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South Africa
Economy - Development | Environment - Nature

South African mining company banned as "unethic"

afrol News, 11 April - The South African mining company DRD Gold Limited is facing international divestment for its "unethic" involvement in Papua New Guinea. Here, the company is accused of strongly polluting forests and rivers with mercury and other poisonous metals, endangering the life and livelihood of local tribes.

The Ethical Council of Norway's public Pension Fund, one of the largest of its kind in the world, today announced that it had excluded the South African company from its investment universe. "The divestment process is now concluded," the Pension Fund said in a statement. The Fund's shares amounted to around kroner 4 million (euro 500,000).

DRD Gold currently owns 78,8 percent of Emperor Mines Limited, which runs the Tolukuma gold mine on Papua New Guinea. Every day the Tolukuma mine disposes of 430 tonnes tailings into a natural river system. Tailings and drainage from deposit sites generate a significant supply of heavy metals to the environment, in particular mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, nickel and lead.

This, according to the ethical guidelines prescribed by the Oslo government, disqualifies DRD Gold from investments by Norwegian state entities. Decisions from the Fund's influential ethical council are very often taken over by private funds all over Europe, from time to time causing heavy divestment schemes.

The decision to ban DRD Gold was announced by Norway's Fiance Minister Kristin Halvorsen. "Excluding a company from the Fund is an expression of not wanting to contribute to grossly unethical practices," she said, adding that "DRD Gold causes severe environmental damages as a direct consequence of their mining operation at Tolokuma."

According to the Fund ethical council's assessment "the company's practice of riverine disposal is in breach of international norms, and the question may be raised whether the company violates national environmental regulations as well."

"The Council finds that the company for many years has been aware of the serious health and environmental damage its operations have caused, but despite this the company has failed to put any measures into effect aimed at reducing the damage," a statement said. "Considering the plans presented by the company regarding investments and production expansion, there is reason to believe that the company's unacceptable practice will continue in the future."

The decision to divest from the South African mining company was today welcomed by the Rainforest Foundation Norway, a group that has been campaigning against DRD Gold's actions in New Guinea for a long time, terming them a "mining genocide". Rune Paulsen of the foundation noted that DRD Gold "would not have gotten away with [these practices] in its home country," South Africa.

DRD Gold has yet to react officially on the divestment decisions taken by the Norwegian Finance Ministry. The company nevertheless claims that among its basic values is "engaging with and respecting ... people in the communities affected by our activities."

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