An Australian mining billionaire and philanthropist has struck an informal deal with Pakistan to liberate nearly 2.5 million slaves in return for allowing his firm to convert billions of tonnes of cheap coal into much-needed energy.
The billionaire, Andrew Forrest, attending the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, said the agreement was an exciting development which could eliminate slavery in Pakistan and completely transform the Pakistani economy which was dependent on expensive foreign oil imports, The Australian reported.
Using technology developed at Western Australia’s Curtin University, Forrest has signed an agreement with Pakistan’s Punjab state to test the feasibility of turning currently uneconomic lignite coal directly into diesel for use in the energy-starved region.
In a linked agreement with Forrest’s Walk Free Foundation, aimed at ending slavery, Pakistan has agreed to introduce laws to cut the practice of slavery through indenture, debt or inheritance. “The goal is energy independence for the Punjab and the eradication of slavery in all of the Punjab, a province of 100 million,” Forrest said.
“They (Punjab) have literally hundreds of billions of tonnes of equivalent barrel of oil energy in their lignite. That technology we will make available – pro bono, without charge – and linking that informally, but absolutely, to their total commitment to free their people from slavery,” he was quoted as saying by the SBS.
Forrest said the technology has the potential to be cost-effective. Under the agreement, mining experts from Australia will investigate the possibility of using the Punjab’s huge deposits of lignite coal which is low-grade and not commercially viable at the moment. But if the coal can be developed through new technology at a cost of USD 40 a barrel, it can be used to produce diesel.
Punjab’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif welcomed the deal and said he was pleased to announce that his was the first province to commit to becoming the first Pakistani province to eradicate slavery. Forrest also helped launch a global slavery index, alongside former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, which found that 29 million people were living in conditions of modern slavery around the world. The index estimated that some 16 million people in countries like Pakistan are held in slave-like bondage through debt and forced labour.