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STATEMENT: Brazilian National Contact Point fails workers and justice after dam disaster

20 December, 2019IndustriALL Global Union and the Building and Wood Workers’ International are disappointed with the performance, including the final statement of the Brazilian National Contact Point in response to their joint complaint  under the OECD Guidelines against Vale S.A. and BHP Billiton.

The subject of the complaint was the irresponsible behaviour of  these companies linked to the Fundão Dam disaster in Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil on 5 November 2015. This complaint was with our respective member organizations, the Labour Union of Heavy Construction Industries of the State of Minas Gerais (SITICOP) and the National Confederation of the Chemical Sector (CNQ/CUT).

National Contact Points (NCP) can make a difference. They can bring parties together and use their good offices to facilitate dialogue, especially when dialogue is missing, and mediate. They can help bridge the gap between trade unions and companies as well as bringing together national and multinational enterprises. In this case the Brazilian NCP did not fulfil that mandate.

In other words, the Brazilian NCP failed on its crucial mediation function. Of course, mediation is not always easy, especially if one party refuses to come to the table, as Vale did. However, governments should be able to summon enough respect and authority to make that happen.

The second failure of the NCP was that its final statement refused to make specific findings. The NCP should have clearly stated whether the behaviour of  both Vale and BHP that was the subject of this complaint was consistent with the OECD Guidelines. Such findings are particularly important when mediation does not take place or there is no resolution of the problem.

The final statement does not fully do justice to those who tragically lost their lives and those injured as a result of the tragedy. 

The situation is not resolved. The 83 workers who were in the dam during the collapse and survived have not yet received any compensation. Vale S.A. continues to refuse to speak with the union representing outsourced workers. Its claims that the trade union was not “legitimate” are out of order.  Workers, and only workers, decide whether a union is legitimate.  

Vale failed to  conduct a thorough and proper investigation into the causes of the disaster.  Had they done so, they could have prevented the Brumadinho dam disaster, which occurred on 25 January 2019. 272 people died as a result of the collapse and damage to the surrounding communities and the environment have been extreme.  

The conclusions clearly show that the National Contact Point understands due diligence and its importance based on the text of the Guidelines and the OECD Guidance on Due Diligence published in 2017 provided to them. However, the recommendations of the NCP speak of due diligence as something for the future. The future is important. Such problems are far from over. However, the revised OECD Guidelines were adopted in 2011. It is hardy premature for companies to be conducting due diligence and respecting human rights. Nor is it too early for the National Contact Point to expect them to do so.

BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson, reacting to the decision, stated,

“BWI strongly supports the OECD Guidelines in their insistence that business respect all human rights, including the human rights of workers, but their effectiveness, in practice, depends on National Contact Points. We have been confronted with other challenging conflicts, and have seen NCPs use their standing and their good offices to forge new links for dialogue. It is that experience that pains and disappoints us with the performance of the NCP in Brazil.”

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said,

“The collapse of the dam was a tragedy for workers and communities as well as for the environment. Vale S.A. and BHP Billiton bear a heavy responsibility for that disaster and for the many other  disasters in the making. The weak action and decision of the National Contact Point in Brazil has failed workers and their families and all others affected by this gross corporate irresponsibility.”