On 5th November 2015, a huge environmental disaster unleashed 60 million cubic metres of toxic slurry across the Brazilian River Doce floodplain flattening several villages, killing more than 20 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without clean water across the Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states.
Two ‘tailings’ dams managed by Samarco, a joint venture between BHP Billiton, and Brazilian company Vale, had collapsed releasing effluent from mining operations which were high in toxic chemicals including arsenic.
Real Media reported on a powerful protest which took place a month later in London at a Vale shareholders’ meeting in Mayfair.
The Samarco mining company did temporarily lose its license to operate and was ordered to pay some monthly compensation to the bereaved, but according to London Mining Network neither Vale not BHP Billiton have been properly held to account, and their promises to rebuild and rehouse have still not been fulfilled five years later.
In court cases following the disaster, documents appeared to show that Samarco directors and representatives for BHP and Vale had all been warned of problems for years before the event, although the companies deny these prosecution charges. The claims though, will not go away, and a group action by 200,000 Brazilian people began an historic five billion pound lawsuit earlier this year in London.
BHP’s recent shareholders’ meeting was online, very restricted and didn’t give voice to the communities affected. Although BHP outlined some progress in reparations, activists were unable to get responses to many of their questions including those posed by MAB (the movement of people affected by the dams), who issued this statement:
“November 5, 2020 marks 5 years since the rupture of the iron ore tailings dam in Mariana/MG which destroyed the entire Doce River basin, reaching the coast in the state of Espírito Santo,which is one of the greatest socio-environmental crimes of the history of Brazil. Even after so many years, the company Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, was not duly held responsible by the Brazilian State. In fact, the states and federal governments, together with the judiciary, have been complicit in all the human rights violations that occurred on that sad November 5th, which are getting deeper and more complex every day.”
This month also marks one year since Brazil suffered a mysterious and massive oil spill which devastated the coast further north.
Currently the only recourse for those affected are civil proceedings, but international lawyer Polly Higgins was working hard to change that through the introduction of an international crime of ecocide. We interviewed her last year in collaboration with DeSmogUK about her work on this project, and although she tragically passed away soon after, a strong team continue to push forward her legacy and bring an end to corporate immunity.