This year’s BHP Billiton plc AGM was held on Thursday 20 October at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Outside, a vibrant protest took place, dramatically re-enacting last year’s Samarco tailings dam disaster. Global mine workers’ union IndustriALL sent a solidarity message to protestors.
Inside, what took place was dreary, dispiriting and draining.
Mining company AGMs are always pretty dire, but somehow this year’s BHP Billiton AGM was worse.
Partly it was because the company had decided to hold a closed ‘Question and Answer’ session before the formal AGM. This was not filmed, and press were not allowed in – much to the annoyance of the press.
Ostensibly, the purpose of this session was to allow for a better exchange of information and concerns between executives and shareholders. The suspicion arose that it was actually an attempt to keep some of the detailed criticisms of the company out of the more public arena of the AGM. In any case, it still began with relatively long statements by executives and relatively little time for representatives of mining-affected communities, their allies, or indeed anyone else, to say all that they wanted to say. And, since the company’s responses were predictably inadequate (and that’s a euphemism) the same points had to be brought up again in the AGM anyway, in the hope of extracting something more useful from the company’s Board.
But the direness of this AGM was caused also by the combination of the company’s protestations of sorrow for the death and destruction caused by the tailings dam collapse last November at the Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil (jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Brazilian multinational Vale) with denial of criminal responsibility for that disaster, as well as denial of responsibility for the sickness caused by coal mining at Cerrejon in the province of La Guajira in Colombia, or any responsibility at all for the continuing impacts of operations that BHP Billiton has only recently pulled out of (Indomet in Indonesia, Cerro Matoso in Colombia).
LMN was hosting visits by six representatives of mining-affected communities. From Brazil, there was Letícia Oliveira Gomes de Faria from the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), Maria do Carmo Silva D’Angelo, whose farm in Paracatu was affected by the mud flow from the broken tailings dam, and Rodrigo Peret, a Franciscan brother working with mining-affected communities and with the Latin American Churches and Mining Network. From Colombia, there was Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu, an indigenous Wayuu woman who lives in the community of Provincial, very close to the Cerrejon coal mine (of which BHP Billiton owns a one-third share) and whose son Moises suffers from respiratory problems; and Annelen Micus, a lawyer working with the CAJAR lawyers’ collective, which has represented Luz Angela in legal actions against the company. From Indonesia there was Arie Rompas from WALHI, Friends of the Earth Indonesia, and who has family connections to the area affected by the Indomet coal project formerly owned by BHP Billiton. We were joined also by dear friend and long-time collaborator Avi Chomsky, Professor of Latin American History at the Salem State University in Massachusetts, USA.
The following is a reasonably full, if not exhaustive, record of what was said both at the pre-AGM Question and Answer session and the formal AGM itself – so there is a fair amount of duplication. We did not manage to note absolutely everything but we made a fairly good stab at it. It may not make for exciting or uplifting reading, but we find it useful to have as accurate as possible a record of the criticisms made of companies at their AGMs and of the companies’ responses.
We also add the odd comment in square brackets, just so you won’t think we actually agree with everything we have noted…
A summary of press coverage of the AGM and the issues raised can be found here.
Pre-AGM Question and Answer session
1. Presentations by the company
1.1 Andrew Mackenzie (CEO) said there was a lot to do at Samarco and it would take years, not months. In the 6 or 7 months between his first and second visits there had been a lot of progress. In places where it was possible to reconstruct, they had reconstructed, and there are one or two towns where the company will help with relocations.
1.2 The following points were made during the CEO’s presentation on Samarco:
* Samarco is a joint venture of BHP Billiton and Vale.
* BHP Billiton took action immediately after the dam failure, within 24 hours, providing accommodation and clothes.
* There is a detailed account of BHP Billiton’s response in the sustainability report.
* There have been more than 500 community meetings. There is a commitment to working with the affected people.
* There has been a Framework Agreement with the Federal Authorities [though the CEO did not mention its status, whether it is suspended or not]
* There are 41 committed actions in this Framework Agreement.
* The Expert Panel of international experts have released their findings. The results of the report of the Expert Panel provide important lessons. We know more about tailings dams than we did in 2009. * * The results will be shared with the whole sector, because it is an opportunity for the whole mining sector to learn lessons. [He did not mention explicitly the ICMM investigation of tailings’ dams safety.]
Governance. There has been a review of the group of companies. Danny of “Minerals America” Division is responsible for these reviews [presumably of how to maintain oversight of projects of which BHP Billiton is not the operator.]
* New standards of oversight.
* The company has brought forward its regular reviews of the stability of tailings dams to ensure that they are stable. The function of dam management will now be in-house.
* There are now new technologies and there will be new standards. There will be an increasing use of independent reviews, and worldwide there will be new benchmarks: there will be a move to Canadian benchmarks.
* There were deaths in Brazil and there was a lot of damage. It will take many years to put it all right and there will be setbacks.
1.3 Andrew Mackenzie then introduced Geoff Healey, Chief legal counsel, who could answer legal questions, Dean Dalla Valle, Chief Commercial Officer, and Fiona Wild, who works on climate change. He said BHP Billiton is “working towards a 2 degree world” [interesting use of terminology, given that the Paris COP talks suggested that a 2 degree average temperature increase would verge on the catastrophic and that we should work to limit it to 1.5].
Dean Dalla Valle
1.4 Dean Dalla Valle has been based in Brazil for much of this year and is leading the company’s response on Samarco. Samarco is a 50/50 joint venture with Vale, operated by Samarco, and is over 30 years old. It mines iron ore, concentrates it, and sends it via pipeline to the coast, where high grade pellets are produced and exported. It employs around 6000 people in the region.
1.5 There are two tailings dams at the operations. On November 5 there was a catastrophic failure of the Fundão dam. It released 65 million cubic metres of mud. 19 people were killed: 14 were workers, 5 in the village of Bento Rodrigues, three elderly people and two children. [He did not mention the miscarriage of the baby who was the 20th death.] Many houses were damaged or destroyed and people were displaced from the community. Most tailings were held back in the first 85km of the river. Some went over the remaining dam and went 500 km to the ocean and produced a plume which has now mostly dispersed. “It is difficult to express the impact this tragedy has had on us as an organisation and on the people involved. It is hard to express our sorrow to the people whose lives have been changed. We can commit to do remediation and we do commit to that. Within 48 hours people had been put in temporary accommodation. By Christmas many people had gone back into their own homes. Samarco provided water to communities whose water had been cut off. If we could bring it all back we would, but we can’t. BHP Billiton is providing assistance and support to Samarco.”
1.6 On longer term remediation, in March the companies signed an agreement with two state governments and the federal government. The government recognised that it is better to have an agreement early rather than litigation. As result of the agreement a Foundation has been set up since August, called Renova, and its job is to carry out remediation, funded by Samarco. BHP Billiton will make sure it is fully funded. A CEO has been appointed, a well-known and respected Brazilian, a biologist by training, who is building up a credible team. The team’s purpose is only to do this work. The Foundation is governed by a board overseen by the government, and will have an advisory committee involving the community.
1.7 There is more to be done. In one town, 92 houses have been restored, businesses are up and running again. Other towns cannot be restored so quickly. Bento Rodrigues and others have had new sites selected, and the town will be built by the Foundation in consultation with the community. Seven bridges were rebuilt quickly. 800 ha of revegetation had been completed to try to offset the impact. 70% of the tributaries have been shored up to make sure water flows into the river. The Foundation is registering people who have lost material items. It is part way through that process, then the compensation process will begin next month and go through into the middle of next year. The company has released an external review into the cause of the event, conducted by experts in the field. This has been public for two months. The purpose is to help the industry learn so this does not happen again. “While the Fundão dam collapse was a terrible tragedy, we can help the people impacted and we are doing this. We believe the Foundation is the right way to do the remediation and compensation.”
1.8 The world must limit climate change. BHP Billiton is working to accelerate the deployment of low energy solutions. Over the last year the company had made progress in mitigation and reduction of emissions. Operational emissions were 18 million tonnes last year, and below target. It is seeking to reduce emissions from forest degradation and to support community livelihoods. It requires all its assets to consider climate impacts in long term planning. It also supports community resilience such as its climate project in Trinidad and Tobago and in the Great Barrier Reef. It is working on projects to reduce emissions, such as Carbon Capture and Storage in China to reduce emissions from steel making. It is looking into long term storage of carbon dioxide and at battery storage to help renewable energy use. Testing and building the resilience of its portfolio to climate change is central, and BHP Billiton builds all this into its decision-making. Its diverse portfolio is resilient because of its low-cost, long-life assets. A document looking at how the company assesses climate risk is available. Working with others to enhance the global response to climate change is crucial. BHP Billiton welcomes the Paris COP 21 agreement. It is involved with the financial stability of climate related disclosure task force led by Michael Bloomberg. Fiona is on this task force and this is an endorsement of what BHP Billion is doing. [Either that or it is an indictment of what the taskforce is doing…]
1.9 There is a three way split between the three multinationals which own the Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia (the others being Anglo American and Glencore). It is, some say, the biggest energy coal mine in the world. It is a vital part of the economy of La Guajira. The mine has paid more than 4 billion dollars in taxes and royalties to local and national government. It employs more than 6,000 people and more than 50,000 people rely on it.
1.10 “It is not a surprise that we are very welcome there and people really do want us to stay as we make such a fundamental contribution to the region. Not everyone has benefited from this. Mining adds stresses to local communities. People affected have attended AGMs for quite some time. Clearly the concerns we have about non-operated joint ventures – we have put more people into understanding what is going on there at Samarco and at Cerrejon. A major review team has recently visited Cerrejon to hear directly from community members and there are things that are not right and we need to fix things. In 1981, when the mine was started, there were not adequate baselines put in place to understand how things have got better or worse, but there are things we can do. We are satisfied that Cerrejon has not been the cause of food insecurity or malnutrition, but clear that communities have suffered and as the mine has gone on there was a multi-year drought caused by El Nino, and this affects water availability, and although Cerrejon has reduced water use there is a shrinking pool. It increases dust as well. The closure of the border with Venezuela by the Venezuelan government has created other stress.”
1.11 He said that the central government in Colombia had chosen to divert most of the royalties to the national government rather than allow them to be paid into the region, and this has led to a drop in payments to local government. The mine works with the World Food Programme to prevent malnutrition and increase food security.
1.12 “It is clear that community members have concerns about resettlement and consultation. Standards have not been consistently applied. Some of the resettlement has had negative impacts on some people and we have not always been able to achieve a sustainable livelihood for people after resettlement or even achieve parity with their former income. There is concern also about water quality. We are committed to addressing this with Cerrejon management.
1.13 “Dust is also a problem and Cerrejon must not be a prime cause of dust pollution for local communities. The mine has made changes so dust will be reduced to below legal levels. Some pits were closed in response to predictions of dust levels. Respiratory diseases are, according to the Colombian government, not primarily caused by dust from the mine but by bacterial disease.”
2.1 Rodrigo Peret, Churches and Mining Latin American network: We follow the crime committed by Samarco. A report from the Brazilian police clearly stated that negligence and technical problems preceded the dam collapse. Considering the shared responsibility of BHP Billiton and Vale, what effective mitigation measures will be taken in the short, medium and long term to offset damage to surrounding communities? Many affected people are from rural communities and rely on agriculture or fishing. How will restoration of flora and fauna be done? Are there dates for which action will be taken and when?
2.2 Nick Steiner (shareholder): Regarding help given to communities right now: 6,000 people have lost their jobs. What are the long term proposals to get them back into employment so they won’t have to rely on handouts?
2.3 Letícia Oliveira Gomes de Faria: Leticia said she is from Mariana. She is part of the Movement of People Affected by Dams, MAB. The companies and government made a plan for action to repair the damage. The agreement with the government was annulled by the courts because of the lack of involvement by affected communities in drawing it up. Now they invite affected people to participate, but only in consultation spaces. In this agreement everything has been defined by the company. Why does the company not allow families to participate in decisions about what will be done?
2.4 Another shareholder: “You say a report is being done on the failure of the dam. What happened? In the report it says Samarco is a non-operated JV. Sounds like you write cheques and take risk if things go wrong. You say you have now decided to take control of tailings dams but why did you not do this before?”
2.5 Maria do Carmo Silva D’Angelo: “I am from Paracatu in the district of Mariana and I was directly hit by the collapse of the dam. My neighbour had property destroyed by the collapse of the dam but has not been recognised as someone affected by the disaster. After the mud destroyed her property she suffered a stroke but has received no compensation from the company. Another victim of the disaster was a baby whose mother miscarried after she had been dragged by the mud. The mother has received nothing for the loss of her baby. Another situation is of producers who are not considered as being affected by the disaster, e.g. the association of milk producers, of which I am a representative. There are more than 100 members of this association of milk producers and we have only received compensation for the loss of production for November last year. Many people have received no compensation and the losses are mounting as our production has been hit by the mud which has covered our land. Why is it that there are so many cases of people who were affected but are not recognised as being affected and have not had their rights recognised by the company?”
2.6 Andrew Mackenzie said that he had visited Paracatu and it is sobering and has been very difficult sorting out what to do for the best.
2.7 Dean Dalla Valle: The investigation into the technical causes of the dam failure is a public document and can be made available after the meeting but has been in the public domain since 29 August. There was a long chain of events. The report includes technical findings, not attribution of blame. In 2009 the original drain designed to take water out of sands had construction defects and failed not long after the dam’s commission. Use of the dam stopped and an alternative drain was put in place but this increased the level of water in the sand contained in the dams. One of the design features of the dam was that the mud was held back by a sand wall. Between 2010 and 2012 the mud had been allowed to encroach within 60 metres of the sand wall. After 2012 another problem developed: at the abutment of the dam where it joins the side of the valley there was another drain which had begun to fail so the designers put a dog-leg in the wall to take the pressure off that drain while they fixed it. They started building a wall over the area where mud had been deposited. At some point the forces on top of the mud started pushing it out like toothpaste. Sand then began to fall slowly and the moisture increased. This allowed liquefaction to take place.
2.8 Andrew Mackenzie: “We now understand exactly what happened but only because of the inquiry using new techniques only recently available. Our ability to avoid problems in future is great.”
2.9 Dean Dalla Valle: Regarding remediation and compensation, a study is being conducted into what needs to be done all the way down river to the ocean but focusing especially on the first 85km where the bulk of the material was deposited. From this will come scoping of the work which will need to be approved by a government body. It will have input from the community. On compensation, a process is under way where we believe 8,500 people have shown interest in compensation and 3,000 have been registered. People are in the field to help people fill in the form. This is over and above the 7,000 assistance cards which have been issued to help people who have lost livelihood. Consultation has not been as deep and extensive as people want. It was critical to get things going quickly. Now it is time to have consultation. There have been 50 meetings attended by 20,000 people up and down the river. This is just a start. “I apologise that we have not had the opportunity to consult enough immediately but it is good that we got the Foundation up and running. People have received help but there is more to do.”
2.10 Andrew Mackenzie: We know we have to consult more and that there are more people who need to be compensated but we have tried to move first to those who have the greatest need. We have to work through very complex criteria to make sure there is a sense of fairness. At Cerrejon we have been too crude in how we have assessed these things and this has led to a sense of unfairness.
2.11 Dean Dalla Valle: 6,000 people were employed by Samarco before the event. 2,000 are remaining. Contractors do not have work to do. It is vital that it restart but it has to be done in the right manner, a safe manner and sustainable manner that keeps it viable. There is no point starting something that will not survive long. The approval process has been challenged on many fronts legally. We need to understand the restart conditions and cost, how to refinance the debt held by Samarco. This is not assured though.
2.12 Andrew Mackenzie: “A leaflet distributed outside this building [by LMN, actually…] suggests that the mine should not restart but we want to restart in a practical and viable way. Non-operated assets are common in the industry, starting in the 1970s. Tidying these up into the kind of JV we prefer, where one company is the operator and the others are non-operators, is not easy. There is no evidence that suggests that if one of BHP Billiton or Vale had been the operator we could have prevented this accident. If we do restart we will do so under a different operating model, though we cannot say that it would have prevented it.”
2.13 Another shareholder: You are a mining company and the biggest contribution you can make on climate change is mining lithium. The demand is growing every year. There is not enough lithium in the world at present. Australia is the largest producer of lithium. The Chinese are running rings around you and have taken control of the largest lithium mines in the world from under your noses. Rio Tinto has started studies on lithium in Serbia. The Chinese are spending billions on lithium and you have just spent billions on shale oil.
2.14 Andrew Hickman, London Mining Network: At the last AGM we discussed the Indomet coal mine in Borneo. In the discussion you hinted you might be leaving and I suggested you might consider alternatives than selling to another mining company. In the context of climate change, this is a mine in the middle of the forests of Borneo, forests which provide livelihoods for millions of people downstream. If you are a leader on climate change you could have considered a better alternative than selling the mine to another mining company and running away from the damage you have caused. Your presence there is not desirable but if you do consider yourselves leaders on climate change you should consider better solutions. Your response was that the government of Indonesia wanted a mine there, but the new President talks about mining moratoria and there is a strong movement in Indonesia calling for the end of coal mining, especially in rainforests. You could have thought of a slightly more positive and radical solution for local communities and the wider world.
2.15 Fiona Wild: How we think about scenario analysis: the work we do on this enables us to think through the attractiveness of our commodities over time and see which of our scenarios is becoming more or less dominant and adapt our portfolio mix. We do see an ongoing role for metallurgical coal and energy coal and believe the mix we have between energy and minerals is right. There is a strong role for met coal.
2.16 Andrew Hickman: You could have considered the 120 million you got for the project being given back to the community to allow them to take control of their land and pursue their own priorities.
2.17 Andrew Mackenzie: Some of that 120 million has allowed us to invest heavily in CCS research and in batteries. Some of our other wilderness programmes benefit. It is easier for us to do these things, such as REDD projects, in Chile, Peru and Australia rather than Indonesia. A lot of our money is put towards climate change work but we look at it globally, not locally. Adaro, our JV partner, was determined to press on with the mine.
2.18 Regarding lithium, we always look at our portfolio, and it is attractive, but we do not have expertise in mining the salts from which it is extracted. Lithium batteries have a lot of nickel in them and the nickel has to appear in a particular form and we have that potential through Nickel West in Australia. We are also investing in solar storage in Queensland. The lithium borate deposit which Rio Tinto are looking at was one that I was involved with when I was at Rio Tinto.
2.19 Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu: I come from La Guajira in Colombia. I have various questions but I want to add one more: the Chair says the mine does not pollute but if there is no pollution why did they come to my house offering help as long as I did not press on with my legal case? I live next to the Cerrejon coal mine and we suffer various impacts every day. Why do you say there is no contamination when it is so obvious? I have a three year old sick son, Moises. He is suffering from respiratory illness and I had to file a constitutional complaint to get his rights recognised. Cerrejon offered to buy my silence, offered to give my husband work and take care of health treatment if I withdrew the lawsuit. If they are not responsible why did they come and offer all that to me?
2.20 Regarding the constitutional complaint in which the judges found that the health of my son is at risk and made orders to reduce contamination in the area – what is BHP Billiton doing to verify that court orders are being kept?
2.21 BHP Billiton is taking advantage of the lax environmental standards in Colombia, which are much lower than in Europe. If they are so responsible, why do they not require in all their operations that the company keep the environmental standards of the World Health Organisation?
2.22 Andrew Mackenzie: “I am well aware of Moises’, your child’s, illness. I extend my sympathy and best wishes. I do not know exactly the interface you have had with people at Cerrejon. We are generally concerned about the health of the community but you should not imply that in cases where we want to help it is because coal dust from the mine has caused the problem. We think it is more likely to be viral conditions rather than dust. We do not operate different standards – there are dust issues at all our operations and we always aim to have dust well within international standards, in Chile and Peru and Colombia. The drought has made it worse. We have endeavoured to reduce dust. I am pleased that people from Cerrejon came to see you and I know that they continue to monitor dust levels and I wish your son the very best for the future and I hope that if it is more bacterial or viral that he gets the appropriate help.”
2.23 Luz Angela: Colombian standards are half as high as the WHO standards and all the dust levels were above WHO standards. Regarding resettlements, you touched on that issue. One of the many cases was Tabaco, displaced 15 years ago through the use of force. There have been lots of delays. There was a Constitutional Court judgement in its favour and the community is asking when is it going to be reconstructed and when can they live together as a community again?
2.24 Andrew Mackenzie: the process has not resolved itself yet and when it does we will clearly comply with any legal judgement that might follow in the future.
2.25 Rodrigo Peret spoke again. He said that the studies done by Samarco are broad and technical but the report from federal police showed that the owners knew of problems and the dam designer statements confirmed that Samarco disregarded what had been revealed in inspections in 2014 regarding liquefaction in the dam and effects of dam heightening. He said that the criteria about who is affected by the dam collapse disaster are set up by the criminal company itself.
2.26 Andrew Mackenzie replied: “For every claim you make there are counter claims.”
End of pre-AGM Question and Answer session
BHP Billiton AGM, 20 October 2016
3. Company presentations
3.1 Company Chairman Jac Nasser began the formal AGM saying that the past year had been one of the most difficult years ever. There had been many difficulties, none more so than Samarco. “We faced up to the difficulties and made our company safer and stronger for the long term,” he said.
3.2 Samarco: Jac Nasser said that shortly after the last London AGM there had been a dam failure at the BHP Billiton/Vale Joint Venture in Brazil, Samarco. “We remember those who died and are deeply sorry.” Immediately after the dam failure, the company took a series of actions with Samarco and JV partner Vale and made a number of commitments on behalf of Samarco. Within 24 hours the majority of displaced people were in temporary accommodation and within 2 weeks the majority of children were back in school. Community meetings were held to make sure that people were consulted. There is a detailed description of the response effort in the annual report, he said.
3.3 He said that in March this year Samarco, BHP Billiton Brazil and Vale entered into a framework agreement with the Brazilian federal government and other authorities. It provides for 41 programmes to compensate communities and restore the environment. BHP Billiton committed to an external investigation into the causes of the dam failure and was done. Findings were published in August and are available on the BHP Billiton website. The company is committed to discussing the findings with other resource companies so the whole sector can improve safety and reduce tailings dam risks, and this has been done.
3.4 The company has completed a governance review of its non-operated minerals JVs and has centralised the management of those Jvs. The company committed to reviewing all the tailings dams in the BHP Billion portfolio. This confirmed that its dams are stable. The company has established a dam management function that brings additional expertise in house and is bringing in new technology to improve safety. It is developing a new tailings dam standard that will draw on international standards and increase use of independent reviews. It has changed the benchmark it uses for dam safety reviews and they will be carried out in association with Canadian experts as they have the most rigorous standards in the industry. Health and safety, environment and community remain central to how the company operates and the company remains committed to doing the right thing.
3.5 Performance of the company: Jac Nasser said it had been a challenging year for BHP Billiton and the resources sector but “we demonstrated the resilience of our company and our portfolio.” Andrew Mackenzie and his team lowered unit cash costs by 16% and increased cash efficiency. BHP Billiton is the only company in the sector with an A rating from all three ratings agencies. “The balance sheet comes first,” he said. [What? I thought that was “health and safety and environment and community”…]
3.6 Climate change: Jac Nasser said that responding to this is a priority for BHP Billiton and had been for decades. Last year the company published its climate change portfolio analysis. The report highlighted that BHP Billiton’s diverse portfolio of high quality low cost assets is robust. The company is reducing emissions and working with others to influence the global policy response, including a global average temperature increase of less than 2 degrees.
3.7 Diversity and board renewal: Jac Nasser said that there is a business case for this. “We take inclusivity seriously. The board has agreed to work to achieve gender balance throughout BHP Billiton at all levels by 2025. Board renewal is an ongoing process.” The newest director, Ken Mackenzie joined the board last month. John Schubert is leaving. [So one white middle-aged man is being replaced by another.]
3.8 Jac Nasser said that the last ten years had reshaped the company. It had successfully demerged South32. “When we get it wrong we work hard to make it right. We have strengthened the company for the long term. Last year I intended to announce my retirement, but the Board thought I should continue to maintain stability especially with the Samarco disaster. Now the response is in place I have decided I will not seek re-election at next year’s AGM. Through the coming period I will continue to lead the Board.” He offered thanks to his fellow directors and to employees and shareholders.
3.9 Andrew Mackenzie, CEO, said that Financial Year 2016 had been very difficult. “We stayed true to Our Charter values and made solid progress. We will concentrate on safety and productivity.” [Okay – so now they’re concentrating on the balance sheet, health and safety, environment and community AND productivity. This is becoming reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch on the Spanish Inquisition…]
3.10 Samarco: Andrew Mackenzie said he was struck by the parallels between Samarco and the events at Aberfan 50 years ago: the loss of 116 children and 28 adults to a flow of liquefied coal waste in a Welsh valley. It brought home to him the distance the mining industry has to travel. He paid tribute to the people of Aberfan and the people of Brazil. “We have to work as an industry to improve the situation. The Samarco events weigh heavily on us. We will do the right thing, we will meet our commitments. I travelled to Brazil after the event in November last year and again in June. I spent time with some of the most affected families. Many people I met were in recently restored homes and businesses. I was inspired by the hard work and dedication of the more than 3,000 people working on this. The Framework agreement that BHP Billiton, Vale and Samarco jointly entered into with the Brazilian government set up the Renova foundation and programmes to address problems. We are working on improving the standards of our dams through greater use of the best available science and technology. The restart of the mine is crucial for the local and national economy but needs approval of the processes under which it is restarted. We will do the right thing for the people and environment affected by this terrible disaster. We will upgrade standards for our non-operated JVs. ICMM [the International Council on Mining and Metals] is developing a guide to improving the standards of tailings dams. It is hard to be positive about our safety performance in the shadow of Samarco but we did improve safety standards at our operated sites.”
3.11 Financial results: Lower commodity prices had reduced underlying profit by 81%, but there had been productivity gains. “What matters most is safety and productivity.” [What about health, environment and community…?]
3.12 He thanked the company’s employees.
3.13 He said that the company had amended its Charter to include diversity and inclusion. “More must and will be done.”
3.14 The meeting was then opened to questions.
4.1 Rodrigo Peret, of the Churches and Mining Network in Brazil, said that the agreement between BHP Billiton, Vale and national and state governments was cancelled by a federal judge because of the criteria for compensation and the lack of involvement of the local population. Considering its share in the responsibility of BHP Billiton, Vale and Samarco, which effective mitigation measures in the short, medium and long term would be taken, and when, to compensate communities, and how will restoration of flora and fauna be done? Is there a schedule and deadlines for compliance? Is it possible to believe in real compensation and remedy if the criteria to consider who was affected were elaborated by the company which caused the damage and death? People need to answer an extensive survey, 540 pages of questions, in order to claim compensation. The Federal University of Belo Horizonte studied the company’s questionnaire and have a lot of reservations about it. It involves an inversion of logic.
4.2 Jac Nasser said that a lot of good work had been done. “We decided to prioritise quick action over years of study and then action. We did not sit back and analyse everything to the last detail or hide behind legal mechanisms but immediately started because we felt being quick in helping everyone we could help as quickly as possible would be beneficial to the overall community. When you adopt that approach as fast and effectively as possible you miss some things, and we did, but some good work has been done.”
4.3 Maria do Carmo Silva D’Angelo said that she was from the Paracatu in the district of Mariana and was hit by the mud flow from the breaking of the dam by Samarco, BHP Billiton and Vale. Her neighbour’s property was destroyed by the disaster but she is not recognised as someone affected by the disaster. After the destruction of her house she had a stroke and is in a wheelchair but is not recognised as being affected by the disaster. There was another victim above the 19 deaths mentioned. A woman caught up in the mud flow lost her baby in a miscarriage as a result, and this has not been recognised. Various people who are producers have not been recognised as being hit by the disaster, and one is the association of milk producers of which Maria is a representative. This association has more than 100 members who produce milk, and the only compensation they have received so far is the lost production from November last year. “All of us are suffering losses in our income and there are some producers who as yet have not received anything. The question is, why are there so many situations of people who have not been recognised as being affected by the disaster and whose rights have not been recognised?”
4.4 Jac Nasser replied, “You have come a long way to explain your situation in detail. I would say my response to Mr Peret earlier covers what you are talking about but there are some specifics that we will come back and address specifically.”
4.5 Letícia Oliveira Gomes de Faria explained that she was from Mariana and was involved in the Movement of People Affected by Dams, MAB. The companies involved in the disaster and various levels of government in Brazil had made a plan of what actions to take across the river basin but the agreement had been annulled because there had been no involvement of those affected. Now the affected people are being asked to participate but only in the consultation space, not in decision-making. Everything in the criteria for compensation is defined by the company. How can the company design compensation without the involvement of affected people?
4.6 Another shareholder commended the Chairman for giving up his bonus this year. He then said that normal people insure their possessions. There had been very limited insurance for Samarco. It had been said that self-insurance was in operation, but this is a euphemism for not being insured. Why did the board not make sure there was enough insurance to cover the Samarco disaster? BHP Billiton is a mining company, not an insurance company. If the board thinks it is better to insure in-house, why not give up mining and become an insurance company?
4.7 Jac Nasser pointed out that board members get no bonus and he had therefore not had to give his up.
4.8 Richard Harkinson, from London Mining Network, said that the Chairman had said that the company had learned lessons from Samarco, produced a report, reviewed all the company’s tailings dams and was developing a standard for non-operated Joint Ventures. Is there any transparency on that review? Would the company put it on its website? BHP Billiton, in conjunction with Rio Tinto, is attempting to develop an operation in Arizona affecting the San Carlos Apache, the Resolution Copper project at Oak Flats, Apache Leap. How would its reviews affect the attempted development of this project? How is the company’s engagement with safety going to affect its actions in Arizona? There is litigation against BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto over the Resolution Copper project.
4.9 Jac Nasser said that the Samarco tailings dam collapse was a terrible tragedy and that the company had never tried to hide from that. Within hours of learning of it, the company had put in place what it felt were the right mechanisms, not to debate what happened, but how to make good what went wrong as quickly as possible. “It is not about getting it 100% right but to do things quickly and help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We said we would go quickly rather than do studies and get it 100% right, but late. We are doing all we can to restore communities and the environment. The Renova Foundation has been in operation for a few months now. We wanted to get there quickly and improve as we go along.” The AGM was part of that process. The company had set up a special committee on Samarco. The whole idea of that was to put the force of the whole company in a support function for the communities. The company needed to understand the situation on the ground and help out as quickly as possible. They were also determined to make sure that this kind of thing would never happen anywhere in the world again. The company was looking into whether there is something else in the world that would make BHP Billiton and other companies operate better. The primary motivation is to make sure the company had an understanding of what went wrong and shared this across its operations and the whole sector. Andrew Mackenzie would be the champion of this within the International Council on Mining and Metals. BHP Billiton had also carried out a review of significant dams in its own portfolio. They wanted to make sure that every facility they operate is safe.
4.10 Andrew Mackenzie said that more input was needed from Paracatu. “We are not done yet with the process of people registering for compensation or paying out compensation. We wanted to move quickly and this has meant we have moved coarsely.” 6,400 support cards had been issued along the river downstream. Some went to milk co-operative members. More is to be done. The registration process is complex and the company is still analysing the data. Many people are working on it. “We are determined to make the whole thing highly consultative.”
4.11 Peter Beaven, Chief Financial Officer, said that insurance is part of the risk management process and part of mitigation. “We need to improve mitigation of certain of our risks. The most important thing to do is avoid problems in the first place”. He said that they did have insurance “at the Samarco level (600 million dollars) and at the BHP Billiton level (720 million dollars)”. Given the 50/50 split in ownership of Samarco, that meant that almost a billion dollars of insurance was attributable to BHP Billiton. Beyond that, the company had self-insurance. Decisions of a commercial nature always carry risk. The cost of insurance is very high and the ability to claim back on policies can be very difficult and lengthy. The company’s arrangement of making arms-length charges to a company in Guernsey has worked for BHP Billiton as a commercial manager of risk. The most important thing is to avoid the risk in the first place.
4.12 Andrew Mackenzie said that 100 people from Synergia were in the area doing registration. People from Caritas were in the area to do mitigation. Samarco had set up 10 offices all along the Rio Doce back up to the mine and staffed by 300 people. They expect to put in more offices. The companies can consult more widely but have already had 300 meetings and think they have heard the views of 10,000 people, and this would shape conversations with prosecutors and what is done in the Foundation. BHP Billiton recognises there is more that it has to do. The process of mitigation will take years.
4.13 Richard Harkinson asked if they would be transparent about their tailings dam study. It had been clearly said that the Supreme Court of Justice had held up the agreement between the companies and the government. Andrew Mackenzie had talked about the amount that the company had consulted, but people were asking how much the company would allow them to participate in decisions – otherwise they were keeping people at arm’s length and pacifying people here. The Chief Financial Officer had almost suggested that the disaster had not happened. He had said that the question was how to avoid disaster, and in this case the company had not done so. Unless the company made its study of tailings dams transparent, people would not know how its review of tailings dams works. The information should be shared.
4.14 Andrew Mackenzie said that the review had to be done rapidly. It was a very unusual accident and the company had now learnt a lot from it about the operation of tailings dams. There was a whole suite of things they wished to do to prevent any form of recurrence. They fully intend to be open about the review. It had been an appropriate response, rapid to make sure there would be no recurrence, and then more considered as they went along.
4.15 Richard Harkinson said that they should put the review report on the company website.
4.16 Jac Nasser said that Richard had made his point very well and they had given him a response, and if he wanted to discuss other matters after the meeting, Andrew Mackenzie, Jac Nasser and Dean Dalla Valle would be happy to see him.
4.17 Andrew Mackenzie said that, with regard to the Resolution Copper project in Arizona, Rio Tinto was the operator. The permitting process had been commenced. It provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to express their views. BHP Billiton wants the project to be consistent with ICMM policies on Indigenous Peoples and the consent of Indigenous Peoples before going ahead with it.
4.18 Jac Nasser added that, because the project was in Arizona, the process would be open.
4.19 Richard Harkinson pointed out that the project involves a private Act of Congress. BHP Billiton had mined in the area and Rio Tinto had come to BHP Billiton with another project in the same area. There were concerns about water, the project involved the dangerous block caving technique, and the company’s plan involved putting a tailings dam above a small township, just as at Samarco.
4.20 Jac Nasser said, rather tetchily, that Richard had asked for transparency and would get transparency.
4.21 Rodrigo Peret said that he wanted to underline the request from affected communities. They do not want only to be consulted. They want to participate actively in decision-making.
4.22 Jac Nasser replied that the company was committed to active consultation.
4.23 Rodrigo asked if the company would change the Foundation.
4.24 Andrew Mackenzie said that the whole point about the Foundation was that active social dialogue was fundamental to the way it works.
4.25 Rodrigo pointed out that dialogue is not the same thing as decision-making. The Foundation belongs to the companies, so it is not an independent body. The federal police had revealed negligence within the company. It is reasonable that communities should be part of the decisions affecting their own lives.
4.26 Andrew Mackenzie said that the Advisory Council will consist of about 20 people and a good number of them would be directly nominated by communities and others from government agencies. The dam collapse was an unplanned event. The scale was enormous. The company is responding as fast as it can and making sure nothing further happens with the coming rainy season. They are getting things done as quickly as possible. The Advisory Council will have local representatives and will help shape the process.
4.27 Rodrigo said that if the event was ‘unpredictable’ for the company, how was it for the communities living downstream of the dam? Communities demand involvement in the decision-making of the Foundation, not just in giving advice.
4.28 Jac Nasser said that the company welcomed Rodrigo’s feedback. [Though he did not look as though he welcomed it very much.]
4.29 Arie Rompas, from WALHI, said that he was from Indonesia and lived in Central Kalimantan. BHP Billiton had been active in Central Kalimantan. Arie said he would like to ask about the Indomet concession, of which there were 7 different parts. He had 3 specific questions. First: the Indomet project was in one of the last remaining forest areas of Indonesia. Indomet had contributed to the deforestation of the area. What was the company doing to ensure that deforestation does not continue? Regarding land compensation for the original deal done, communities were still trying to get compensation for lands taken from them by intimidation and forceful means. What was BHP Billiton doing to ensure that communities would receive full compensation for their lands and recognition of their indigenous rights, which are well documented even to the extent that Dutch colonial maps show them to be indigenous territories? In relation to the issue of tailings waste in the Indomet project, two days after the company announced it would sell its remaining share of the project (and this had a direct relation to Samarco) the tailings pond in the Indomet project had overflowed and polluted rivers. Arie had been listening to the claims that the board was making about ensuring that the company’s tailings dams and mining waste are cared for and safe, yet after its tailings dam review began the Indomet project polluted rivers which remain polluted to this day.
4.30 Jac Nasser replied that this had been a subject discussed at this AGM for many years. He said that over these years he had interpreted the objections to it as an encouragement for BHP Billiton not to be involved in Indomet. The company had always been very open with its critics and transparent about what it saw as the potential and what its standards would be. It had also been very open about its view on the development potential. In more recent times, as Andrew Mackenzie and his team looked at various portfolio options, they had determined, on a commercial basis, that this project did not fit as well as other operations would fit as an investment for the company. Adaro was a minority partner with BHP Billiton and it was logical that if BHP Billiton were not going to proceed with it then the other JV partner would want to take it up. He said he had noted Arie’s three questions and Andrew Mackenzie would go through these. Nobody raised their hands to buy this project because Adaro was the most logical acquirer of 100% of the assets.
4.31 Andrew Mackenzie added that Adaro now operated the mine, having recently taken full control of it. He said that the company had answered Arie’s question in former AGMs about land compensation. BHP Billiton had provided everything according to Indonesian law and had made additional payments over and above that. It is a pilot mine and did not lead to pollution of the river system. It does not wash or process coal so it cannot have tailings. The pond breach was a storm pond storing rain water and the authorities investigated it and found no pollution. Arie would now have to raise these issues with Adaro. There are good signs, though. BHP Billiton was very keen, when it was there, to provide fresh water, and the mine provides fresh water to Marawai, and Adaro have told BHP Billiton that they intend to continue this.
4.32 Arie said that on the issue of land compensation, two years ago the local community went through the process of getting recognition of their lands as indigenous lands, and they were recognised as such (consequently changing the issue of land tenure). On the subject of pollution of local rivers, BHP Billiton itself announced that production was beginning in 2014, and a permit for riverine waste disposal was only granted in 2015, but Arie’s community and the organisation supporting the community went to test the water and found that levels of pollution exceeded levels allowed by Indonesian law. Most countries do not allow dumping in rivers. The tests that they did indicated that pollution was beyond allowed levels.
4.33 Andrew Mackenzie said that BHP Billiton no longer owned this mine, did not produce ‘tailings’ as it did not wash or process coal, and its studies showed that there was no pollution.
4.34 Arie replied that whatever terms were used, the point was that the land was being cleared, the coal was being exposed, and according to the tests done by WALHI, there had been pollution in the river.
4.35 Jac Nasser said that it seemed as though there was a need for an exchange of data. BHP Billiton had been very transparent about this and every year there had been different individuals with different issues turning up at its AGM. BHP Billiton is not the owner of that mine. Arie should speak to them. He did not have to come to the UK, as the operator was in Indonesia. If there was anything that BHP Billiton could do to help, it would, but this had been a decade-long discussion and there had now been a change of ownership, and BHP Billiton could not give Arie commitments for the future.
4.36 Andrew Mackenzie said that there were various operators in area, there was not only one mine, and BHP Billiton’s mine was small.
4.37 Avi Chomsky, of Salem State University in Massachusetts, said that she had been studying the process of displacement and resettlement of communities by Cerrejon Coal in Colombia since 2002. She was struck by BHP Billiton saying that it wanted to follow all applicable laws and do the right thing. Cerrejon behaved as though it wanted to do whatever it could get away with, and to use the climate of impunity which companies contributing to the Colombian government benefit from. In the case of Tabaco, the village was forcibly displaced in 2001. In May 2002 there was a Colombian court decision requiring Cerrejon to participate in the relocation of Tabaco. In 2007 Cerrejon contracted an independent panel of inquiry to look into it, and this recommended the relocation of Tabaco. In 2008 Cerrejon signed an agreement to help relocate the community – but it had still not been relocated.
4.38 In the case of Tamaquitos, Avi said that Cerrejon had signed an agreement to relocate the community and provide water for drinking, domestic use and productive projects. The community had now been relocated for over a year and still did not have enough water for any of these 3 things.
4.39 In the case of Roche, the Independent Panel of Inquiry had recommended that the forcible, violent relocation of Tabaco should never happen again, but in February 2016 the community of Roche was violently and forcibly displaced. How would BHP Billiton require that Cerrejon live up to its commitments?
4.40 Jac Nasser replied that this had been an item at the AGM for some time. BHP Billiton was one-third owner of Cerrejon and everything the company looks at regarding Cerrejon is through the prism of being responsible for it. Over the years the company had heard complaints and had tried to investigate to the best of its capability, and they had made some progress. Andrew Mackenzie had decided a year or two ago that BHP Billiton needed to have a dedicated Cerrejon team. This team had been in Cerrejon recently. If Avi wanted an opportunity to meet with the team, she could. BHP Billiton wanted to make sure it was not missing anything. Sometimes there is misinformation about what the appropriate strategy is and what remediation actions could be. The board did not yet have a report from the team but would have soon, and this would help form the basis of BHP Billiton’s strategy on Cerrejon. The board was as frustrated as Avi on this. It wants Cerrejon to be successful, and this meant resolving all those problems.
4.41 Andrew Mackenzie said he had got a draft of the report and had talked about it in the information session before the AGM. He said that resettlement was always a last resort and the company always does it in line with Colombian legislation and international standards, but when standards increase it was not always possible to go back and redo what had been done. BHP Billiton has some control but not the level of control the company would like, as it is the Colombian government that determined which communities were entitled to prior consultation, and it is not easy to go against the law of a country. BHP Billiton tries to make sure there is new housing and agriculture and endeavours to establish new projects that can provide sustainable incomes for the future. The company shared Avi’s frustration on Tabaco but the delays had been outside the company’s control as the municipality of Hatonuevo is responsible for the construction of the new village and had rejected the community’s choice of land, which Cerrejon Coal had already bought. A new site was now needed. Progress was being made but it had not yet been possible to get agreement on suitability. The company continued to try to get agreement between the community and the municipality. The company would build a community centre when new land was chosen. Cererjon would comply with its legal obligations.
4.42 On Roche, Andrew Mackenzie said that agreement had been reached and resettlement had started, and there had still been some opposition and some conflict which BHP Billiton totally regretted and wished it had not happened. He said that Avi would have to tell him more about Tamaquitos as he was not fully familiar with it. The area had just come through the worst drought on record, and Cerrejon had massively reduced its consumption of water. He said that he accepted that not everything had happened that should have happened, but he would need further information.
4.43 Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu said that she was from an indigenous community in Colombia affected by the Cerrejon mine. Communities are facing impacts, especially through air and water contamination, and many children are sick. “How can it be that here in Europe you enjoy the benefits of Colombian coal and the profits of Cerrejon, and we have to suffer? After 30 years of the mine we still live in poverty. As indigenous people we have the right to live on our land without pollution. What is BHP Billiton doing to ensure the right of our children to live and grow up without pollution? Cerrejon takes advantage of lax environmental standards in Colombia when the standards in Europe are so much higher. My 3 year old son Moises is suffering from serious respiratory illness due to air pollution caused by Cerrejon.” Luz Angela said that doctors had advised her to move away but she lives on indigenous land and she cannot just move away. A few days after she filed a constitutional complaint, Cerrejon officials, who had never wanted to listen to her before, suddenly came to see her and offered her husband a job, and help for her child, as long as she withdrew the legal case. The judge recognised Moises’ health was at risk and ordered Cerrejon to reduce pollution close to her home. There had been no change though, so what would BHP Billiton do to ensure that court decisions are being complied with and to save the life of Moises, which is at stake because of this mining operation?
4.44 Jac Nasser said he had deep sympathy for Luz Angela and Moises. He said that the company hopes he gets better over time. This is a subject which had been discussed at the CEO level in the company, so the board is aware of the situation and would like Andrew Mackenzie to address it. It may be more complicated that what appears on the surface.
4.45 Andrew Mackenzie said that there had been a discussion about this earlier, in the information session. BHP Billiton wanted to make a real contribution to everyone in the region. Cerrejon accounts for 56% of GDP of La Guajira and employs many people in the region, and many more rely on it. It is a poor region, suffering from drought, suffering from the closure of the Venezuelan border, and many of Cerrejon’s royalties have been diverted because of national government action to Bogota, and then have to come back to the area again. The company works very hard on community health and when dust levels are too high it stops mining. Dust monitoring stations are available to local people. He said he was very aware of Moises’ illness and Luz Angela had his sympathy and his hope for a swift recovery. The information that BHP Billiton was given was that Moises’ illness was not caused by Cerrejon but was a symptom of viral or bacterial disease. The company still wants to help and Andrew Mackenzie hoped that the Cerrejon offer was made in a good way and he would look into that.
4.46 Luz Angela said that it hurt her that she had to come to London, and to take legal action, to secure the health of a 3 year old child. If it were not for his health being connected with contamination from the mine, then she would not be at the company’s AGM.
4.47 Jac Nasser said that company representatives would meet with her after the AGM.
4.48 Annelen Micus said that she was a lawyer working with the CAJAR lawyers’ collective in Bogota. The collective is working with several communities in La Guajira affected by the Cerrejon mine. She said that she had a question about water. CAJAR finds that the causes of water shortages lie within the mine, as coal mining has impacts on the ground water. Although the mine does not use good quality water, it uses 48 million litres of water per day, when each person in La Guajira has less than 1 litre per day. This inequality needs to be addressed. There are also plans to divert a local river, the Arroyo Bruno, pending some court decisions. Annelen said that CAJAR would like to ask BHP Billiton to re-evaluate whether that diversion is really necessary and evaluate its human rights impact, as not all the communities impacted by the diversion were listened to. She asked for BHP Billiton to commit to stop that diversion.
4.49 Jac Nasser replied that this had been a subject of discussion in the past at the AGM and other forums.
4.50 Andrew Mackenzie said that BHP Billiton cared about water stress in many of its operations and had been at the forefront of creating solutions for providing water for its mining operations without affecting local biodiversity. La Guajira had experienced one of the worst droughts on record because of El Nino, but this was now over and the problem may now reduce. Cerrejon had reduced its water use to 80% of its requirements and 50% of what it was permitted to use. It had drilled wells and distributed millions of litres of water. There had had to be some short-term solutions and Cerrejon had worked with government to do something through a drought emergency plan. With new rain, all being well the situation will improve.
4.51 There is a requirement to divert 3km of the Arroyo Bruno. It is usually a dry river, but this may begin to change with the rains. Communities do have rights of consultation but this is done via the Interior Ministry, who identified one community which needed to be consulted, but Cerrejon had presented the project to thousands of local people and recognised the right of local people to take legal action, and would comply with legal judgements. Studies had shown that the diversion would not affect the hydrology of the area.
4.52 Annelen said that it was not only about water quantity but water quality, and many people were suffering rashes on their skin and had to buy drinking water, which was very expensive for them.
4.53 Andrew Mackenzie said that BHP Billiton had not got everything right and he was not satisfied that Cerrejon had got it all right. Water that was promised had not always been delivered, partly because of the drought, and the company needed to improve.
4.54 Daniel Voskoboynik, of London Mining Network, said that the causes of the drought included not only El Nino but also the expansion of the mine, and perhaps there was a need for further studies. But he said he wanted to ask about the Cerro Matoso nickel complex elsewhere in Colombia. From 1979 to 2015 it was controlled by BHP Billiton. There had been numerous reports in recent months about human rights and pollution impacts in the area, including indigenous rights. He said that there needed to be an independent investigation into the historic impacts of the mine during BHP illiton’s ownership. Given that there was an investigation currently taking place…
4.55 Jac Nasser interrupted, saying he was not aware of an investigation taking place. He said that BHP Billiton was no longer involved at Cerro Matoso as it was one of the assets of South32, the company spun off from BHP Billiton last year. He told Daniel that he should bring the matter up with South32, who would be delighted to welcome him at their AGM in Australia.
4.56 Daniel asked, “Do you not think you have any responsibility, given that you operated the mine for 35 years?”
4.57 Jac Nasser avoided answering the question by saying that they could deal with this matter after the meeting.
4.58 Shareholder John Clancy was then called on to speak, and urged the Chairman not to wait a year before resigning. “Jac,” he said, “you should go now and take your sleazy, corrupt mate Malcolm Broomhead with you. My question has to do with integrity.”
4.59 Jac Nasser replied that Mr Clancy had regularly appeared at the company’s Australian AGMs. “For years you have made personal remarks which I am not going to listen to,” he said.
4.60 John Clancy said that Malcolm Broomhead was guilty of white collar crime.
4.61 Jac Nasser said, “That’s the end of your question.” He sounded rather cross.
4.62 And that was the end of the questions on item 1 of the agenda. Jac Nasser passed on to the rest of the agenda and we and our visitors decided that, after more than three hours, we would pass on to other things before passing out, and so we left.