FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Pull Your Pension Money Out of POSCO”, Urges New Educational Video for the European Public
South Korean Steel Giant Responsible for Human Rights Abuses and Massive Subversion of Indian Environmental and Indigenous Peoples Protection Laws, says International Fact Finding Team
Cupertino, CA (July 17, 2012): Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group (MZPSG), an international research and advocacy group, in an open letter to the European public today strongly urged them to ensure that their pension monies are not irresponsibly and unethically invested in POSCO, the South Korean steel giant. The appeal comes after a fact-finding team from MZPSG visited Jagatsinghpur and Kandadhar in Orissa, India in January 2012. Jagatsinghpur and Kandhadhar are the sites of POSCO’s proposed 12 million ton steel plant, private port and captive mines. The USD 12 billion project is also one of the most controversial in the country, having resulted in large-scale subversion of the law, extensive human rights abuses, and enormous potential for environmental devastation. Along with the open letter to the European public, MZPSG has also released a 14-minute video titled “Dividends of Resistance” with testimonials from project-affected villagers– voices that have hitherto not been heard outside Orissa, India.
MZPSG’s “Dividends of Resistance” records testimonials by local villagers about the consequences of the repression unleashed by the State on behalf of POSCO against those who have been resisting the project for over 7 years. Neil Agarwal, a member of MZPSG, said that “the video is an attempt to bridge the information gap that exists between decision-makers/investors in Europe and the project-affected people on the ground. The men and women, ranging in age from 14 to 85, who offer their testimonials in this video, do so at enormous personal cost – given the record of retributive violence that has been directed at protesters. They have still chosen to go public because of their confidence that their stories will establish a connection of common humanity with the people of Europe who have invested in POSCO, and persuade the latter to divest from POSCO.”
Along with the video, MZPSG also released an open letter to European workers and investors with a plea to critically evaluate the investment of their pension funds in POSCO. Previously, MZPSG wrote to two of the largest European pension funds – the Dutch ABP and the Norwegian GPFG, or Government Pension Fund Global, seeking immediate withdrawal of their investments from POSCO because the Orissa project clearly violates the funds’ own guidelines for responsible investment based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. “Violence and repression perpetrated in the seven years since the announcement of the project have caused a crisis in livelihoods, health and children’s education. If the POSCO project goes through, it will destroy a fragile ecosystem and will lead to the economic deprivation of over 50,000 people.” said Sirisha Naidu, a member of the Economics faculty at Wright State University, Ohio, and also a part of MZPSG’s fact-finding team.
This appeal for divestment is given a greater urgency by two recent events that expose the irregularities and illegalities underlying the POSCO project.
- First, a report released by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in early April 2012 pointed out serious irregularities in the allocation of land to private promoters, misuse of emergency provisions for land acquisition, and drastic under-valuation of privately held land by the Odisha state government. The CAG report, tabled in the Odisha assembly, notes: “The government misused the emergency provision under Section 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act in several cases, depriving the land losers of the opportunity to be heard.” For instance, the state government acquired nearly 438 acres of land for POSCO at throwaway prices by invoking emergency provisions of the federal land acquisition act, effectively cutting off any legal way for land owners to demand a hearing, or even fair compensation provisions, effectively netting POSCO a profit of more than 10 million USD before the project even breaks ground.
- Second, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) of India, in March 2012, struck down the environmental clearance that was granted in early 2011 to the POSCO project by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The NGT noted: “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme … reveals that a project of this magnitude particularly in partnership with a foreign country has been dealt with casually, without there being any comprehensive scientific data regarding the possible environmental impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts unanswered.”
With the CAG report, the NGT decision, and a lapsed MoU, the POSCO project, already behind by more than seven years in its execution, now faces an indefinite delay. But this has not resulted in any self-examination by POSCO. Instead, it has embarked on a flurry of high-level meetings with central and state government politicians and bureaucrats, issuing statements about its ‘commitment’ to the project. Biswajeet Mohanty, a noted Odisha environmentalist commented: “[a]s a democracy we cannot bend laws and overlook violations just for the sake of accommodating the largest FDI in India.” In an earlier statement, PPSS, the local peoples’ movement, spoke directly to the European investor: “Effectively, your company has declared a war on us. An illegal war in which they [POSCO] are using paid mercenaries to kidnap and torture protesters … Please don’t support POSCO whose management is behaving like a bunch of criminals. Please withdraw your investments in POSCO.”
Earlier, in October 2010, MZPSG had published the first comprehensive study of the expected impact of the POSCO project. The report titled: “Iron and Steal: The POSCO-India Story” remains to date the only published document on the baseline economy in Jagatsinghpur, and challenges the POSCO and Government of Orissa’s cost benefit claims of the project.
Anu Mandavilli: +1-408-480-5805, <amandavilli AT yahoo.com>
Sirisha Naidu: +1-202-657-9212 <sirishacnaidu AT gmail.com>
Ra Ravishankar: +91-948-021-4823 <ra.ravishankar AT gmail.com>