Activist groups have called for S&P Global’s Dow Jones Sustainability Index to reconsider its inclusion of Adani Ports, pointing to the company’s links with the Myanmar military and its role in developing the Carmichael coal mine.
The letter from a collective of 37 human rights and climate advocacy groups, including Market Forces and the Australian Centre for International Justice, has asked S&P to review its inclusion of the Adani Group subsidiary and to scrutinise the whole conglomerate.
According to Market Forces, Adani Ports’ stock price jumped by at least 7 per cent when it was added to the index last year.
S&P Global has claimed its sustainability indices are a “family of best-in-class benchmarks for investors” on its website, based on the company’s ESG scores. The company has offered exclusion criteria against firearms, alcohol, tobacco, gambling and adult entertainment, “for investors who wish to limit their exposure to controversial activities”.
But in the advocates’ letter, Adani Ports has been criticised for maintaining a business relationship with Myanmar’s military, as stated in a 2019 UN report, despite being a signatory to the UN Global Compact (an initiative to support UN goals).
‘Blatant disregard for human rights is unsustainable’
The UN has urged companies to cut ties with the Myanmar military, at the risk of being complicit in human rights abuses. The military has been accused of war crimes and genocide against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya people.
But Adani Ports was reported to be contracted to develop a container port in Yangon, on land owned by Myanmar military company Myanmar Economic Corporation, in 2019. Myanmar senior general Min Aung Hlaing also toured Adani’s port complex at Mundra, India, in the same year, exchanging gifts with Adani officials.
Senior general Min Aung Hlaing, alongside others in military leadership, was also reported to have orchestrated the coup in February this year.
While other companies such as Woodside have declared they are ending business activities in Myanmar, Adani is continuing its work on the Yangon port, the letter stated.
Human rights groups Justice for Myanmar (JFM) and the Australian Centre for International Justice have also backed the campaign.
Yadanar Maung, spokesperson for JFM, commented Adani Ports has ignored call-outs for financing genocide and war crimes.
“We say Adani Ports’ blatant disregard for human rights is unsustainable and call for its inclusion on the Dow Jones Sustainbility Index to be immediately reviewed,” she said.
Concerns over Carmichael mine, financial risks
The letter also pointed to Adani Ports’ role in the development and operation of coal haulage infrastructure for the Adani Carmichael thermal coal project in central Queensland, as well as the environmental damage caused at a number of its sites across India.
There are a number of controversies surrounding the Carmichael project, including the destruction of Indigenous sacred sites and objections from traditional owners, the fact that the mine would become the largest export coal mine in Australia and the prospect of significantly escalating the country’s annual emissions, undermining the Paris Climate Agreement.
But there are also financial risks to add to the cultural and environmental issues. The letter stated as more than 90 companies including banks, insurers and engineering contractors have ruled out involvement in the mine and it is self-funded, there is evidence suggesting the “reputational damage associated with the Carmichael project has generated serious financial risks for Adani companies”.
Adani was reported to hit $794 million in losses last year. BlackRock and Norges Bank also protested the State Bank of India’s (SBI) proposed US$650 million loan to the Carmichael project in December, while other investors including AXA and Amundi divested from SBI green bonds.
While the statement focuses on the actions of Adani Ports, it has also expressed concern around the parent company’s history of transferring capital and subsidiary ownership between its “complex web of companies”, implying the “entire group must be held responsible for unsustainable and antisocial practices”.
“…Adani Group is in a business relationship with known human-rights abusers, building a massive and fiercely resisted greenfield thermal coal mining project in the midst of the climate crisis and has a history of ecological destruction at some of its sites, which has also resulted in loss of livelihood for local communities,” the letter read.
“Some of these actions constitute breaches of internationally recognised agreements including the UN Global Compact and these actions demonstrate the company’s inconsistency with the Paris Agreement. Further, the highly controversial and destructive nature of Adani Ports’ projects and the backlash they have generated, have resulted in material impacts on Adani Ports’ and Adani Group’s reputation and significantly increased financial risk.”
S&P did not issue a response to the letter, but sent on its eligibility criteria for the sustainability index.
Companies’ S&P Global ESG Score, calculated by its ESG research specialist SAM, is the primary contributor to their selection for the index. SAM’s annual sustainability assessment process begins in April each year, with new scores released in September.
Companies may be deleted from the index between annual reviews however, if through the media and stakeholder analysis (MSA) component of SAM’s process, the index committee decides the company is no longer behaving consistently with corporate governance standards.
“In cases where risks are presented, SAM releases an MSA which includes a range of issues such as economic crime and corruption, fraud, illegal commercial practices, human rights issues, labour dispute, workplace safety, catastrophic accidents and environmental disasters,” the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices methodology stated.
InvestorDaily also contacted Adani for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].
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