By Morten Rønning
The first request for help from the local population to the Norwegian authorities, addressed to the minister of Trade and Industry at the time, Jens Stoltenberg, is still filed away in the ministry's archive - unanswered. Now, the new government also chooses not to answer the affected people directly. In other words: the affected people are not able to access the owners of what seems to become the largest owner of Utkal Alumina.
- This makes these people feel of even less importance and value, says secretary-general of The Stromme Foundation, de Presno to NorWatch.
- Addressing the answer to the three NGO's that handed over the letter to us at a meeting, was a perfectly natural thing for us at the ministry to do. I would like to remind that we also, at the end of our letter, request that the organizations forward our views to the letter signatories, says Jan Farberg, director general at the ministry of Trade and Industry.
- Wouldn't it be natural to answer the signatories directly? Why is the letter not addressed to the local population, sent to the postal address that was given, and in the language of the original letter?
- Do you really mean that we should send letters to 6000 Indians? wonders Farberg. He adds that he is not familiar with the case in detail, and that he is the one answering NorWatch's questions only because the state secretary is absent.
In their answer to the letter, the ministry write that the Utkal project is controversial, that the environmental effects are substantial, and that portions of the local population fear being forced away from their land as a consequence of the project.
- This is worrying. Therefore, we also view several aspects of the project with uneasiness.
Furthermore, the letter states that these views have been expressed by the government to the management at Hydro.
The ministry emphasizes that the activities of Norsk Hydro in India is one example of ethical problems faced by Norwegian companies abroad.
- We also expect that Norwegian companies operating abroad take responsibility for aspects of their own activities pertaining to safety, working conditions, treatment of employees, product quality et cetera.
No action to be taken
In spite of the ministry's uneasiness over several aspects of the project, they will not interfere with what their own company is doing.
- Our general point of departure, is that the final decision regarding economic activities in any individual case, has to be taken by the company itself.
At the same time, the ministry expects Norsk Hydro to take into consideration all the ethical aspects of the project.
- The authorities expect Norsk Hydro to adhere to the same ethical standards in India as in Norway.
The ministry emphasizes making the participants conscious of these problems, rather than direct management, and mentions the new consultative organ as an element in this process.
- The solution is rather to contribute to preventing this type of conflicts through a higher level of reflection and consciousness on the ethical aspects of Norwegian activity abroad.
In other words: nothing
In this way the present government has, like the previous one, refused to take the local people into account, and at the same time closed their eyes to the problems actually present in the Utkal issue. The ministry repeat their hopes and expectancies regarding Norwegian companies, but has no suggestions to what to do if the companies do not adhere to them.
The secretary-general of The Stromme Foundation is strongly critical to the government's decision not to answer the letter from the 6000 affected people.
- Replying letters is no more than common politeness. And when it comes to people in such great distress as the people of Orissa, we are not simply talking about impoliteness, but of pure evasion of responsibility, says de Presno to NorWatch. He also signals that the organizations will follow the matter up with the ministry.
Norwatch Newsletter 9/98