Peter Frankental of Amnesty International UK attended Beowulf Mining’s 2022 AGM at 9am on Wednesday 22 June and has provided the following information about the proceedings.
Only one of the board members listed on Beowulf’s website and on the Companies House register was present at the AGM. This calls into question whether Beowulf is anything other than a shell company, despite having obtained a contested licence for a project which, if it proceeds, would have far-reaching impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
There were five people present in all: Kurt Budge (the CEO), a representative of PR agency BlytheRay, the company secretary (not listed as a Board member but might have been a proxy), Peter Frankental (Amnesty International), and an unidentified 5th person (acting as meeting assistant).
The meeting was held at Temple Chambers, which is the company’s registered office. The formal part of the business was concluded within five minutes, after which the CEO asked whether there were any other matters. There followed a 40 minute discussion between Peter Frankental and Kurt Budge based on the following questions put by Peter to the company about the Kallak North project in Sweden.
Amnesty International’s questions at Beowulf’s 2022 AGM
My question relates to the Kallak North project, which is hugely contentious because of its potential impact on the Sami people whose communities and organizations have expressly opposed the project since it was initially announced over a decade ago. They believe that the mine would impose a direct impact on reindeer husbandry, on cultural practices and on the transmission of indigenous knowledge and traditions to future generations.
As you know, UN bodies have been highlty critical of the project. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Committee has concluded that the high impacts of the project on the site with regard to transport, energy and infrastructure are not properly reflected in the company’s environmental impact assessment.
In Feburary this year, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment issued a joint public statement raising serious objections to the project and calling for these to be investigated with regard to violations of the rights of the Sami.
And this April the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination wrote to the Swedish Government expressing concerns about the approvals process with particular regard to Sweden’s failure to seek the Free Prior and Informed consent of the Sami communities which would be affected by the project.
I have four questions to the Board arising from this are:
- Why doesn’t Beowulf recognise the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the Sami people, in line with international standards (UN Declaration on Indigenous People Rights)?
- Will the company revise its May 2022 ESG policy to be more specific about its definition of human rights and to embody the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which is the most authoritiative international human rights standard applicable to companies.
- Will the company undertake an immediate and comprehensive human rights impact assessment of the project, as part of a human rights due diligence process, to understand how its activities might impact upon the rights of Sami communities including future generations who might be affected by any irreversible impacts?
- And with regard to the company’s claim in its Strategic Report for 2021 (Section 172 Companies Act Statement) that ”The Board makes a conscious effort to understand the principle issues that matter to each stakeholder group” and then ”factored them into Boardroom discussions”, how does the Board factor in the evidence that Sami communities don’t want to see this project materialise in any shape or form?
The CEO’s response can be summarised as follows:
The original application was submitted before the current CEO’s involvement (he joined the company in 2014).
Kurt Budge acknowledged that mistakes were made at that time. He did not specify what the mistakes were, but referred to the appalling record of the original licensee and to some stupid things said by the previous management team in 2013.
There has been a long delay in the processing of Beowulf’s application which Kurt Budge attributed to the consensual nature of Swedish politics.
Beowulf has attempted to meet all the Government’s requirements.
Kurt Budge spends a lot of time meeting organisations in the area of the proposed mine in the North of Sweden.
There has been an absence of dialogue with the affected Sami community which Kurt Budge acknowledged is a difficult gap to bridge.
Kurt Budge has undertaken a course at London Business School in Sustainable Leadership and Corporate Responsibility. He had previously worked for Rio Tinto alongside Tom Burke.
He referred to the Equator Principles as a standard relevant to the company (no reference to any human rights standards or to Indigenous Peoples’ Rights).
Kurt Budge asserted that there were no examples of reindeer co-operatives being forced to close down because of mining.
He insisted that only half a percent of migratory lands would be used for purposes of the project. There were technical solutions to minimise adverse impacts.
He spoke of the economic decline of the area, reflected in the falling and ageing population, lack of public services and infrastructure such as dental and medical facilities. Economic investment in the area could help reverse this decline and create a sustainable economic future.
Kurt Budge referred to positive downstream impacts in the form of fossil fuel-free steel production.
Kurt Budge thinks that now the waiting is over because the Swedish government has decided to grant the licence there is more prospect of engaging with affected communities.
He referred to a leading global consultancy that would be undertaking an ‘independent’ SEIA (Social and Environmental Impact Assessment). Peter challenged him on the independence of any such SEIA and on the capacity of the community to validate it or undertake their own SEIA. Kurt Budge stated that the company would be willing to support the community in any costs incurred.
Kurt Budge emphasised Beowulf’s aim of transparency and how the company would welcome direct communication, setting out what critics want them to do. Peter pointed out that the basis of any such communication would be an acceptance that the project would go ahead and an emphasis on risk mitigation. Peter suggested this might not be what the Sami community wants.
Had sickness not prevented LMN Co-ordinator Richard Solly attend the AGM, he would have asked the folloiwing questions. These were submitted to the company in writing the day after the AGM; answers are awaited.
1. Are you going to produce fines or pellets?
a, if fines, Is there a market for fines in Europe, or is it all in Asia (China)?
b, if pellets how will you finance a pellet plant?
2. Given iron ore is not considered a crucial metal for the “green transition” and fines not being an interesting product for “fossil free steel”, do you consider yourself as a part of the green transition?
3. Are you planning any new prospection work up at the Kallak site?
4. Who are the ten largest shareholders?
5. How will you finance the EIA and later the construction of the mine?
6. Has the company been involved in discussions with Trafikverket and Inlandsbanan AB about the investments that are necessary in the road to Jokkmokk and the railroad to Gällivare? Is there a timetable for the necessary investments in the road and railroad? How much of the cost for these investments will the company have to pay?