Forest Canopy

Update on the Panguna Mine

Rio Tinto and Bougainville community residents reach agreement to assess legacy impacts of Panguna mine

On 21 July 2021, Rio Tinto and Bougainville community members, represented by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), announced they had reached an agreement to identify and assess legacy impacts of the former Panguna copper mine in Bougainville. This follows several months of constructive discussions facilitated by the Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP).

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.

This joint committee, the Panguna Mine Legacy Impact Assessment Committee (Committee), will be established by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the parties to the AusNCP process (Rio Tinto, the HRLC and the community members the HRLC represents). It will be chaired by an independent facilitator with representatives invited to join the Committee from the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG), ASX-listed Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), as well as other landowners and community representatives.

This is an important first step towards engaging with those impacted by the legacy of the Panguna mine.

Read the media release for full details >
Read our joint statement with HRLC on the AusNCP website >

Complaint made by the Human Rights Law Centre to the Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP)

In September 2020, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), representing 156 residents of villages in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, filed a complaint with the AusNCP against Rio Tinto. The complaint alleges that Rio Tinto is accountable for significant breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) relating to past and ongoing environmental and human rights impacts allegedly arising from the Panguna mine. The complaint also alleges 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. The complainants are seeking commitments from Rio Tinto to:

  • Engage with Panguna mine-affected communities to help find solutions and undertake formal reconciliation as per Bougainvillean custom;
  • Fund an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine by a team of qualified local and international experts to map impacts and to develop recommendations (Impact Assessment); and
  • Contribute to a substantial, independently managed fund, to help address the harms allegedly caused by the mine and assist long-term rehabilitation efforts.

The AusNCP accepted the complaint and Rio Tinto, HRLC and community representatives have been engaging productively through the ‘good offices’ of the AusNCP since November 2020.

Background

The Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, was operated by BCL, a publicly listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange, from 1972 until 1989. At the time, BCL was owned jointly by Rio Tinto (53.83%), the PNG Government (19.06%) and public shareholders (27.11%).

Community unrest that began in 1988 forced BCL to suspend operations in 1989. A civil war took place from 1990-2001, which caused BCL to evacuate all staff in 1990 due to safety and security considerations and the mine was not able to be formally closed.

In June 2016, having considered a broad range of options, we transferred our full interest in BCL for no consideration to the PNG Government and the ABG, with the result that both governments had an equal share in the mine (both now hold approximately a 36.4% share in BCL). By doing so, we hoped to create a platform for the ABG and PNG Government to work with all stakeholders on future options for the resource. The PNG Government has since stated its intention to give its shares to the ABG and landowner groups.

Since that time, stakeholders have continued to raise concerns about impacts to water, land and health.  We believe that the Impact Assessment and Committee will provide all parties with a clearer understanding of the impacts, so that we can consider the right way forward in consultation with relevant stakeholders and in line with our external human rights and environmental commitments and internal policies and standards.