Thursday 29 October 2009
“While you are getting a good standard of life … we Wayuu are eating food contaminated with coal … Why, when you have money in your bank accounts, why are our people living in worse conditions?”
– Karmen Ramirez, Wayuu from Colombia
A number of community activists and shareholders raised issues around the environment and human rights at today’s London AGM of BHP Billiton plc. Many of these focussed on the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples.
The issue of the Cerrejon Coal Company in Colombia (one-third owned by BHP Billiton) took centre stage. Representatives of communities in Colombia being removed to make way for expansion of one of the world’s biggest opencast coal mines asked the company for fairness in the negotiations, and made requests to ensure this would happen. They also raised the issue of health problems from the dust caused by the current mine operations, and fears for their own security in a country where raising legitimate concerns against companies can make people targets of human rights violations. Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano made a special appeal to the company to take measures to guarantee the security of the communities and their leaders.
Karmen Ramirez, who works with Wayuu communities affected by the mining, made an impassioned plea to the company and shareholders to respect the rights of the local people. “All we want to ask the company is to respect our rights. Please review all agreements that the company has been making without any type of consultation.”
The issues of BHP Billiton’s activities in the Philippines and Australia were both raised. In Australia, there was a call to gain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples with regard to the massive expansion of the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. The words of Arabunna Elder, Uncle Kevin Buzzacot, were read out: ”Do not expand this mine. We don’t want an open cut mine. We do not want any more water taken out of the Great Artesian Basin.”
Shareholders were handed copies of an Alternative Shareholders Report. The report, which can be downloaded from here, catalogues abuses of human rights, particularly of affected communities, issues of worker health and safety, livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raises issues around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and promotion of both coal and uranium for power production. Marius Kloppers, CEO of BHP Billiton, said that he would review the contents of the report.
Although BHP Billiton is not a household name in Britain, the activities of the BHP Billiton group have a massive impact on communities all around the world. Those are part-funded by high street banks and pension funds investing money provided by millions of working people in the UK.
The company in all cases noted they worked to the highest standards, defended their record and promised to look further into some of the issues raised.
For more information
contact Richard Solly, London Mining Network, 07929 023214.
Notes to editors:
1. Colombian Community Representatives

Karmen Ramirez works with Wayuu Indigenous women’s groups Cabildo Wayuu Nouna de Campamento and Sutsuin Jiyeyu Wayuu – Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu (SJW-FMW). The Wayuu People live between the mine and the coal export port of Puerto Bolivar. They are affected by the transportation of coal from the mine and the militarisation of the area to protect the company’s interests.
Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano represent the Afrocolombian communities of Roche and Chancleta, which face relocation as the Cerrejon coal mine expands and which, despite company protestations of goodwill, are being deprived of means of making a living while negotiations on relocation continue.
2. London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. Members include ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), CATAPA (Comite Academico Tecnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales), Colombia Solidarity Campaign, The Corner House, Down to Earth (the ecological campaign for Indonesia), Forest Peoples Programme, LAMMP (Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme), Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries), PIPLinks (Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links), TAPOL (the Indonesia human rights campaign) and the Society of St Columban.
LMN exists to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of controversial and unacceptable mining projects. It does this by publishing reports, participating as “dissident” shareholders in company meetings, holding educational events and, where appropriate, advocacy with investment institutions, politicians and NGOs.
3. London is the centre of world mining finance
Most of the world’s biggest mining companies, and many smaller (‘junior’) mining companies, are listed on the London Stock Exchange, including its Alternative Investment Market (AIM). London is the world’s biggest centre for investment in the minerals industry: British high street and investment banks, churches and boroughs invest hundreds of millions of pounds a year in scores of mining projects across the globe. The mining industry’s key lobbying organisation, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is based in London. So are the world’s most important metals price fixing mechanism, the London Metal Exchange, the leading precious metals trader, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and the World Gold Council.
4. Mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It has a disproportionately negative impact on marine-dependent and land-based communities, especially Indigenous Peoples, and is frequently associated with forced evictions, militarisation, conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings. Use of coal in energy generation is a major contributor to destructive climate change; use of uranium produces a radioactive legacy which threatens the wellbeing of thousands of generations to come.