Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the World Development Movement


  1.  The World Development Movement (WDM) campaigns to tackle the root causes of poverty. With our partners around the world, we win positive change for the world's poorest people. We believe that charity is not enough. We lobby governments and companies to change policies that keep people poor. WDM is a democratic membership organisation of 15,000 individuals and 70 local groups.

  2.  We welcome the Joint Committee on Human Rights decision to hold an inquiry business and human rights. The terms of reference for the inquiry raise many issues of importance. This consultation response focuses on the specific case of the proposed Phulbari open-cast coal mine project in Bangladesh, by UK company Global Coal Management Resources (GCM). We believe that this case highlights the need for an independent body to be established on a permanent basis to review and adjudicate on the human rights impacts of British corporations overseas.


  3.  The following example of the Phulbari open-cast coal mine in Bangladesh acts as an example of how the actions of a UK company can negatively impact upon the human rights of individuals within a host country. It also shows that there needs to be greater regulation of corporate activity by the UK government, rather than the government acting purely on behalf of UK business.

  4.  UK company Global Coal Management Resources (GCM) is seeking to develop an open-cast coal mine in Phulbari, north-west Bangladesh. If built the mine would take away the land of more than 40,000 people.1 GCM's resettlement plan says cash compensation would be given to the legal holders of land and houses, and other agricultural land users and sharecroppers would receive livelihood restoration grants for just two years.2 It is not clear how resettling affected families on land of equivalent size and quality can be achieved without adversely impacting on other agricultural communities. GCM's resettlement plan states; "the project will not directly acquire replacement cultivation land for displaced households, because this will simply transfer the impacts associated with the loss of land to households in host communities".3

  5.  Bangladesh is already one of the most densely populated countries in the world,4 with huge pressures on land. Rising sea-levels and increased flooding from climate change are and will make good quality land even scarcer. Atiq Rahman from the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, a lead author from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said that 35 million people could be displaced from Bangladesh coastal areas by 2050.5 In the face of climate change, it would be disastrous for local people to be displaced from the good quality land in Phulbari.

  6.  The Phulbari mine will be dewatered to its base. The Expert Committee report on the proposed mine, commissioned by the Bangladesh Government, estimates that the dewatering and relocation means the mine would affect a total of 220,000 people.6 The Expert Committee report also raises the likelihood that the mine would lead to acid mine drainage affecting water supplies and agriculture for large surrounding areas, and there are fears that the mine could lead to arsenic and other toxins being released into water supplies.

  7.  In August 2006, tens of thousands of people protested in the area against the mine and Asia Energy. Five people were killed after Bangladesh government troops opened-fire on the protest. The Expert Committee says there is a "high risk of social unrest and conflict" if the relocation of thousands of people is attempted, and: "The majority of the local community with whom the Committee exchanged views was against the Phulbari coal project."7 Forty-two community leaders from the Phulbari area have said: "we believe that this project will increase the poverty of the local population as well as cause environmental disaster."8

  8.  Under the Emergency Power Rules, declared by the military backed interim government on 11 January 2007, all major civil rights were suspended. Movement into and out of Phulbari has been restricted and there are regular reports about the inability of people within the project area to congregate or voice their opinions freely without repression.

  9.  The World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) is concerned that police and security forces may again employ violence to deal with public opposition to the Phulbari project.9 Over the past two years instances of public torture and death threats against project critics have been reported.10

  10.  Since the start of 2008, the Asian Development Bank, Barclays and RBS have all withdrawn from investing in the project. However, in a parliamentary answer in April 2008, Gareth Thomas, UK Minister for International Development and Minister for Business stated:

  11.  "We have provided support to Global Coal Management Resources PLC, through the British high commission in Dhaka. They have lobbied to ensure that the Government of Bangladesh take the company's interests into consideration and do not prohibit opencast mining. The British high commission will continue to remain in touch with the company and will represent their interests as appropriate. The Bangladeshi Caretaker Government's new draft coal policy leaves the way open for opencast mining in Bangladesh in the future."11

  12.  In a further parliamentary answer Gareth Thomas stated: "BERR officials have held regular discussions with officials from the Department for International Development on this subject, both in the UK and the British high commission in Dhaka."12

  13.  However, in an email to WDM, Bo Sundstrom, Head of Corporate Business for DfID in Bangladesh said: "DfID has not looked into the proposed Phulbari coal mine issues in detail, since other development partners such as the ADB and the World Bank lead on energy issues in supporting the Government of Bangladesh."13 It is worth noting that the Asian Development Bank cancelled its proposed project to fund GCM and the Phulbari mine in April 2008; the World Bank does not appear to have shown interest in funding the project.

  14.  Furthermore, in response to a freedom of information request from the World Development Movement, DfID said that it: "does not hold any information about the discussions"14 between BERR and DfID officials about the Phulbari mine, whether in the UK or Bangladesh. BERR have also told us that "No formal meetings have taken place between DfID and BERR on this subject."15

  15.  The Phulbari case raises two key issues:

    — A British company is pursuing a project overseas with large human rights implications and no scrutiny by authorities in the UK.

    — Moreover, the UK government has been lobbying in Bangladesh for the mine to go ahead, even though it has not investigated the implications of the mine for local people.

  16.  We believe that this case highlights the need for an independent body to be established on a permanent basis to review and adjudicate on the human rights impacts of British corporations overseas.


1  Asia Energy. (2006). Bangladesh: Phulbari Coal Project. Summary Environmental Impact Assessment prepared for the Asian Development Bank. August 2006.

2  International NGOs. (2008). Letter to the ADB Board of Directors concerning the Phulbari project. 11/01/08.

3  Asia Energy draft resettlement plan (2006). The draft resettlement plan was previously available on GCM's website. In late-2007 it was removed and the website notes that the revised resettlement plan would be disclosed in "early 2008". However, no updated resettlement plan has been made publicly available. The 2006 draft has been made publicly available on the website of the Bank Information Centre

4  The average population density is 1,042 people per square km, compared to 246 people per square km in the UK. Around Phulbari, an agricultural area, the population density is still 711 people per square km.

5  Rahman, A. (2007). Promoting equity and adaptation for developing countries. 23/11/07.

6  Expert Committee. (2006). Summary of the Report of the Expert Committee to Evaluate Feasibility Study Report and Scheme of Development of the Phulbari Coal Project.

7  Expert Committee. (2006). Summary of the Report of the Expert Committee to Evaluate Feasibility Study Report and Scheme of Development of the Phulbari Coal Project.

8  Phulbari Community Leaders. (2007). Letter to Asian Development Bank. 15/12/07.

9  OMCT. (2007). OMCT Action File: "Bangladesh: Risk of violent suppression of public opposition to the Phulbari coal mine project, Dinajpur District, Bangladesh", World Organisation Against Torture. 21/12/07.

10  "Threats to Anu Muhammad are threats to a peoples' movement", NewAge, 27.2.2008; "Arrest of Phulbari movement hero condemned", The Daily Star, 12 February 2007.

11  Thomas, G. (2008). Parliamentary answer to question from Lynne Jones MP. 28/04/08.

12  Thomas, G. (2008). Parliamentary answer to question from Lynne Jones MP. 15/07/08.

13  Sundstrom, B. (2008). Email to WDM. DfID. Dhaka. 29/07/08.

14  Simpson, E. (2008). Letter to WDM in response to Freedom of Information request F2008-182. DfID. East Kilbride. 15/08/08.

15  Modha, U. (2008). Letter to WDM in response to Freedom of Information request 08/0561. UK Trade and Investment. London. 23/09/08.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 16 December 2009