For a Fistful of Dollars

I thought I was going to meet Clint Eastwood yesterday. I was outside the offices of Vedanta Resources in Berkeley Street, London, at Amnesty’s protest about human rights abuses linked to their refinery in India. Noticing that there were a lot of people milling around in the road opposite, I investigated further and found that they were shooting a film. And then I spotted a row of directors chairs lined up on the pavement. Printed on one of them were the words ‘Clint Eastwood, Director’.

In the end I didn’t get to see him as my head was wrapped in aluminium foil. All the protesters outside Vedanta were foil-wrapped, to highlight the fact that it’s pollution from Vedanta’s alumina refinery (the stuff that aluminium is made from) that’s causing local communities in Orissa to suffer violations of their rights to health and water. The photos looked amazing, like some eerie Doctor Who villains – and they were picked up in the media from Singapore to London, Germany to Texas.

The Clint link also reminded me of a More4 documentary about Vedanta that I saw recently called ‘Cowboys in India’, which followed a hapless documentary-maker and his even-more-hapless drivers around Orissa. It’s well worth a watch (and you can still see it online at 4od).

The Vedanta story is a fascinating one and is sure to run and run. Not only is pollution affecting those who live nearby, the company also wants to expand the refinery six-fold and open a massive, open-cast bauxite mine in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. If this goes ahead, it will completely destroy the livelihood of the indigenous Dongria Kondh people, who depend on the hills for their water, food, livelihoods and cultural identity – they consider the hills sacred. The parallels with a certain 3-D blockbuster movie haven’t escaped me or many others, and yesterday an appeal on the Dongria Kondh’s behalf to James Cameron, director of Avatar, was placed in Variety magazine.

Then you’ve even got a bit of a religious angle too – as on Friday the Church of England decided to sell all of its shares in Vedanta, valued at some £3 milllion, owing to human rights concerns. This will put pressure on Vedanta’s institutional investors & bankers, particularly those with Corporate Social Responsibility policies, to examine whether their attempts ‘constructively engage’ with the company are bearing any fruit. The C of E didn’t think so.

We’re calling on Vedanta to address urgently the human rights and environmental impacts of their refinery and to commit not to expand the refinery or begin mining until existing problems are resolved. You can take action – without having to wrap yourself in aluminium foil – here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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