Adani imperils human rights, as well as the environment

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The Adani Group has, at best, a sketchy corporate record. In matters dealing with the environment, it was negligently responsible for the sinking of the unseaworthy, coal-laden MV Rak in August 2011. The environmental disaster that followed from the incident led to the destruction of a fishing industry, environmental vandalism and a fall in tourism.

Main image: Rohingya refugees watch ICJ proceedings at a restaurant in a refugee camp (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

In terms of dealing with governments, the company sports an aggressive record of suasion and bribery. Adani’s illegal export of 7.7 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2010 inspired a campaign of suppression and concealment. The ombudsman of the Indian state of Karnataka was stunned to uncover a bribery enterprise that swallowed up local politicians, customs officials, members of the police force, the State Pollution Control Board, the Port Department and the Weight and Measurement Department.

With such an unprincipled resume, few should have been surprised by the ethical compass of the company in dealing with a different assortment of officials. In Port of Complicity: Adani Ports in Myanmar, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the activist group Justice For Myanmar take the spotlight to Adani Port’s commercial ties with the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) military conglomerate.

In May 2019, Adani Ports entered into an agreement to construct, operate and transfer land held by the MEC for 50 years in an investment valued at US$290 million. Land is being leased for the construction of the Ahlone International Port Terminal 2. The report also reveals that Adani Ports’ subsidiary in Myanmar, the Adani Yangon International Terminal Company Limited, paid US$52 million to the MEC, including $30 million in land lease land $US22 million in clearance fees.

Any plea of ignorance on Adani’s part is not bound to wash. In 2018, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission issued a call for the top military commanders of Myanmar to be investigated and prosecuted for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity against ethnic groups in the states of Arakan (Rakhine), Kachin and Shan and for alleged genocide against the Rohingya of Arakan state. The mission warned that ‘no business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw, or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members’. In 2019, the fact-finding mission listed Adani Ports and its commercial links with the MEC.

The International Criminal Court has also authorised the prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities by the military, including deportation and other inhumane acts and the persecution of the Rohingya inside Myanmar. While Myanmar is not a State party to the court’s jurisdiction, Bangladesh, which hosts a large displaced Rohingya population, is.

Adani’s relationship with Myanmar’s military entities was suitably rosy by the time the February 1 coup was instigated. To date, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and three cabinet ministers have been detained and charged for various acts, including breaching the official secrets law. Over 600 protestors have been killed.

 

"Investing in Adani was tantamount to the indirect enriching Myanmar’s military, a pertinent question to 'sovereign wealth funds and pension funds that should have a highly ethical basis for their investment decisions.'"

 

The Adani Group has repeatedly denied that its involvement with the military conglomerates poses an ethical dilemma for its business model despite arms embargoes and travel sanctions on members of the junta. The company also ‘rejected insinuations that this investment is unethical or will compromise human rights’. It has preferred to see its role in Myanmar as constructive, sound and valuable. ‘The Adani Group’s vision,’ it told the ABC last December, ‘is to help build critical infrastructure for nations across key markets and help in propelling economic development and social impacts.’

Following the coup, Adani issued a statement denying any engagement with the junta over the 2019 approval of the port. ‘We categorically deny having engaged with the military leadership while receiving this approval or thereafter.’

This proved to be brazenly economical with the truth. In July 2019 a Myanmar military delegation led by Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing paid a visit to Adani Ports’ Mundra headquarters in India. Ten days prior to the visit, Min Aung Hlaing and three senior members of the military had been in the news: the US State Department had targeted the general and his inner circle with travel bans, citing their ‘responsibility for gross human rights violations, including in extrajudicial killings in northern Rakhine State, Burma, during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya’.

The tour was well covered not just by posted personal snaps by the general on his own website, but by the website of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Defence Services. Photographs were also taken of a gift exchange between the CEO of Adani Ports, Kiran Adani, and the Senior General.

Through a spokesperson, the company sought to lessen the importance of the meeting. The general and his delegation were visiting India in an official capacity; visiting Mundra was merely an informal sideshow, a casual distraction. ‘In 2019, the government of India hosted the Myanmar general Min Aung Hlaing and Mundra Port was only one such location out of the multiple sites on this visit’.

Adani Ports has also distanced itself from the political apparatus of the increasingly brutal regime. A company spokesperson claimed the company was ‘watching the situation in Myanmar carefully and will engage with the relevant authorities and stakeholders to seek their advice on the way forward’. Besides, the Yangon International Terminal project was ‘an independent container terminal with no joint venture partners’. Hardly convincing.

Such corporate conduct has broader implications. Investing in Adani is not only environmentally unsound but imperilling of human rights. Lawyer and member of the 2019 UN Mission Chris Sidoti puts it starkly, considering Adani’s presence in Australia, notably its Carmichael mine. ‘The question for Australia and Australians is whether we want to be hosting a company that is contributing to the enrichment of the Myanmar military’. Investing in Adani was tantamount to the indirect enriching Myanmar’s military, a pertinent question to ‘sovereign wealth funds and pension funds that should have a highly ethical basis for their investment decisions.’

The Responsible Investment Association of Australia has found movement in this area tardy. In 2019, surveyed ethical fund managers revealed that only 5 per cent of their combined funds under management had fossil fuel exclusions. A mere 4 per cent had exclusions based on human rights violations. This did not tally well with consumers who had consulted the RIAA Responsible Returns’ online tool to look up the record of investment managers. 32 per cent were keen to find those excluding fossil fuels; 22 per cent sought investments prioritising human rights. Adani’s own formula in coping with such thorny matters? Renaming its Australian arm Bravus Mining and Resources.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Rohingya refugees watch ICJ proceedings at a restaurant in a refugee camp (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Adani, Myanmar, MEC, Rohingya, human rights, environment, mining

 

 

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Existing comments

A new twist on the fossil fuel argument Binoy and well reasoned. Carmichael will provide up to 10,000 jobs and $21m in infrastructure and Adani has circumnavigated 200 environmental restrictions including the Barrier reef runoff. Clean coal technology is available in the form of the Direct fuel cell which converts any grade of coal to energy with a 2% CO2 emission. It requires implementation of a new system to replace coal fired turbines which have 40%+ emissions. An outline of the DFC is available on the QUT website as they helped pioneer the technology originally designed by Ahmed El Safty. Whilst agreeing with you that their ties to the Tatmadaw are execrable, their activities here in Qld will be subject to rigorous environmental controls. With unemployment running at 5.9% we need the jobs, especially in Qld. Youth unemployment in the Cairns and Townsville area exceeds 20%.
Francis Armstrong | 13 April 2021


Bravo, Binoy. ...I'm no expert here but worked at Bowen basin mines and pre feasibility studies for Surat. Normally when the big, Blue chip players entered into a venture you could be certain that the financial numbers stacked up, mostly because existing infrastructure would service the asset for sometimes a short life-of-mine proposition; Wesfarmers (supermarkets) bought an existing show at Curragh, expanded then sold out. Bowen mines were becoming less profitable so I could not work out how it made sense to risk a new lease elsewhere. Carmichael relied on the new rail service at someone else's expense but I didn't ever get a response from the the Adani CEO (now Bravus) why a new basin needs to be opened when there were mines going cheap... although it fitted with their Abbot Pt terminal investment and would improve its future value. My guess is the group is more interested in profits realised through associated development and attractive tax incentives from state governments to build in their back yard; the actual commodity mined seems irrelevant to them. Perhaps that's why we can frequently observe environmental damage and risk exposure. I'd like to see a rehabilitation plan trust financed from day one; we don't want to see a Gupta-like loss of financial backing suddenly make a working pit a dirty, toxic orphan.
ray | 14 April 2021


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