ESCR-Net Urges Dow Jones to Remove POSCO from Sustainability Index

ESCR-Net has written to Dow Jones & Co. and RobecoSAM to urge them to remove POSCO from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index due to POSCO not taking appropriate action to address serious human rights violations connected to their project in India. The letter follows the recent release of a detailed report by ESCR-Net and the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University which documents the many human rights concerns that are connected to POSCO-India’s operations in Odisha, which can be viewed here

The letter to the Dow Jones’ Chief Executive Officer, Lex Fenwick, and Chief Executive Officer of Dow Jones’ sustainability indices partner, RobecoSAM, Michael Baldinger has asked for them to initiate a Media & Stakeholder Review Process as the first step in the process of de-listing POSCO in their sustainability index. 

The letter highlights how the forced acquisition of land by the Government to make way for POSCO's steel plant, honouring POSCO's memorandum of understanding with the State of Odisha, would facilitate the illegal forced eviction and displacement of approximately 22,000 people from their land and destroy the livelihoods of many thousands more. 

The letter also documents how, since learning of the project, villagers have attempted to utilize recognized political and legal processes to raise their concerns.  However, these domestic legal procedures have been disregarded by the Government of India and POSCO, and the determined efforts of villagers to resist eviction and land confiscation have been met with excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extended blockades of villages, and police occupations of schools. ESCR-Net also documents in their letter how domestic law has been ignored in efforts to forcibly evict local people. According to India’s  Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA), those who have primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forest land for their livelihood needs for three generations (or 75 years prior to Decemember 2005) are given the legal right to “regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity that adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity.”  Claiming status under this Act, the project-affected villages must give their consent through a Gram Sabha (village-level council) resolution before any utilization of forest resources or any action that would endanger their cultural or natural heritage. No such resolution has been given by the villagers, therefore rendering any project related activities involving their land, including tree felling, to be illegal. This assertion is supported by a recent  Order (building on an  earlier ruling) of the National Green Tribunal, as well as a 2010 India government agency report from a team that visited the area, made up of officials from the ‘Ministry of Environment / Ministry of Tribal Affairs Committee on the Forest Rights Act’. The initial ruling of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) called for “a fresh review of the Project" due to multiple concerns with the original environmental impact assessment. 

Rather than approve the use of their land for the POSCO-India project, affected villages have explicitly and repeatedly denied their consent through resolutions in 2008, 2010 and 2012. In a  letter sent to ESCR-Net POSCO has disputed the claim that the 2012 resolution can be considered valid. However, even if these claims from the company can be supported, this does not alter the fact that any project activity that disturbs the land in question is illegal before these affected people pass a Gram Sabha resolution in favour of diverting their land for project use. 

The letter also covers the various human rights standards that POSCO is committed to upholding but is currently contravening in their operation in India. These include POSCO's own code of conduct, the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, the UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. 

The full text of the letter can be downloaded here