Warren Buffett, currently on his maiden tour of India, may be waxing eloquent about the need for giving away one’s wealth as charity, but some people are getting a whiff of hypocrisy in his message of philanthropy.
The reason: Buffett has invested in a company which has been in the news in India for all the wrong reasons. His investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, is the largest non- Korean investor in the Korean steel giant Posco, which has been criticised for its project coming up in Orissa.
Mining Zone People’s Solidarity Group, a research group of non- resident Indians based in the US, on Thursday disclosed that Buffett owns about five per cent of Posco, making him the single largest owner of the company outside Korea.
Interestingly, Buffett was in Korea before coming to India this week and media reports from there too confirmed his investment.
Berkshire Hathaway bought shares of the steel company in 2006, a year after it signed an MoU with the Orissa government to build an integrated steel plant.
The group claimed “ Berkshire Hathaway’s Posco stock has more than doubled in value besides yielding millions of dollars in dividends in the past years”, during which the Orissa project faced strong opposition from locals.
“ Buffett has held on to Posco’s shares at a time when the company has been complicit in violence against villagers in Orissa and when its dealings have been mired in corruption,” the group alleged.
His investments in Posco make Buffett “ one of the biggest enablers of Posco’s drive to rob over 50,000 villagers of their lands and livelihood, while depriving India of large amounts of natural resources”. “ How can Buffett claim to care for the poor if his investments lead to the creation of that poverty in the first place?” asked Sirisha Naidu, a group member.
“ While giving to the poor is commendable, isn’t it more ethical to use your millions in ways that at least do not destroy livelihoods?” asked Murli Natrajan, another member.
Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti spokesperson Prashant Paikray said: “ The villagers of Jagatsinghpur don’t want Buffett’s millions.... All we are asking is for Buffett to ensure that his money is not used to force us away from our lands.” In a report last October, the group had pointed out that in addition to the 22,000 villagers who will be displaced because of the steel plant, another 20,000- 25,000 people from 30 neighbouring villages will lose their livelihood.
The extraction of coal and iron ore for the plant will cause 116 villages to lose access to the forests on which they are dependent.