Global coal conglomerate Glencore faces legal complaints over greenwashing in Australia

Climate and community groups allege that the mining giant's misleading claims on decarbonisation and its behaviour against Indigenous elders violate Australian laws.

coal mining australia emissions
Glencore said in its 2021 sustainability report that it plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Image: Shutterstock

Australia’s largest coal, cobalt and zinc producer is being called out for what local activists and environmentalists say are misleading claims of decarbonisation, even as the company expands its coal mines in the country.

“Despite Glencore publicly claiming to have decarbonisation plans in place, our legal review of the company’s activities in Australia has found no evidence to support such claims,” said the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), an Australian law centre that represents members of the public and environmental groups.

 “In fact, Glencore’s ongoing attempts to expand its Australian coal mines suggests the opposite to be true,” it added in a media statement.

Acting on behalf of indigenous group The Plains Clan of the Wonnarua People, climate advocacy group Comms Declare and community action group Lock the Gate Alliance, EDO has lodged complaints against Glencore with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as well as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

It alleges that the company has made misleading claims on its climate impact, and that its behaviour against traditional owners, a term referring to Aboriginal peoples who have certain rights and responsibilities in relation to a tract of land in Australia, violates the Corporations Act 2001.

EDO has also lodged four separate complaints against Glencore for its YouTube, Facebook, website and news advertisements with the Advertising Standards Board in Australia over apparent breaches of the Environmental Claims Code and Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics.

“Glencore has launched its first brand campaign ‘Advancing Everyday Life’, misleading the public that it is environmentally-focused, when it is in fact the world’s largest coal exporter,” said Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble. “Since June it has spent more than $84,000 alone on Australian Facebook ads, most of which show electric vehicles, wind turbines and forests and don’t even mention coal.”

If Glencore is found to have violated the Corporations Act 2001 and/or the Australian Consumer Law, as alleged, the company could face enforcement action, EDO said. 

Headquartered in Switzerland, Glencore has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Plans it outlined include reducing Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and allocating capital to prioritise transition metals.

In response to the allegations and lodged complaints, Glencore said that the company has publicly communicated its climate change strategy, which covers the firm’s global portfolio of operations.

“We will review the materials and claims made by the EDO and their clients, and are happy to assist ASIC and the ACCC with any enquiries they may have on these matters,” Glencore told Eco-Business in an email response.

In one of the complaints, EDO called the mining giant out for using advertising to discredit two Indigenous elders in a local Hunter Valley newspaper. The two individuals,Robert Lester and Scott Franks, had sought to prevent Glencore from proceeding with a planned coal mining project on the site of an Aboriginal massacre in New South Wales.

Representing the Plains Clan of the Wonnarua, Lester said that he had experienced first-hand how Glencore treated traditional owners with contempt when they dared to stand in the way of its mining projects.

“Glencore has personally attacked me Scott all because we dared defy this mining giant and demand that our country and cultural heritage be saved from its damaging coal mine. Their behaviour towards traditional owners at its mines is anything but respectful,” Lester said.

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