HESTA, the health and community servicews superannuation fund, is calling for the mining and energy industries to adopt consistent principles for engaging with Indigenous communities. HESTA claims investors are concerned risks are appropriately managed, in the wake of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves in Western Australia by Rio Tinto.
HESTA has released a Statement on Working with Indigenous Communities detailing its investor expectations around how companies manage risks associated with Indigenous heritage protection issues and has written to 14 Australian mining and energy companies.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the $52 billion industry super fund had informed the companies HESTA was embarking on a direct engagement program on this issue.
The engagement program will focus on understanding how companies have properly assessed and mitigated risks, how closely this aligns to their public statements and where the accountability for these actions rest. The results of meetings will inform how the fund could use shareholder resolutions or voting to seek change.
“We are committed to engaging with companies to understand how they are managing these issues, and we will consider using our voting rights where we identify the need for improved practices and disclosure,” Ms Blakey said.
Ms Blakey said investors were dismayed at the destruction of culturally significant sites at Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto.
“Not only was priceless heritage destroyed and the costs borne by shareholders as a result, but we had believed this risk to be well managed in our portfolio,” she said.
“This has prompted us to renew our focus on ensuring fair and sustainable outcomes for Indigenous communities and companies.
“Our statement is also something we hope will help other investors and encourage collaboration so we can work together to push for change,” Ms Blakey said.
“What occurred with Rio is a wake-up call for all investors. It has caused us to review how we are assessing company performance in this area and how we can more effectively advocate for legislative and regulatory change.
“Global investors like HESTA are concerned that engagement with Traditional Owners is well managed wherever companies operate. Through this statement we also hope to encourage collective investor action to amplify the positive impact we can have here in Australia and internationally.”
The Statement is based on the principle that Indigenous Peoples own and determine the value of their tangible and intangible heritage and control that heritage and determine who has access to it.
Ms Blakey said HESTA expected company boards to have oversight of how companies monitor shifting societal expectations and if decisions made in the past remain appropriate.
“Investors expect companies to think strategically about future opportunities and risks that may impact their businesses. Likewise, they should also be thinking about how changing societal expectations may impact their decisions around heritage and community engagement.”