Rio Tinto, Bougainville Community Residents To Assess Legacy Impacts Of Panguna Mine

Rio Tinto and Bougainville community members, represented by the Human Rights Law Centre, have reached an agreement to identify and assess legacy impacts of the former Panguna copper mine in Bougainville.

A joint committee of stakeholders will be formed to oversee a detailed independent assessment of the Panguna mine to identify and better understand actual and potential environmental and human rights impacts of the mine which ceased operating in 1989, Rio Tinto said.

The Panguna mine was operated by ASX-listed Bougainville Copper Limited BCL, majority owned by Rio Tinto, for 17 years from 1972 until 1989, when operations were suspended due to an uprising against the mine and subsequent civil war.

A peace agreement was signed in 2001 and Bougainville was given autonomy within PNG, with a non-binding referendum in favour of independence held in 2019.

Rio Tinto transferred its 53.83 per cent majority shareholding in BCL to the ABG and the PNG Government in 2016 for no consideration, enabling ABG and PNG to hold an equal share in BCL of 36.4 per cent each. BCL is an ASX listed company with the remaining 27.2 per cent held by public and institutional investors. Rio Tinto holds no shares in BCL.

In September 2020, the HRLC, representing 156 residents of villages in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, filed a complaint with the Australian OECD National Contact Point against Rio Tinto. The complaint alleged that Rio Tinto is accountable for significant breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises relating to past and ongoing environmental and human rights impacts allegedly arising from the Panguna mine.

The complaint also alleged that, notwithstanding its divestment, Rio Tinto is accountable for remediating these ongoing impacts as it has an ongoing obligation to provide for or cooperate in remediation where it identifies it has caused or contributed to harm.

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