the Bangladeshi Government would be furious—understandably so, from the sound of the work that has been undertaken to promote the devastation of the region.

GCM and Phulbari

GCM’s proposed project would excavate an open pit coal mine in the township of Phulbari, located in the district of Dinajpur in northwest Bangladesh. Project plans call for the mine to extract 572 million tons of coals from a series of 1,000-foot deep pits spanning a total area of over 14,500 acres. In addition to the mine, the project would: construct at least one 500 Mega Watt coal-fired power plant; construct one new rail corridor and realign an existing portion of railway; construct one new road and realign two existing roads; and divert two rivers in an effort to mitigate impacts of mining operations in reducing access to water. The mine would have a projected lifespan of at least 36 years and extract 16 million tons of coal annually at peak production. One-fifth of the coal would remain in Bangladesh and be used for domestic energy consumption, with the remainder slated for export.