Blog by LMN Volunteer Ella Hopkins
BHP has resumed its operations at the Samarco mine, five years after the 2015 Fundão dam disaster which killed 20 people, destroyed 3 villages and polluted over 600km of rivers with toxic mine waste.
BHP, the Anglo-American mining giant listed on the London Stock Exchange jointly owns the mine with Vale, the privatized Brazilian mining company. Despite Brazilian police finding both companies at fault for the dam collapse in a 2016 investigation, the UK High Court struck out the $6.6 billion group claim against BHP last November, the largest claim in English legal history. BHP and Vale are currently facing a lawsuit from noteholders for failing to restructure their debt.
In December, BHP issued a press release stating: “Samarco Mineração S.A. (Samarco) has met the licensing requirements to restart operations at its Germano complex in Minas Gerais and its Ubu complex in Espírito Santo, Brazil, and has commenced iron ore pellet production.”
It expects to produce approximately 8 million tonnes of iron ore per annum from the mine.
BHP claims that “independent tests” have been carried out to ensure “safe restart of operations”, adding that it continues to support the Renova Foundation “to remediate and compensate for the damages of the failure of the Fundão dam”.
However, many in the affected community whose homes were destroyed are still waiting for the promised 355 new dwellings, none of which have yet been completed. Meanwhile, rights violations continue amidst the pandemic. BHP and Vale have refused to renew an Independent Technical Advisory group, which supported participation of communities in the mining decision-making.
Brazilian civil society group MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams), which has been working with communities is calling for reparations from mining companies. In a statement last year, they said: “To date, there is no ongoing program of productive and economic restructuring for families. On the contrary, those receiving emergency aid have become dependent, with no transition policy on the part of companies, only the annual threat of a cutoff of the aid.”
Meanwhile, Vale has reached a $7 billion settlement, the largest in the country’s history, with the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais over damages from the nearby Brumadinho dam collapse, which killed 270 people two years ago. Despite an ongoing federal investigation, no one has been convicted for this corporate crime.