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Situating Justice in the Environment: The Case of BHP at the Ok Tedi Copper Mine

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The rubric of sustainable development has now gained wide theoretical and political acceptance in the global community. However, after the Rio Declaration, each nation must now confront the specific question of how to decide between those industries and activities that are sustainable and those that are not when conflicting social and ecological interests are at stake. Any fundamental change to resource allocation will have social distributional consequences, and the issue of justice therefore becomes a critical element of any sustainability formulation. This paper contributes to this debate by exploring the potential for a politically grounded theory of justice in and to the environment. More specifically, we argue for a situated analysis that nevertheless retains the postulate of a neo-Kantian universal ethic as the foundation for global institutions that could integrate and safeguard the principles of justice and ecological responsibility underpinning most notions of sustainability. We show this by locating the question of justice in a particular conflict of interest, that between the Australian mining giant Broken Hill Proprietary, Ltd., and the traditional landowners of an area on the Ok Tedi river in Papua New Guinea.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2: The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Publication date: 1998-07-01

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