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March for justice for victims of Vale’s crime

23 January, 2020One year after Brazil's worst environmental, human and work-related disaster, which killed 272 people, 11 bodies remain to be found. Those affected are on a six-day march to condemn the lack of action. 

Photo credit: Coletivo de Comunicação do MAB

25 January marks the anniversary of the collapse of the tailings dam run by mining firm Vale, releasing more than 10 million cubic metres of toxic waste onto Brumadinho, in the state of Minas Gerais. 

On 20 January, the Movement of People Affected by Dam Collapses (MAB) embarked on a 300-kilometre march that will continue until 25 January.

Around 350 people set off from Belo Horizonte. Upon arrival at Minas Gerais Court of Justice, they submitted documents proving that the court has not fulfilled its commitment to bring justice to those affected by mining crimes in the state.

IndustriALL Global Union will join the march on the one-year anniversary and take part in other events organized by the MAB at the Córrego do Feijão mine and in the centre of Brumadinho to pay tribute to the victims and demand justice.

“IndustriALL stands in solidarity with civil society, community and religious organizations, union federations and national mining unions around the world. And we will actively campaign for justice and compensation,”

says Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary.

The Brunadinho disaster is the second time Vale has caused a large-scale tragedy in Brazil. The first time in 2015 in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, saw a dam burst at a mine run by Samarco, a company owned by Vale and BHP, with catastrophic consequences. 19 people lost their lives as toxic sludge spread along 663 kilometres, reaching the sea.

Earlier this month, prosecutors in Brazil brought homicide charges against the former executive director of Vale, ten civil servants and five individuals from TÜV SÜD, the company responsible for inspecting the dam.

“We applaud the Brazilian prosecutor for heeding the calls from across the impacted communities, trade unions and civil society,” says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director.

“This is a message to the mining industry to say that business as usual is untenable. But there is another side to this; compensation. Justice will matter, but it won’t put bread on the table for those whose livelihoods have been destroyed.”

In 2018, IndustriALL and Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI) filed a complaint against BHP and Vale SA, under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The complaint was against the factors that contributed to the collapse of the tailings dam.  

Two years later, the Brazilian National Contact Point (NCP) issues and official statement, refusing to make any specific findings. IndustriALL and BWI expressed their disappointment in the response and said that the NCP had failed in its crucial role as mediator between unions and companies.

"The NCP’s failure to respond to our complaint in a swift and satisfactory manner meant that Vale made no major changes to its operations. Those changes could have prevented the killings in Brumadinho," says Valter Sanches and adds:

"Vale and BHP have still not fully explained why the tailings dam burst.  Unfortunately, the NCP’s response does not hold Vale accountable or provide any reassurance about Vale’s future behaviour."