BHP Billiton plc holds its AGM in London this Thursday, 25 October. The Board will be telling shareholders and the press what a wonderful company it is. London Mining Network and friends will be there to challenge them.
BHP Billiton is the biggest mining company in the world – worth over $160 billion according to its own annual report. It has operations in every continent except Antarctica.
Among other things, it produces oil – over 222 million barrels of it over the past year. Some of that is from dangerous deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – the sort of operation that led to the massive BP oil spill. It also produces coal – over 100 million tonnes of it in the past year – and uranium. So its products make a massive contribution to destructive climate change and the generation of dangerous radioactive waste.
And it’s heavily involved in ‘fracking’ – the controversial fracturing of shale deposits to get at the oil and has locked up inside them. Fracking is blamed for water pollution and even causing earthquakes.
It’s a ‘dual-listed’ company, made up of two legal entities, one Australian and the other British. BHP Billiton Limited is Australian. BHP Billiton plc is British. But they are run as one company, by the same Board.
Over 86% of the investors in BHP Billiton plc are based in the UK. Many British people will be investing in the company without knowing it, through their pension funds, banks or insurance company. The biggest single investor is Legal and General.
So you’d think that more people would have heard of it. In Australia it’s famous: it’s ‘The Big Australian’. In Britain it’s practically unknown. Maybe that’s because its only operations here are its office in London and some drilling in the Irish Sea.
It’s an odd thing: in its annual report, BHP Billiton lists climate change among the risks to its business. It says that its effects ‘may adversely impact the productivity and financial performance of our operations’ (page 11). It boasts about the efforts it’s making to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its mines and smelters. You can read all about that on page 47 of its report. But at the same time, it is relentlessly increasing its production of oil, coal and gas, which are the drivers of the climate change it admits is endangering the planet. It’s like a hopeless drunk who knows he’s killing himself but carries on boozing anyway. And it gets pretty ugly with anyone trying to take the bottle away: a Greenpeace report published last November accused BHP Billiton, among others, of spending vast amount of money to stop governments taking effective action against climate change.
One of BHP Billiton’s answers to climate change is to produce more uranium. Never mind Chernobyl or Fukushima: apparently nuclear energy is clean. Well, in July protesters at the company’s massive Olympic Dam mine in South Australia showed that a lot of people don’t agree.
Among the many controversies the company is involved in at the moment are:
- A dispute with the Colombian Government and with huge sectors of the Colombian population over the derisory amounts of royalties the company has paid at its Cerro Matoso nickel mine
- Toxic spills and health impacts at its Antamina copper, zinc and molybdenum mine in Peru
- Poor conditions for workers at its Escondida mine in Chile
- Ignoring Native American sacred sites at the Resolution Copper project in Arizona
- The toxic legacy of the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea, where BHP Billiton spent years dumping mine wastes into the local river system, destroying local agriculture anf fisheries, then left the Government to clean up – and now the company wants back in to PNG (see Statement from the Bismarck Ramu Group 23 December 2011 at http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=11390)
But we’ll be concentrating on two projects this Thursday.
We’ll be supporting our friends in communities around the Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia, which has displaced farming and fishing communities, destroyed livelihoods, polluted the air and eradicated water courses. BHP Billiton owns one third of this mine along with two other companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – Anglo American and Xstrata. Plenty of people in the area are criticising the mine. Community leader Felipe Ustate has come from Colombia to speak out about the needs of displaced communities and demand justice.
And we’ll be speaking up for our colleagues in Kalimantan in Indonesia, where BHP Billiton is planning a massive opencast coal mine in the middle of precious and fast-disappearing rainforest. Indonesian organisations are calling for the company to pull out. Even the Indonesian Government’s own Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) has called on the Government to be cautious: it says that limitations in the supervision of coal mining may be placing the country at risk of massive financial losses and environmental damage.