Court orders BHP CEO to hand over contract as new evidence reveals BHP’s true involvement in Mariana dam disaster

April 18, 2024

One of the world’s largest mining companies, BHP, has today been ordered by the High Court in London to hand over its CEO’s employment contract at the time of the Mariana mining dam collapse in Brazil, alongside a trove of other documents which lawyers claim will prove the company’s liability for the disaster.

Judge Mrs Justice O’Farrell ordered BHP to hand over the documents, after it had refused to release them to lawyers representing almost 700,000 victims of the collapse.

BHP claims that it was a mere shareholder in mine and dam operator Samarco in a joint venture with Brazilian mining giant Vale, with no role in the day-to-day operation of the mine and dam.

Lawyers successfully argued that BHP’s current CEO Mike Henry’s terms of employment at the time of the disaster should be disclosed, as it was relevant to their case to understand what incentives and Key Performance Indicators BHP executives were given in relation to the running and safety of Samarco operations. Henry was a member of BHP’s executive leadership team at the time of the disaster.

Shocking new evidence was also revealed for the first time in court today, which appears to contradict BHP’s claims about its operational involvement.  

The evidence includes a former BHP executive revealing the company’s close operational involvement in the mine and its awareness of the risks to the dam.

Marcus Randolph, former head of a BHP division who was on the board of Samarco, emailed the then BHP Chief Executive, Andrew Mackenzie the day after the disaster to say that BHP had requested an independent report into the safety of the mine, three or four years previously that was then presented to the board of Samarco.

The employee states:

“I was a big part of Samarco at the time and we pushed dam safety very hard. Following a site visit, I sent a trip note to Samarco that contained extensive commentary about dam risk. If I can help in any way, please give me a call. I sent a number of letters to the MD requesting reviews, etc of the dam and remember events pretty well. I believe there were also some documents in the BHPB risk register and our Board/committees had discussions about the risk.”

It was also revealed that BHP’s much vaunted 1SAP risk management system included a specific risk code for the “Failure of Samarco Tailing Dam”, which would suggest it was aware of issues with the dam before it collapsed.  

Lawyers for the claimants argue this all points to BHP’s liability for the dam collapse, which the company denies.

The liability of both BHP and Vale will be decided upon through a trial starting October 7. Despite this ruling pending, a stage two trial on damages has been scheduled today for October 2026. This is expected to last 22 weeks.

Tom Goodhead, CEO and Managing Partner of Pogust Goodhead, which is representing the victims, said: “The new evidence revealed in court today appears to torpedo BHP’s public position that they were mere shareholders in Samarco.

“In 2015 BHP promised that the truth about the dam collapse would come out. It has spent the intervening eight and a half years denying fair repair and recovery to the victims, our clients, whose lives were devastated, while spending millions in the courts frustrating attempts to get at the truth.

“The explosive evidence revealed in court today suggests the company was aware of issues with the dam before its collapse.”

The Mariana dam collapsed in November 2015, unleashing a torrent of toxic mud into the river basin below, destroying whole towns and villages in the state of Minas Gerais before causing further environmental devastation in the states of Espirito Santo and Bahia when the mud reached the Atlantic Ocean.

The disaster is described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history and the effects are still being felt to this day.

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