BHP faces resolution on Australian indigenous sites

Proposal calls for suspension of some activities until protections around cultural sites strengthened

The Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) has filed a proposal at BHP calling on the Anglo-Australian miner to suspend any activities which “would disturb, destroy or desecrate” cultural heritage sites in Australia “until relevant laws are strengthened”.

Earlier this year, BHP’s rival Rio Tinto was widely condemned for the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which was reportedly undertaken “to access higher volumes of high-grade ore”, despite other options being available. 

Rio Tinto recently acknowledged that “various opportunities were missed to re-evaluate the mine plan” in light of the significance of the site at Juukan Gorge.

The ACCR’s proposal, which is backed by a coalition of more than 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, also calls on BHP to “cease gag orders” on indigenous owners, so they are free to voice any concerns, and asks for greater transparency on the lobbying activities of its industry associations on cultural heritage issues.

Yesterday, it was reported that both BHP and Rio Tinto told an Australian parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of the site at Juukan Gorge that government should not get more involved in Aboriginal heritage protection, arguing that the current system has worked well – with the exception of Juukan Gorge. 

“Investors simply can’t stand by and allow another Juukan Gorge disaster to take place,” says Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director at ACCR. “As investors, we believe it’s necessary that this shareholder resolution receives strong support – or is proactively adopted by BHP’s Board – because there is far too much at stake to allow any further destruction of Indigenous cultural sites.”

The ACCR has filed another proposal at BHP, demanding it stops lobbying for COVID-19 recovery policies that are inconsistent with Paris climate targets. 

ACCR’s Director of Climate and Environment Dan Gocher described the advocacy by BHP’s industry associations during the pandemic as “nothing short of predatory” and “fundamentally at odds” with global climate goals.

“The advocacy by key BHP industry associations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been fundamentally at odds with the Paris Agreement’s goals,” he said, pointing to “demands for government support and subsidies, fast-tracked approvals for new fossil fuel developments, and an aggressive deregulation agenda”.

Elsewhere, shareholders achieved success in the UK yesterday, at the annual meeting of SSE, when the Scotland based energy firm committed to publish a statement on its “principles and plans to support a Just Transition” by November 2021. 

SSE was responding to a request by Royal London Asset Management and the Friends Provident Foundation that the company adopt a formal strategy to address the “socioeconomic implications” of its transition to a low-carbon economy.