MELBOURNE, Aug 13 – The BHP Group mining company must commit to not damaging Aboriginal cultural sites as its expands its operations while a review of Australian heritage law is carried out, a shareholder group said in a resolution filed on Thursday.
The proposal comes before BHP’s financial results, due out next week, and after a government enquiry into how peer Rio Tinto legally destroyed ancient caves that showed human habitation stretching back 46,000 years, as part of an iron ore mine expansion.
The moratorium on damaging sacred sites would cut risk while the reform of the law is considered, the shareholder group, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), said in a statement.
“Investors simply can´t stand by and allow another Juukan Gorge disaster to take place,” said the group’s executive director, Brynn O´Brien, referring to the site of the caves destroyed by Rio Tinto.
The group is aligned with industry funds that pledge to uphold socially responsible investment. The resolution is backed by a group representing all of Australia’s major Aboriginal Land Councils.
BHP did not have an immediate comment.
A proposed revision to Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act is to be made public in coming weeks.
BHP won approval in June to disturb 40 culturally significant Aboriginal sites as part of a mine expansion. Applications encompass specific parcels of land and don’t mean that all sites in an area will be disturbed.
The heritage law is widely considered out of date because it does not allow traditional owners right of appeal, among other issues.
The ACCR also called on BHP to lift gag orders that restrain Indigenous groups from objecting to developments on their land and to be transparent when it comes to lobbying by industry groups.
In a separate resolution, the ACCR called for BHP to review the work of its industry associations in connection with economic stimulus measures in response to the novel coronavirus, and how that relates to its commitments on the Paris climate accord.
The New South Wales Minerals Council in July called for the state government to fast-track approval of 21 new or expanded coal mining projects. (Reporting by Melanie Burton Editing by Robert Birsel)