Kate Hoshour, International Accountability Project, Senior Research Fellow
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A letter signed by over 80 civil society organizations worldwide was sent to Polo Resources and other investors today, calling on them to withdraw their support of the proposed Phulbari Coal Project in Bangladesh.
The letter is signed by leading human rights and environmental organizations based in 25 countries, and identifies a wide range of serious human rights violations and environmental risks associated with the project.
The Phulbari Coal Project is controlled by Global Coal Management Resources plc (GCM), a London-based company, and is the company's principal asset.
GCM's controversial Phulbari Coal Project faces massive opposition in northwest Bangladesh, where it threatens to bulldoze the lands of tens of thousands of mostly farming and indigenous households for whom land is a source of food and a means of survival.
Said one women interviewed in Phulbari, "We don't want the mine. Then where will we, the people, go? What will we eat? If the government wants to set up the mine then our children will die."
Polo Resources, which currently holds nearly one-third (29.81%) of all GCM shares, is one of the largest investors in the controversial mining project.
The civil society letter sent out to Polo and other investors calling on them to disinvest in GCM is being circulated two days before Polo's annual general meeting, to be held in Bermuda on Friday, October 21, 2011, with the aim of alerting investors to the highly risky nature of Polo's investment in the Phulbari project.
Polo is already facing challenges in maintaining the confidence of its investors: Since mid-August of this year, Polo has been struggling to recover from the fall of its share price by over 20%. Just last month, Polo announced that it was instructing advisers to evaluate strategic options for its stake in GCM, thereby setting off rumors that Polo had grown weary of waiting for a return on its investment in GCM and was preparing to dispose of its holding.
A major source of the delay on the project has been controversy over the project impacts in Bangladesh:
"This is the largest grassroots resistance to a single project that I have seen in my career-and for good reason," notes Joanna Levitt, Executive Director of International Accountability Project (IAP), a human rights group that has been following the case since 2008.
"The project would destroy 14,500 acres of fertile farmland, in a region that now serves as the rice bowl for the Bangladesh, a country in which nearly half of all people currently do not have enough to eat," Levitt notes.
"The communities in the Phulbari region have made it very clear that they are willing to risk their lives to stop this project," Levitt added.
The same sentiment was echoed by Anu Muhammad, Professor of Economics at Bangladesh's Jahangirnagar University, speaking from his home in Dhaka today.
"People of Phulbari and in the neighboring village of Barapukuria are in high spirits. They are ready to die to oppose this project, and will never allow open pit in their area."
The people the project would displace are at least 2,200 Indigenous people, according to Cultural Survival, a Boston-based human right organization.
"To them the mine means ethnocide," says Paula Palmer, who recently launched an international campaign to halt the project as Director of Cultural Survival's Global Response Program.
Efforts to push forward the coalmine despite strong opposition have resulted in bloodshed. In August of 2006, paramilitary forces opened fire on as many as 70,000 people demonstrating against the project in Phulbari, killing three people and injuring more then 100.
Human right organizations have repeatedly expressed concern about a high risk of further violence against people fighting the mine. Despite the risks, resistance to the project appears to be growing, with huge protests involving as many as 100,000 people continuing over the past six years.