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 has been 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), has been 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 is chaired by an independent facilitator with representatives from the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG), ASX-listed Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), as well as landowner and community representatives. The Committee held its first meeting on 30 November 2021.

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 mine was operated by 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 a civil war, which lasted until 1998. Rio Tinto has not had access to the mine for over 30 years. In 2016, Rio Tinto transferred its 53.83% majority shareholding in BCL to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government for no consideration, enabling the ABG and PNG to hold an equal share in BCL of 36.4% each.

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.