Monthly Archives: December 2019

Bougainville voted yes to becoming the world’s newest nation. Now begins the gold rush

PHOTO: The people of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence. (ABC)

Natalie Whiting | ABC News | December 14 2019

A ceremony to announce the results of Bougainville’s historic referendum opened with a chorus of the Bougainville anthem. When the overwhelming result for independence was handed down, people spontaneously started singing it again.

It was a clear sign of the separate identity that Bougainvilleans have long maintained. The thumping result for splitting from PNG was an even clearer sign.

But the path to potential nationhood remains complex and far from guaranteed, despite the mandate from an almost 98 per cent vote of support offers.

The end of the referendum not only starts another political process, but it will also turn eyes back to a massive open-cut mine that has been sitting, waiting in the mountains since the 1980s.

PHOTO: The Panguna mine hasn’t produced a pound of metal in 30 years.

As Bougainville looks for a way forward politically, it also needs to look at economic options.

That’s something Papua New Guinea is keen for it to focus on as it grapples with how to respond to the vote.

PNG is known as the land of a thousand tribes and many in the Government are worried about keeping the rest of the country united if Bougainville leaves.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has offered economic control but stopped well short of committing to independence for Bougainville.

Economically, the most obvious income stream for the resource-rich area is mining, but that would involve revisiting the issues that started the bloody conflict in the region.

Landowners at the site of the Panguna gold and copper mine, where the violence first broke out, say they are ready to see it reopen in the wake of the referendum.

Up to 20,000 people died in the secessionist conflict that followed, before the peace agreement which guaranteed the vote brought it to an end.

PHOTO: A small settlement has been built at the bottom of the Panguna mine. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Several companies are already circling, keen to make a move now that the vote is over.

Whether they have the capital and the ability to reopen it peacefully remains to be seen.

PNG Prime Minister offers Bougainville economic control

PHOTO: PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape was welcomed at the airport with a guard of honour from police and a traditional sing sing group. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

As the referendum ballots were being counted in Bougainville’s capital Buka, speculation about the movements of Mr Marape were swirling.

Initial indications that Mr Marape would be coming to Buka for the announcement were replaced by rumours of him instead going to Panguna in the days after the result.

In the end his visit was moved to the town of Arawa, near the mine. But Panguna and building Bougainville’s economy featured throughout his speech.

Thousands of people gathered in the middle of town to hear him speak. The people even wanted to carry him to the stage on a specially built chair, an offer he graciously refused.

PHOTO: Thousands turned out to hear Mr Marape speak in Arawa during his first visit after the referendum. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Mr Marape has been seen as being more supportive of the referendum than previous leaders, but PNG has nevertheless made no secret of the fact it wants Bougainville to remain a part of the country.

The independence vote is non-binding, and amid the celebrations of the result, PNG has been quick to remind people that years of discussions between the two parties will follow and a negotiated outcome will then be presented to PNG’s parliament.

In the lead-up to the referendum, Mr Marape had been discussing a “third option” beyond independence and greater autonomy which the people were asked to choose between — what he called “economic independence”.

His speech was in a similar vein, focussing on economic development and self-determination, but avoiding mention of independence.

He presented a cheque worth 50 million kina ($21 million), promised another 100 million kina ($42 million) next year and control over income generated in Bougainville, including tax powers.

“The only thing I will ask you, is that I will look after the border and both of our flags must fly until we reach the conclusion of this process,” he told the crowd.

Certainly, Bougainville is currently in no position to support itself and the call to focus on building the economy is warranted. But Mr Marape wouldn’t be drawn on whether he could envisage independence for Bougainville.

“That’s something for the future. I can’t pre-empt the outcome of the consultations that will take place,” he told the ABC.

PHOTO: Bougainville President John Momis heads to the polls on referendum day. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

After such a comprehensive vote, there may be little appetite in Bougainville to accept something less than full independence.

But for the moment his speech was well received by the crowd, and Bougainville’s President is confident of productive discussions going forward.

The greatest expectation from Bougainvilleans after the referendum is for change — people want improved services and infrastructure. Both governments will need to make that a priority and it will require funding.

Landowners split over who should reopen mine

PHOTO: The disused mine has divided locals, some of whom have blocked access to the site over the years. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

In the base of the massive open pit of the Panguna gold and copper mine, a small settlement has been built and people work digging up gold that remains buried there.

It’s thought there is still $84 billion worth of copper and gold in the site, but re-establishing operations would likely take a decade and billions of dollars.

Keeping the mine closed has been seen as part of maintaining peace ahead of the referendum.

PHOTO: People dig for gold at the base of the Panguna gold and copper mine. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

The local landowners now largely want to see it open, however, a split is already forming over which company should be brought in.

The most prominent landowner group is backing Australian company RTG, but there is another group of landowners who want to see the original company, Bougainville Copper Limited, brought back. The Bougainville Government has supported a third company, Caballus, which is also Australian.

That, combined with the ongoing political discussions, could create an uncertain investment landscape.

Mr Marape has said the PNG Government’s 39 per cent stake in Bougainville Copper Limited will be given to Bougainville, but he urged people to look at other industries as well, like agriculture.

It’s not just Panguna that has been attracting attention — landowners say they’ve received visits from other companies, some from Australia and some from China, interested in looking at other greenfield sites in the region.

Australia could face difficult diplomatic waters

The current geopolitical climate in the pacific — where China and the west are seen to be in a battle for influence — has thrown another filter on the vote.

Much has been made of possible offers from China to help Bougainville develop if it is a fledgling country.

However, Bougainville President John Momis has said there have been no offers from the Chinese Government and it was unclear if money being offered by companies, including some said to be interested in Panguna, would actually materialise.

PHOTO: The Panguna gold and copper mine sparked a war that killed 20,000 people. (Reuters: Trevor Hammond)

He said: “These are complex issues, which we’re not going to deal with right away.”

The geopolitical and diplomatic complexities of either a new nation in the region, or of a disagreement between PNG and Bougainville during the upcoming negotiations, is undeniable.

Nowhere will that be felt more keenly than in Australia, which is a key financial and development supporter of both.

Already a key former combatant from the crisis is calling for the international community to “ask PNG to accept the reality and let Bougainville go”.

PNG’s Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Puka Temu has urged the international community “not to interfere in the consultation phase”.

“What we want is to achieve an outcome like what we did 18 years ago, that is a joint creation — the Bougainville Peace Agreement was a joint creation,” he said.

In a statement, Australia’s Foreign Minister has passed on congratulations for the vote and says Australia “looks forward to continued productive engagement” between the two governments.

PHOTO: Flags were proudly flown around the region when the people of Bougainville overwhelmingly voted yes to independence. (Reuters: Melvin Levongo)

But as the cobalt blue of Bougainville’s flags flickers from buildings and cars across the region in the wake of the vote, credit must be given to both it and PNG for almost 20 years of peace and an incredibly well-run referendum.

Hopefully, the next phase will be as successful.

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Filed under Bougainville, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

An independent Bougainville could mean Panguna’s rebirth, a mine with a Grasberg scale potential

BCL via International Mining | 11 December 2019

Talk to any Australasian mining manager “over a certain age” and it is likely they or one of their compatriots from mining school spent some halcyon days working at the Panguna copper-gold mine in Bougainville, which in its heyday was one of the largest mines in the world, and on paper still is in terms of potential. Tales of high salaries, escapades during time off in Rabaul…you get the picture. After the deposit was discovered in the 1960s, the open pit mine in Panguna was opened by in 1972 by Bougainville Copper Ltd, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, through its Melbourne arm Conzinc Rio Tinto, opened in 1972, with Rio only selling its BCL stake in 2016.

Back to the 1970s and Panguna soon provided 44% of Papua New Guinea’s export income and in the 17 years prior to 1989, the mine produced concentrate containing 3 Mt of copper, 306 t of gold and 784 t of silver. But it all came to an end in 1989 when production abruptly halted following separatist militant activity by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighting against the PNG army, mainly over issues caused by a large influx of PNG migrants that did not sit well with Bougainvillians.

And much of the equipment is still there, overgrown by tropical jungle and unused. Bougainville Copper also trained some 12,000 employees, including approximately 1,000 completing full trade apprenticeships and some 400 completing graduate and post-graduate studies that resulted in considerable progress in the localisation of the company’s employees and significantly added to the number of skilled workers elsewhere in the country’s workforce.  

On 1 July 2016, BCL’s major shareholder, Rio Tinto, transferred its 53.8% shareholding for distribution to the Autonomous Bougainville Government, for the benefit of Panguna landowners and the people of Bougainville, and to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. 

Fast forward to December 2019 and an independence vote by the people of Bougainville (98% in favour) means the likelihood of Panguna mine returning to production, and joining the likes of Grasberg, Lihir, Porgera and OK Tedi in the region’s hugely important mining industry, have just got much higher. The referendum was approved by the Papua New Guinea government, but the result is non-binding. That said, it puts a lot of international pressure on PNG to grant Bougainville independence. The islands have a population of around 300,000, and 206,731 people enrolled to vote in the referendum.

Panguna is the single obvious route to a vast and relatively quick revenue source for any new sovereign nation of Bougainville. BCL is already majority owned by the people of PNG and Bougainville. And it would come at a good time mining wise, as it would be in a position to use the latest technologies available to maximise productivity and efficiency from automation to digitalisation, though this would have to be balanced with supplying large numbers of badly needed skilled jobs in the country. And of course the mine could support a vast industry of other businesses that come with mining from catering to cleaning to logistics to accommodation, which all where possible should be locally owned.

BCL’s task has been made more challenging with a decision in January 2018 by the Autonomous Bougainville Government not to grant an extension of the company’s exploration licence (EL1) – which Bougainville Copper believes was legally and procedurally flawed. This decision is subject to an ongoing Judicial Review in the PNG National Court.

Regardless, the company believes BCL presents the best value proposition to redevelop Panguna – particularly given the strong majority ownership stake that the people of PNG and Bougainville have in the company – and continues to work towards this eventuality.

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Saving the Sepik from Frieda mine

Rosa Koian | PNG Attitude | 10 December 2019

A photo posted on Facebook showing dried freshwater fish at Wewak market has sparked a discussion on the future of the Sepik River.

In the river’s headwaters, the Frieda copper and gold mine is pushing ahead with its development plans.

The Sepik is 1,100km long and empties into the Bismarck Sea. The river system’s 430,000 people use the river for food, education, transport, health and culture.

What they want is a truly holistic economic approach to development.

They believe that development must add value, not subtract from the people’s lives. Their river must be protected at all costs.

There was a strong response on Facebook from people wanting to ban the mine, the main argument being that mining will take away the people’s livelihoods.

“Sepik has always been sustaining us,” said Brian Singut. While another comment from Howard Sindana said, “It is our food source and supermarket. Sepik just gives.”

The East and West Sepik provincial governments are preparing to launch their biggest copper and gold mine but the people’s concerns are yet to be heard.

The people have many reasons to save this river, one of the richest, largest and last remaining unspoiled rivers in the Pacific.

In the Sepik river system, humans and nature have happily co-existed to this day.

As one commentator said: “It is a rich cultural and ecological storehouse; rich in stories of how a myriad of species and beings can exist in the same space without competition and hurting each other.”

The art and stories from the Sepik are unique. At the centre of them are the pukpuk and the hausman, depicting so much of the region’s culture and history.

Its strength, its sources of knowledge and wisdom, the artistic expression of the human and spiritual worlds, and always the promise of sustenance long into the future.

Until the present day western influences have intruded but slowly but now fears of fast moving change are real.

In the Sepik wetlands, crocodile farmers have reported earnings of more than K300,000 to their families in 2018.

The Sepik River provides food, game, material for handicrafts – all securing income for these people who know what it is to live at ease with nature.

Environmental groups have documented various flora and fauna and say the Sepik River and its basin is the second richest biodiversity region in Papua New Guinea.

The Upper Sepik is currently on the list to be recognised as a world heritage site.

Other people are concerned about the environment impact statement for the Frieda project.

In this very long document, they say, there is no clear mention of the direct impacts of mining and the appropriate mitigation measures in place if something goes wrong.

And three other large projects have been lumped into the same environment impact statement. The document is currently being reviewed.

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Marape-Steven Govt Plans to Process Gold in PNG

NBC News / PNG Today | December 9, 2019

The Papua New Guinea  government says it plans to establish a Gold Bullion Bank in the country to allow downstream processing of gold.

The establishment of such a bank is an agenda of the government, and policy directives were recently issued for its development.

According to Mining Minister, Johnson Tuke, after its construction, the Gold Bullion Bank, will store and build up a stockpile of gold bullions for the future generation.

Minister Tuke told the recent Mining and Petroleum Conference that the revised Mining Act 2019, will allow for a portion of the government’s share to be processed either locally or overseas.

Mr. Tuke said this government portion will then be retained in the proposed Gold Bullion Bank after processing.

He said it is a standard provision in all mining development contracts that one-third of all Gold products are to be processed and stored locally, provided that there is a refinery of international standards.

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RTG Mining inks deal for Mt Kare gold project in Papua New Guinea

RTG Mining has signed a deal to potentially acquire a majority stake in Papua New Guinea’s controversial Mt Kare gold project.

Lorna Nicholas | Small Caps | December 10, 2019

RTG Mining has inked a deal in the hopes of acquiring an 80% stake in the historic 2.1 million-ounce Mt Kare gold deposit in Papua New Guinea.

The junior explorer today announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Canada’s GMG Global Mining Group and Tribune Mt Kare, the two priority applicants for the project.

Under the deal, RTG will acquire the majority interest if and when the applications are converted into a new exploration licence.

RTG said the terms of the agreement equate to a purchase price of about US$8.80 per ounce of gold in total historical mineral resource.

The total resource estimate currently stands at 2.1Moz, including 1.2Moz of measured gold resources and 900,000oz of indicated and inferred resources, valuing the deal at about US$18.48 million (A$27.06 million).

An additional payment of US$2.40 per ounce of gold in historical mineral resource is payable upon a decision to mine.

Mt Kare project

Mt Kare is located about 600km northwest of Port Moresby in PNG’s Enga Province. It lies 15km southwest of Barrick Gold’s Porgera gold mine, the country’s second largest mine and considered to be one of the world’s top 10 producing gold mines.

Gold was first discovered at Mt Kare in the 1980s and it is estimated that more than A$60 million has been spent on the area by several companies, including 454 diamond drill holes totalling almost 74,000m.

Delisted ASX company Indochine Mining had acquired the project in 2011 and announced the 2.1Moz historical mineral resource estimate in 2013. However, the company was placed into voluntary administration in 2015 and the exploration licence, which expired in 2014, was not renewed.

In 2017, the PNG Mineral Resource Authority confirmed GMG had priority over the exploration licence application, but this was challenged by Tribune in the courts. The two parties ended up settling their disputes and agreeing to work together.

RTG said it would focus exploration on the depth potential of the deposit, with Mt Kare being situated on the same north-east trending structure as the Porgera mine with similar geology including the same host rocks, mineralisation types and age, and similar geological structures.

The area recently came into the spotlight in July when French news agency AFP reported on an alleged link between the control of Mt Kare and a PNG tribal massacre. However, this connection appeared unclear and Indochine reportedly told media it was no more than “speculation”.

Other gold projects

RTG also has a proposal with a landowner lead consortium to secure an exploration licence at the high-tonnage Panguna copper-gold project on PNG’s island of Bougainville.

The company’s other projects include a 40% stake in the Mabilo copper-gold-magnetite project in the Philippines and during the September quarter, RTG entered into a sale and purchase agreement with White Cliff Minerals  to acquire its 90% stake in the Chanach gold-copper project in the Kyrgyz Republic.

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Solomon Islands: Minister should meet directly with local communities over mining concerns

Amnesty International | 9 December 2019

The Solomon Islands Minister of the Environment should conduct face-to-face consultations with local communities on Wagina Island to hear their concerns before deciding the fate of a proposed open-cast bauxite mine there, Amnesty International said today.

The Minister is expected to decide soon whether to uphold a March 2019 Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) decision that overturned the mining licence, after residents raised fears it could impact livelihoods on the island.

“The Solomon Islands government must ensure that all affected communities are genuinely and meaningfully consulted about this proposal,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and Environment at Amnesty International.

“The Minister should sit down with local communities on Wagina Island and hear their concerns.”

Wagina Island is a remote island of approximately 80 km2 in north-west Choiseul Province. Its residents are originally from Kiribati, having been relocated in the early 1960s by the British colonial administration. Estimated at around 2,000 people, they live by subsistence farming, fishing and seaweed farming.

In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment granted a Solomon Islands-registered company, Solomon Bauxite Limited (SBL), a permit to mine bauxite on Wagina Island. The following year, Wagina residents opposed the mine in the country’s High Court, which issued a stay of proceedings so that the case could be heard by the EAC.

In March 2019, the EAC overturned the Ministry of Environment’s consent for the mine. The EAC found that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed mine – which is required under national law – had insufficient information to assess the impacts of the proposed mine, and that the legislative procedures for public consultation and publication of the EIS were not followed.

SBL has appealed the EAC’s decision to the Minister of the Environment. In meetings and correspondence with Amnesty International, the company has stressed that it has always complied with the laws applicable to its operations and has acknowledged the importance of upholding human rights.

Amnesty International visited Wagina Island in July 2019 and interviewed a dozen islanders about their concerns, as well as 10 others familiar with the issue, including representatives of national and provincial governments, civil society organizations, journalists and lawyers. The organization also reviewed background documents, including meeting minutes and a copy of the 2012 EIS and its 2013 supplement.

“There is much apprehension about the potential environmental and social impacts of this mine and many community members told Amnesty International they did not feel sufficiently informed or consulted about it,” said Richard Pearshouse.

Some residents of Kukson and Nikamuroo villages and Benyamina islet told Amnesty International that they are concerned about the possible impacts from mining on fishing and sea-weed farming from mine run-off or disturbances to fresh groundwater discharges into the sea.

The EIS states that: “The [residents of Wagina] do not currently use either the mine or the processing facility sites for any productive purpose.” However, some residents told Amnesty International they use some of the land covered by the proposed mine for purposes including gardening and harvesting timber for housing.

“The government of the Solomon Islands needs to resolve the issues of land ownership and use on this part of Wagina. Taking away land that people occupy and use without following due legal process runs the risk of forced evictions,” said Richard Pearshouse.

According to the EIS, the development will include an open pit mine, a bulk carrier wharf and small boat wharf, airstrip, administration offices, a power station, fuel farm, and accommodation for about 150 employees (who with family members may reach 1,000 people). The proposed mining involves trucking approximately 150 truckloads of bauxite, each with a 35 to 50 tonne payload, for 16 hours each day. The proposed life of the mine is between 16 and 20 years.

A consultation meeting on the proposed mine was held in Kukson village in February 2013. Official government minutes from that meeting show only 23 villagers attended and that no-one attended from Nikamuroo (the village closest to the proposed mine). The EAC found deficiencies in the process of raising public awareness about this consultation meeting and the application for a licence.
Wagina residents told Amnesty International that four copies of the 2012 EIS were sent to the Island after the February 2013 consultation meeting. The 2012 EIS was supplemented by another EIS in June 2013, approximately four months after the meeting in Kukson. According to Amnesty International’s interviews with residents of Wagina, no consultation meetings took place to discuss this new information.

“The absence of full, accurate and timely information and the lack of any follow-up on questions raised by those who were able to attend the one consultation meeting, raises concerns about whether the engagement with affected communities can be considered genuine or meaningful,” said Richard Pearshouse.

The Minister’s review should include checking the date of any meetings with affected communities, where the meetings took place, whether all sections of the community – including women and those who cannot read – could participate effectively, what language meetings were held in, what advance notice and information was given, and what specific issues were discussed.

Governments have a duty to respect and protect human rights in the context of business activities. All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations, independently of a state’s own human rights obligations. To meet this responsibility, companies should have in place an ongoing and proactive human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights. This may require going beyond the legal requirements in the country where they are operating.

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Shining a light on corporate human rights abuses in the Pacific

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Amy Sinclair introduces a new portal that focuses attention on a resource-rich area remote from the rest of the world

Amy Sinclair | Ethical Corp | December 9, 2019

In recent months, damaging spills caused by foreign miners operating in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have wreaked havoc with the safety and livelihoods of coastal communities.

At the same time, with the independence referendum under way in the Bougainville region of Papua New Guinea, mining companies are jostling for new licenses. This is in a region where tensions over the infamous Panguna mine sparked a bloody decade-long civil war in the 1990s. Memories fade fast, particularly when there are profits to be made.

The Pacific region is intensely resource-rich, but with great distances separating Pacific nations – not only from one another, but also from much of the rest of the world – human rights abuses by companies have too often occurred in the shadows.

Mining companies are seeking licences amid Bougainville’s referendum for independence. (Credit: Melvin Levongo/Reuters)

With inward-investment growing, Pacific communities face increasing challenges to fair and informed engagement and run the risk of exposure to higher levels of abuse and environmental harm by global companies. This is particularly true for those on the frontline of deforestation, irresponsible mining, fishing, tourism and seabed exploitation.

Local activists and communities fighting these abuses are hindered by being far away from foreign company headquarters located in Canada, Australia or China. Distances may be great, but Pacific voices deserve to be heard. With greater visibility on global platforms, communities and advocates can be supported in their efforts to achieve stable, sustainable growth that will protect future generations.

The need for this increased visibility is great. Business-related human rights harms in the Pacific are, increasingly, being documented. Yet severe human rights abuses, including forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour, persist.

In June, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) published a report on modern slavery in the Pacific tuna sector, which provides almost 60% of the world’s tuna catch in a growing industry currently worth $22 billion. The report surveyed 35 canned tuna companies and supermarkets, representing 80 of the world’s largest retail canned tuna brands, and found that, outside a small cluster of leading companies, the sector is not translating human rights policies into practice. Without urgent and decisive action in the Pacific fishing sector, and by those sourcing from it, there is a danger that company policy will provide a fig-leaf for abuse, while slavery continues unabated.

Deep-dives such as this yield invaluable insights into sector-specific questions, but more is required. There is a pressing need to raise awareness of the human rights responsibilities of companies operating in all sectors in the Pacific, and to bring to light the true nature and scale of human rights abuses being committed across the region.

The Solomon Islands, and Fiji in particular, are experiencing high levels of mining activity, and there is a danger that the mistakes of the past – seen in Papua New Guinea with the abuses and environmental degradation at Panguna, Ok Tedi and Porgera – will be replicated there and beyond. Community consultation must form the cornerstone of human rights due diligence by companies seeking to invest in the region, and profits should be fairly shared.

The Pacific tuna sector provides almost 60% of the world’s tuna catch and is worth $22bn. (Credit: Erik de Castro/Reuters)

 Fortunately, a nascent business and human rights movement is emerging in the Pacific. The first-ever dedicated Pacific session, Advancing the Business and Human Rights Agenda in the Pacific, was held during the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva last month, a testament to the progress that has been made in the region recently.

To support and chart the growth of this emerging movement, BHRRC has launched a new web portal dedicated to the region. The Pacific portal brings the broad range of local business and human rights issues into sharper focus and amplifies local and community voices.

It’s hoped the portal will be a crucial tool for human rights and environmental rights advocates, both in civil society and in businesses themselves, seeking to prevent abuse and improve company human rights practices in the region. It will do this by highlighting research on key issues, identifying allegations of business-related abuse and calling attention to emerging cases.

Stability in the Pacific region requires urgent action to ensure human rights are embedded in investments from inception. Without regard for international rules requiring respect for human rights in business, the sustainability of life in the Pacific for future generations is under threat.

Efforts like this web portal are needed to shine a light into the shadows and improve awareness of Pacific business and human rights issues on the global stage.

To visit BHRRC’s Pacific portal click here: Pacific Business & Human Rights

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