Fortescue (ASX:FMG) rejects ban on blowing up cultural sites

Iron ore company, Fortescue, declines to put shareholder advocacy group’s proposal on the agenda for its AGM on 11 November.

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A shareholder group has complained that Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG) has rejected its resolution to ban desecration of cultural sites.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) resolution came after the controversy arising from Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) blowing up Juukan Gorge in May.

Rio Tinto, after shareholder pressure, let go of three senior executives last week, including its chief Jean-Sébastien Jacques. 

Investor advocacy body ACCR has since widened the call for better protection of historically significant sites to other mining companies.

One of its actions was to submit a resolution for Fortescue’s coming annual general meeting. It called for a ban on damage to culturally significant locations.

But Fortescue this week declined to put it on the agenda for the 11 November meeting, citing the physical submission missed the deadline.

ACCR is furious at the rejection, saying the electronic document was received by the company well before the cut-off. The physical mail was delayed due to COVID-related delivery issues.

“Given that FMG briefed external lawyers when the documents arrived electronically, they suffered no prejudice by the short delay in receiving the physical documents,” said ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien.

“That FMG is using the pandemic to their advantage is reprehensible. That they are doing this to avoid shareholder scrutiny of their relationships with Aboriginal traditional owners begs the question: What are they hiding?”

Rejection on a ‘minor technicality’

The physical documents were sent express to arrive at Fortescue well on time, but courier TNT notified on the deadline afternoon that the parcel was delayed.

ACCR says it immediately notified Fortescue of the delay and the package arrived the next morning.

“That FMG has knocked this resolution back on a minor technicality — especially after the international investor outrage heaped on Rio — calls into doubt its interest in dealing with the important issues raised by its shareholders and indeed Aboriginal traditional owners,” O’Brien said.

“FMG’s major competitor and peer, BHP, saw it fit to accept electronic documentation during the pandemic.”

Fortescue stated that the moratorium was proposed by people “unfamiliar with the West Australian mining industry”.

“It would disempower local Aboriginal people in the Pilbara and limit the positive contribution the mining industry is making to the state and national economies, at a time when it is needed most.”

The company added that it has already collaborated with Indigenous communities to “avoid and protect” almost 6,000 heritage locations.

“Fortescue does not have heritage ‘gag order’ clauses in its agreements and Aboriginal groups are free and open to disagree and publicly voice their concerns,” the statement read.

“Fortescue supports the modernisation of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, and has called for an increased voice for Aboriginal people in the process and equitable right of appeal to all parties in the heritage process.”

The iron ore company stated if ACCR’s resolution was deemed eligible, it would be put up at the next company meeting.

The Fortescue share price was down 0.73% at 2:35pm AEST, to trade at $17.57. It has risen 63% since the start of the year.

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