'Blood on Steps' protest outside Vedanta's AGM offices in London
Fake blood was thrown on the steps outside Vedanta's AGM as activists protested against its environmental and human rights record, calling out 'Vedanta, Blood on your hands!'.
Protests took place outside the AGM of Vedanta, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, backed by the UK government but opposed by groups in India, Goa, Liberia, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland, Zambia and Sri Lanka for the environmental damage, pollution and human rights abuses caused by its mining of bauxite and other minerals.
The stage blood was a little bit of street theatre in a peaceful protest against the mining company whose activities have been condemned by Amnesty International, and have led to disinvestment by concerned investors including the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, Martin Currie Investments, the Church of England, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Dutch Pension Fund PGGM, but Vedanta are still backed by more than 30 major banks and financial agencies including HSBC, RBS, Deutsche Bank, Axa, Royal Bank of Canada, Credit Suisse, J P Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Lloyds Banking Group, Nordea Bank, ICICI, Citigroup, National Bank of Kuwait, ANZ and Merrill Lynch.
The UK Department for International Development (DfID) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) helped to launch Vedanta on the London Stock Exchange and through the World Bank funded NGO Business Partners for Development, helped it to take over copper mines in Zambia. Most recently, government officials and David Cameron put pressure on the Indian government to enable Vedanta to take over around 30% of Indian crude oil.
Vedanta's mining and smelting of bauxite in Odisha, India has left over 10,000 displaced people landless, contaminated drinking water and devastated vast areas of formerly fertile land, with famines every year since 2007. Only prolonged resistance by the indigenous Advasi people over seven years has so far prevented the devastation of their sacred Niyamgiri hills.
Another protest in Goa, where a pit wall collapse drowned a village in toxic mine waste in 2009, managed to stop a further iron ore mine. There have been other floods and other mass protests and the Vedanta subsidiary there is accused of large scale fraud and illegal mining.
There have also been many large-scale protests in Tamil Nadu, where, according to 'Foil Vedanta', the Vedanta subsidiary there "has flouted laws without remorse, operating and expanding without consent, violating environmental conditions, and illegally dumping toxic effluents and waste." They allege that "damning court actions" against the company have been overturned on several occasions by "Pollution Control Boards, judges and expert teams" as a result of "large scale corruption and bribery.
At the protest in London, I was busy a few yards away photographing Bianca Jagger and missed seeing the actual throwing of the fake blood, but several protesters went to dip their hands in it before they were chased away by security and the one police officer who was then on duty at the event. I think the person who had thrown the blood quickly left the area, possibly before I began taking pictures.
Shareholders arriving for the meeting, including four protesters, among them Bianca Jagger, had to step over the bloody area as they made their way in. Later carpets were brought out from the centre and put down over the blood, until Lincoln House provided their own little vignette of street theatre as a black cleaner was supervised by white staff as she was directed to clean up the mess.
The crowd of around 80 people across the road shouted 'Blood on your hands, Vedanta! Blood on your hands Agarwal! Blood on your hands, Cameron! They kept up a high level of noise as they knew from previous years - this was the eighth protest at a Vedanta AGM - that they could be heard inside the meeting, and wanted to make their presence felt.
A dozen or so police arrived ten or fifteen minutes later, although there was little for them to do. One man walking past did turn and run up the steps shouting "Blood on your hands!, but was stopped by security and quickly dragged back onto the pavement by police, who pulled him along a bit, but then appeared to let him go.
Half an hour or so later 3 police vans came and parked a short distance away. By that time many of the protesters had left although the shareholders were still in the meeting. Police probably outnumbered the protesters, and I decided little further was likely to happen and it was time to go.