At a September seminar in London with investors in Vedanta, mining researcher Roger Moody of Nostromo Research gave the following paper on risks to banks from investments in the company.
Roger has 26 years experience in studying the mining industry.
Roger started by comparing Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal with Dick Fuld – the toast of Wall Street three years ago, but whose bank, Lehmann Brothers, collapsed last year because of its toxic assets. Roger claimed that, in a few years time, Agarwal’s Vedanta would be seen in a similar light.
While Roger Moody had not, over many years, deigned to respond to requests to identify “ the world’s worst mining company”, after visiting many of Vedanta’s operations between 2004 and 2007, he could now do so.
Definition of “Risk”
The basic concept of Political risk that investors rely upon must be expanded to look at all socio-economic  aspects of a company’s operations: for instance to examine Vedanta’s responsibility for adverse climate change in its headlong expansion (Mineweb had, a few months ago, identified Vedanta as the most acquisitive of all mining companies during the previous year.)
Who is funding what? Nineteen banks, including Standard Chartered and Barclays, syndicated loans for 6,000 crore (60 billion) rupees in June 2009, towards construction of a coal-fired power plant for the  Jharsaguda aluminium smelter, in Orissa .  What will the greenhouse gas emissions toll be  from this?
The key question for funders must surely be:  for how long should a company be allowed the right to operate in defiance of the law and basic standards – before you say NO FURTHER INVESTMENT  (and withdraw any outstanding financial backing)?
1)      Corporate governance issues:  Agarwal and his family control the company; JP Morgan’s condition, imposed in 2003,  that the board should not be controlled by associates of Agarwal, has continually risked being violated. For two years (in 2007 and 2008) reporters were forbidden to attend the AGM. On several occasions the company has refused to defend its operations to critics; not only at this workshop, but also, most recently, in regard to Survival International’s case against the proposed Nyamgiri bauxite mine (Orissa). This was submitted  to the UK government’s OECD National Contact Point in December 2008 and,  on October 10th ,the UK government ruled against the company. Vedanta failed to submit counter-evidence to Norway’s Council on Ethics, following The Council’s scathing report on the company’s global operations in 2007. After the Norwegian government  disinvested from Vedanta in 2007, it sent the Council a letter, purporting to  be a denial of the key charges, which the Council rejected as “adding nothing new.”
2)      Violations: The company has been guilty of numerous violations within India and in Zambia. Three years ago the Armenian government  threatened to sue Sterlite Gold for £46 million for numerous violations at its Zod gold project.  In the event, Agarwal sold his Armenian properties to a Russian company, quit Armenia, but ensured that Sterlite Gold itself would be bought by Vedanta, at a profit to himself.
3)      Reputational and legal issues: A significant amount of corporate finance has been raised in international markets, in 2006 and earlier this year, for overall expansion of parlous projects (notably in the company’s aluminium and iron ore sectors). But it should not be forgotten that much of this funding is earmarked for Vedanta’s acquisition of  shares in two companies it does not yet fully own: Malco (Tamil Nadu) and BALCO (Chhattisgarh).
4)      Minority shareholders in the former have militantly tried to preserve their stake and prevent its being discounted, with little success. The Indian government – which privatised the country’s third biggest integrated aluminium producer to Sterlite seven years back – has belatedly tried to preserve its own minority stake of 49%; a price for which has still not been determined to the satisfaction of the government. During the same week that an estimated 45 workers died at the BALCO-owned power plant construction site in Korba, Chhattisgarh, a case was presented to India’s Supreme Court (via its Central Empowered Committee)  that BALCO illegally acquired land for the expansion of its Korba facilities, felling thousands of trees on reserve forest land. The Goa state environmental authorities recently ordered dozens of mines to “show cause” why they should be allowed to operate – including at least one controlled by Vedanta (through its subsidiary Sesa Goa).
Vedanta’s Kolli Hills bauxite mine in Tamil Nadu was ordered shut by the High Court in 2008, as a result of  pubic interest litigation by a local citizen who demonstrated that the mine had been illegally operated for several years.
These are not isolated instances; they demonstrate an intrinsic failure on the part of the company to operate to a minimal degree of social responsibility.
As graphic evidence of this, at the conclusion of his presentation, Roger Moody showed a short video clip depicting the appalling conditions suffered by sub-contracted labourers (including children) employed at Vedanta/BALCO’s bauxite mine at Bodai-Daldai, Chhattisgarh.  But, on two occasions during the company’s annual general meetings (2006 and 2007) Mr Agarwal and his board had been shown this evidence (by way of photos) and had promised to “investigate” and address any violations. He had signally failed to do so.
In June this year, the central Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests’ own Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC, mining)  reported on  an  inspection of this mine and the plight of Indigenous villagers removed their homes, which was carried out in February 2009.  The EAC concluded that the company’s behaviour had been so unacceptable that, even if now promised to remedy all its errors (of commission and omission) it could  not be trusted   to do so.
Vedanta’s request to expand the mine was therefore rejected.