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Melbourne-based miner OceanaGold accused of strong arm tactics in Philippines

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A Melbourne based mine operator has been accused by Filipino villagers of harassment and the use of strong arm tactics to pressure them to accept its plans to develop a large gold and copper mine, according to a new report published today by Oxfam Australia.

Oxfam Australia raised these concerns with the company, most recently in July 2007, and recommended they investigate. But to date the mining company has failed to address community grievances. In the absence of an adequate company response, Oxfam is now making public the findings of its investigation.

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‘Mining Ombudsman Case Report: Didipio Gold and Copper Mine,’ is the result of five years of investigative work by Oxfam Australia into the questionable behaviour of Australian stock exchange-listed company OceanaGold, which refuses to accept that many of the people of Didipio do not want a mine in their front yard.

According to Oxfam Australia’s Mining Ombudsman, at the heart of this case is the right of community members and indigenous peoples to be heard and to be able to influence decisions that affect their lives. ‘There is significant opposition to the project by many in the community as well as the elected local Council, which has not freely given its consent to the project despite OceanaGold allegedly resorting to coercive means to secure continuation of the project,’ said Shanta Martin.

Over the past five years, Oxfam Australia has conducted interviews and participated in community meetings involving hundreds of villagers from Didipio. Many complained of harassment and intimidation by agents of the Australian owned mine. Tactics include allegedly attempting to pressure people to sell their land at a price determined by OceanaGold and threatening legal proceedings against illiterate farmers. Villagers also assert that OceanaGold has deliberately incited an adversarial atmosphere that has fuelled community division over the proposed mine operation.

And in what would constitute a serious breach of Australian law, Oxfam’s Mining Ombudsman heard allegations that company representatives offered financial inducements to members of the democratically elected Didipio Barangay Council in the form of money, employment and enormously inflated offers for their land. One current councilor stated he refused these inducements and alleged that a company manager offered him so much money that, ‘…as long as I was alive I would not be able to consume this money.’

Oxfam’s report also shows that OceanaGold may have publicly misrepresented levels of community support for the proposed Didipio mine, including to shareholders and the Australian Stock Exchange. Misleading investors and potential investors is contrary to Australian corporate law and a matter likely to be of interest to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The Mining Ombudsman Case Report recommends ways that OceanaGold can address community complaints in Didipio such as:

  • supporting an official investigation into allegations of offering financial inducements
  • ceasing land acquisition activities described by community members as constituting harassment and intimidation
  • respecting the authority of the current democratically elected Didipio Barangay Council
  • respecting indigenous peoples and communities' decision-making processes and their right to give or deny their free, prior and informed consent
  • supporting independent social, environmental and gender assessments of the likely impacts of the mine operation

Oxfam Australia believes that Australian mining companies can contribute to local development and poverty eradication, but that the Didipio case highlights the need to establish a formal complaints mechanism for communities affected by Australian mining companies overseas.

An Ombudsman for the Australian mining industry could provide a competitive advantage, increase the mining industry’s transparency and force less ethical companies to improve their practices. It would enable companies to be more accountable to communities affected by mining, benefiting both the communities and the industry.

Overseas the idea of a Mining Ombudsman is catching on. A recent Corporate Social Responsibility review undertaken by the Canadian government, civil society and industry concluded that an ombudsman model, ‘was the best way to advance CSR compliance in the extractive [mining] sector’.

'An independent complaints mechanism would allow the concerns of affected communities to be addressed while also helping to prevent Australian corporate complicity in breaches of human rights and environmental standards,’ added Ms Martin.

Download the full report here: http://www.oxfam.org.au/campaigns/mining/ombudsman/2003/cases/didipio/didipio-report07.pdf