SOUTH COTABATO, June 25, 2013—A subsidiary of the Zug-based giant Xtrata group is threatening the basic human rights of indigenous peoples in a mining site in South Cotabato province in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) of the Glencore-Xtrata group plans to exploit Asia’s biggest copper and gold mine in the municipality of Tampakan despite vehement opposition from various quarters for its impact on the indigenous peoples community and the environment.

A study commissioned by three Swiss and German non-government organizations (NGOs) MISEREOR, the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All, and carried out by the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF), based at Duisburg-Essen University in Germany said that the Tampakan mining project threatens the lives of tens of thousands of people since SMI was showing “insufficient respect for the rights of the affected population.”

The 88-page report Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project, released last week, said that the SMI project would require the destruction of large pristine forests, pose a serious risk to the local water supply, and require the resettlement of approximately 5,000 indigenous people.

“About 5,000 indigenous people would be relocated and their traditional land destroyed. The mine would also threaten the water supply of tens of thousands of people,” Fr.  Joy Pelino, director of the Social Action Center of Marbel diocese said in a release.

The Tampakan mine is the biggest open pit copper and gold mines in Asia, comprising some 28,000 hectares of land. SMI is reportedly pouring US$5.9 billion to the project, which is estimated to yield 360,000 ounces of gold and 375,000 tons of copper per year. The mine is planned to go into operation in 2019.

“[The] human rights to self-determination of indigenous peoples, to food, water, health, life and physical integrity are at stake,” the report said, adding that SMI has contravened its obligation of due diligence. ”

According to Wikipedia, “due diligence may refer to the process of research and analysis that takes place in advance of an investment, takeover, or business partnership. The potential investor generally uses in-house resources or hires a consulting firm that specializes in due diligence and corporate investigations to investigate the background and principals of the target company. A due diligence assignment generally includes reviewing press and SEC filings, checking for regulatory and licensing problems, identifying liens and judgments, and uncovering civil and criminal litigation matters. Sophisticated investigators will also search for conflicts of interest, insider trading and press and public records that identify problems that may have occurred under the principal’s watch.”

But due diligence is voluntary.

Bread for All General Secretary Beat Dietschy stressed in a release that the Tampakan example shows that voluntary standards alone are not enough.

MISEREOR, Lenten Fund and Bread for All, through the report, called on SMI and the Aquino administration to “enter into an honest dialogue with the people concerned – that could even lead to dropping the project.”

They also urged the Swiss federal government to take action and introduce binding standards for Swiss companies over human rights.

“Swiss companies have to respect all human rights, all over the world,” Dietschy said.

Dietschy also said that the Swiss federal government must take action and lead the campaign for rights without borders even as he urged for legislation so that due diligence becomes a binding standard for corporations.

Lenten Fund human rights expert Daniel Hostettler said in a statement that “a mix of government failure, a poor and marginalized population, and armed conflicts are the worst possible preconditions for operating an open-cast mine of these dimensions.”

Development policy expert of MISEREOR, Elisabeth Strohscheidt, stressed that “the rights of the indigenous population to freely decide on the operating of mining projects in their territory must be respected.”

Glencore-Xstrata owns, through its Australian Xstrata subsidiary, XstrataCopper, 62.5 percent of SMI.

The Tampakan project is still in the exploration stage “but already, it appears to be dividing communities and people. Con?ict is escalating, even within families. Military and paramilitary groups are being sent to the region to protect foreign investment. The con?ict is becoming more violent and has already cost lives – on both sides,” the report said.

The report noted that investment and business activities are needed by countries to develop. But it stressed that business “must…guarantee [  ] that economic development primarily bene?ts the population, not just a few companies, a small elite within the country and consumers from industrialized countries.”

The report also said that the Philippine government, private companies such as Xtrata and a number of NGOs in the Philippines have endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which con?rm the duty of states to protect people from human rights abuses, including by private actors. They also underline, among others, the responsibility of private companies themselves to respect human rights in all activities along their supply chain.

One of the tools the Principles recommended is the conduct of a comprehensive Human Rights Impact Assessment.

“However, neither the Philippine government nor the companies involved have so far undertaken such an assessment,” the report lamented.

The report also lamented that in the Philippines, “human rights defenders are easily criminalized, threatened or even extrajudicially executed, in particular when they are engaged in a struggle for land rights and against large-scale investments or powerful landlords.” (Bong D. Fabe)