Fortescue Metals rejects shareholders’ call for moratorium on desecration of Aboriginal sites | Australia news

Fortescue Metals Group, the mining company owned by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, has angered shareholder activists by rejecting their resolution for a moratorium on the desecration of Aboriginal heritage sites – on the basis that the physical copy of the documents it was printed on arrived too late to be considered at the annual general meeting.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said the documents were late due to a Covid-related courier delay but electronic copies had already been filed.

The centre’s Brynn O’Brien said Fortescue had knocked back an important resolution “on a minor technicality”.

“That FMG is using the pandemic to their advantage is reprehensible,” she said. “That they are doing this to avoid shareholder scrutiny of their relationships with Aboriginal traditional owners begs the question, what are they hiding?”

O’Brien said it called into doubt Fortescue’s “interest in dealing with the important issues raised by its shareholders and indeed Aboriginal traditional owners”.

Electronic copies were sent to FMG before the deadline, O’Brien said, “with enough time for FMG’s lawyers to do the necessary checks to determine shareholder eligibility”, while the physical documents were couriered via an express overnight service.

When the courier delivery was delayed for Covid-related reasons, the ACCR immediately notified FMG, O’Brien said. The physical documents were delivered the next morning.

In a statement to the ASX on Wednesday, Fortescue said the paper copies arrived after the “applicable cut-off date prescribed under the Corporations Act” so the resolutions would not be considered at the meeting scheduled for 11 November.

The ACCR had sought two resolutions after Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara in May. One was for FMG to adopt a moratorium on activities that would disturb, destroy or desecrate Aboriginal heritage sites, to be reviewed annually by the board, and the second was for FMG to disclose its lobbying on cultural heritage issues by “any industry association of which it is a member”.

“Asic is allowing companies leeway on trading while insolvent. That goes to show how far Covid has required all of us to make major adjustments to the way we live and work,” O’Brien said. “That FMG considers themselves above this rule of thumb is totally out of step with community and investor expectations.”

The ACCR also sought similar reassurances from BHP, which agreed to put the resolutions to its next shareholder meeting in October.

The FMG company secretary, Cameron Wilson, said the company “respects the important right of shareholders to requisition resolutions, however, as the notice was received after the applicable cut-off date prescribed under the Corporations Act, the resolutions will not be considered at the AGM”.

“Fortescue is assessing the validity of the notice, including whether it complies with the requirements of the Corporations Act,” Wilson said in the statement to the ASX. “If the notice is valid, the resolutions will be put to shareholders for consideration at the next occurring general meeting following the AGM.”

He said FMG “works closely with the traditional custodians of the land on which it operates [and] … the company acts with transparency and in good faith at all times”.

“Fortescue does not have heritage ‘gag order’ clauses in its agreements and Aboriginal groups are free and open to disagree and publicly voice their concerns.

“The moratorium, proposed by people unfamiliar with the West Australian mining industry, is not supported by Fortescue as it would disempower local Aboriginal people in the Pilbara and limit the positive contribution the mining industry is making to the state and national economies, at a time when it is needed most.”

Rio Tinto’s blasting of Juukan Gorge has sharpened attention on other mining operations in the Pilbara, with big institutional investors calling for companies to do more to protect Aboriginal heritage.

BHP will appear before a Senate inquiry on Thursday to answer questions about its Pilbara operations, especially arrangements with the Banjima traditional owners.

It has announced it will set up a heritage advisory council with Banjima native title holders to inform the design of its $4.5bn South Flank iron ore mining operation.

Guardian Australia revealed in June that the Western Australian government had granted BHP permission to destroy 40 Aboriginal heritage sites belonging to the Banjima people, four days after the Juukan Gorge explosion made global headlines.

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