You don’t have to dig deep to avoid investing in companies that degrade the planet or displace indigenous people, says Lucy Siegle.
Despite frequent “assurances” of more self-regulatory initiatives than you could use to fill a redundant deep-cast gold mine, the resource-extraction industries continue to represent an epic blot on the landscape. And humankind largely continues to turn a blind eye to a charge sheet that includes dispossession of local inhabitants from their land, the degradation of soil and water, and the loss of biodiversity.
The irreversible loss of “genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats” is said by the great biologist Edward Wilson to be “the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us for”.
Well, here’s another folly to give that a run for its money: the Tar Sands oil extraction project. The pipeline begins in Alberta, Canada, and the project will cover an area the size of Florida where oil will be squeezed out of sand. Commentators label this “economically and ecologically insane” given that one barrel of tar sands oil requires between two and 4.5 barrels of water, and creates two barrels of toxic waste. Ethical Consumer has produced a list of high street brands including Superdrug, Nouvelle toilet roll and the 3 Mobile network with investment connections to this that it suggests you might like to boycott.
We are each responsible for some 6.5 tonnes of extracted materials a year, but not all mining projects lend themselves to a consumer boycott. You’d be hard pressed to locate the exact bauxite mine that provided a particular soft drinks can, for example. But this needn’t quell our outrage at the latest venture of one of Britain’s biggest companies, Vedanta Resources, listed on the FTSE 100, poised to mine for bauxite on the sacred Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, eastern India, which will – according to NGOs such as Action Aid and Survival International – displace the Dongria Kondh, one of India’s most isolated tribes, from its ancestral homeland.
In fact, if this is where your investment lies, Survival International wants you to divest – this is known as doing a Norway, following the Norwegian government which, along with independent fund manager Martin Currie, recently shed its Vedanta shares. Middlesbrough council and the Church of England pension fund (in which some £2.5m is tied up) have so far declined to give up theirs.
Ethical funds such as Jupiter Ecology (jupiteronline.co.uk) screen out mining from the beginning, as well as tobacco and arms trading, but a few activists maintain that we should actually invest in “vice” shares and heckle from within, preferably at the AGM. And we’re now at a stage when interest groups such as the UK Shareholders’ Association (uksa.org.uk) are putting paid to the idea of silent shareholders by vociferously standing up for members during financial panics such as the Northern Rock saga. These are resources that could be mined.