This week, victims of the Mariana dam disaster travelled from Brazil to Australia to confront BHP leadership at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) on the handling of the Mariana dam disaster.
Eight years on from the Mariana dam disaster
Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster happened eight years ago, and victims who have still not received full and fair redress took to the stage to reveal to shareholders the true scale of the liabilities BHP faces.
Five victims held the floor for over 45 minutes, asking questions and taking their turn to directly address BHP’s senior leaders.
Edertone Jose da Silva, a sandminer and one of the five victims who questioned BHP said: “I had to travel half way around the world to have my voice heard by BHP. BHP executives and board have committed two crimes – firstly, their negligence in the collapse of the dam itself but now, they are complicit in the second crime of denying me and all of the other victims of the Mariana dam disaster fair compensation.”
Allegations against BHP board and executives
Alongside Jose, the victims accused the Board and Executives of:
- Misleading shareholders about the state of remediation of the environment in Brazil including denying the toxicity of tailings released into the affected Doce River
- Environmental racism due to the failure of BHP to compensate Quilombola communities (descendants of African slaves) in Brazil
- Misleading shareholders about the nature and scale of the financial liabilities they face in class actions brought in the English and Brazilian courts
- Being misinformed by BHP Execs and the not for profit Renova Foundation as to the destruction of the lives of the victims of the collapse of the dam.
“The Renova Foundation Controversy
Appearing to be caught off guard by the powerful testimonies of the victims and the questions they raised, BHP Chair Ken Mackenzie and CEO Mike Henry admitted that BHP had not quantified the contingent liabilities faced and mistakenly referred to the supposedly independent Renova Foundation as “we”.
The admissions by Mackenzie and Henry open BHP up to further legal liabilities in the UK and Brazil where lawyers for the victims and prosecutors have accused the Renova Foundation as being controlled and manipulated by BHP.
After hearing an update from Ken Mackenzie on the apparent progress that the Renova Foundation has made just moments beforehand, Michelle Estavo vehemently refuted Mackenzie’s claims: “I left my Quilombola community in Brazil and crossed the oceans to come here today and tell you that the Renova foundation does not work. There are many communities that have not received compensation, that have not been considered into the reparation programme and they are suffering daily with the toxic mud on their doors.”
Pogust Goodhead’s Global Managing Partner and CEO, Tom Goodhead, said: “My clients have bravely confronted BHP at their AGM forcing BHP’s Chair, CEO and largest shareholders to hear their cries for justice. They brought home to those gathered in Adelaide how eight years on from an ecocide caused by BHP prioritising profit over safety, BHP has still failed to provide circa 700,000 of my clients with adequate compensation and has failed to remediate the environment.
“Additionally, my clients believe that BHP’s Chair and CEO have lied to their shareholders and lied to the world. They are appalled that BHP insist that the tailings released as a result of the collapse of the Mariana dam were not toxic, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, and they are astonished at the continued rhetoric of BHP claiming that the Renova Foundation provides access to justice when this is completely untrue.”
An ongoing battle for justice
Listen to the emotional, unfiltered stories of the victims at the event below: