Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

Three years after Brumadinho tragedy, justice and accountability still elude the victims

24 January, 2022In 2019, 270 people died in the Brumadinho mine collapse, Brazil’s worst environmental and industrial disaster. A study shows that the dam collapse could have been predicted weeks in advance with the right monitoring technology.

Last year, in response to a civil suit brought against Vale by the workers’ union Sindicato Metabase Brumadinho, a labour court ordered Vale to pay R$1million (US$200,000) compensation to the families of Vale employees. The disaster killed 270 people, but the action only benefits the families of 131 workers directly hired by Vale and does not include subcontracted workers.

In a shocking demonstration of insensitivity, Vale, a company which according to the Brumadinho metalworkers’ union earns R$1 million in 255 seconds, has appealed the decision, claiming that the amount of compensation owed to the victims is ‘absurd’.

Evidence shows that the company had known that the dam was unstable for 16 years. One year after the disaster, Brazilian state prosecutors charged Vale’s former chief executive and 15 other people with homicide. However, in October 2021, Vale argued – and the Superior Court agreed - that there were indications that archaeological sites had been damaged, making it a federal crime. The Public Ministry says it will appeal the decision.

In 2015, a tailings dam collapsed at the Samarco mine, a Vale and BHP joint venture in Mariana, killing 19 people. A thorough and proper investigation into the causes of the Samarco disaster might have prevented the Brumadinho dam disaster four years later.  

The Brumadinho and Samarco disasters has prompted demands for greater transparency and tighter regulations on the management of tailings dams. In 2020, a global industry standard on tailings management was adopted. A multi-stakeholder advisory panel, on which IndustriALL Global Union participates, has been established to implement the standard.

IndustriALL Global Union, despite its disappointment with the performance of the Brazilian NCP, will take up the recommendations resulting from the complaint filed after the Samarco disaster.

Atle Høie, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary, says.

“Vale claims to be sensitive to the plight of the Brumadinho victims, but its resistance to any form of collective action prove otherwise. Justice, reparation and accountability cannot be separated from ensuring the safety of tailing dams.”

Vale operates 43 tailings dams in Brazil, mostly in the state of Minas Gerais. Thirty are currently operating under emergency protocols, including three under ‘level 3’ indicating a risk of imminent rupture. Residents living near dams at levels 2 and 3 have been evacuated and containment barriers have been built to prevent a catastrophic breach. The company has committed to decommission its ten ‘upstream’ dams, whose structure pose greater risks of instability.

Since 2019, Vale has eliminated seven upstream dams nationally, but there are 23 remaining. Many of the dams are not expected to be decommissioned before 2035. In the days leading up to the third anniversary of the disaster, torrential rains in the State of Minas Gerais caused flooding and landslides, causing heightened concern about the tailings dams.