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IndustriALL shows solidarity with victims of BHP Billiton

20 October, 2016As BHP Billiton shareholders meet in London, IndustriALL sends solidarity to mining giant's victims

Shareholders of mining giant BHP Billiton met in London today, 20 October, for their annual general meeting. Representatives of victims of BHP Billiton mines from three different countries joined a protest, organized by the London Mining Network.

BHP Billiton operates in 13 countries. Protesters came from Brazil, to protest the Samarco dam disaster and its aftermath, from Colombia, to protest the forced removal of communities from the area surrounding the Cerrejón coal mine, and from Indonesia to protest the contamination of rivers in the rain forests of Borneo.

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches sent a letter of support to the victims of the Samarco mining dam disaster in Mariana, Brazil on 5 November 2015.

He said:

“It cannot be business as usual at this shareholder’s meeting, the first since the Samarco disaster. We demand a full and impartial investigation of this environmental disaster.

“IndustriALL finds it unacceptable that BHP Billiton has sought to buy its way out of this tragedy, which should not have happened in the first place, by taking charge of only $1.3 billion, a far lower sum than the $8 billion public civil claim instituted by the Brazilian authorities.

“As the 5 November anniversary of the disaster approaches, IndustriALL is preparing to commemorate this tragic event, the worst ever environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.

“Trade unions, and environmental and human rights organizations will express their full solidarity with those affected, one year on, demanding that all necessary steps be taken to ensure that such an accident never occurs again; that those found responsible be punished to the full extent of the law; and that the River Doce be brought back to its original state.”

The disaster was the result of the collapse of a huge tailings dam at the Samarco Mineração S.A, which is a mine jointly owned by BHP Billiton and the Brazilian company, Vale. The iron ore tailings dam, which was BHP Billiton’s responsibility, collapsed, releasing a toxic wave which flooded the valley, killing 19 people while injuring others, with an estimated 500 people displaced from their homes.

Sludge and mining residues from the dam reached the River Doce, a source of drinking water in the south east of Brazil. As a result, municipal authorities had to ban the use of river water for human consumption. The contaminated water even reached the Atlantic Ocean.

A separate police investigation has accused Samarco Mineração S.A of willful misconduct, stating that the company ignored clear signs that the dam was at risk of collapsing. There are also claims that seek to corroborate the police report that Samarco Mineração had been warned about the possibility of the dam collapsing.

The letter from IndustriALL was read out at the demonstration as protestors reenacted the dam disaster.

IndustriALL affiliates that belong to the BHP global network will meet on the eve of the anniversary of the environmental disaster and attend the protest on 5 November.