We use cookies for site personalization and analytics. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

Life in the shadow of the world’s biggest mining company


Brazilians come to London to hold UK mining giant BHP Billiton to account, one year after deadly Samarco dam disaster.

Is BHP Billiton worthy of a London Stock Exchange listing? Those who have experienced the company first hand say how they think the mining giant stacks up as a neighbour in Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Liam Barrington-Bush reports.

The London Stock Exchange presents itself as a financial home to responsible corporations, setting a high-bar for entry and expecting top form from those who land a listing in Paternoster Square. But the reality of making London your financial base doesn’t always seem to equate to the best-behaviour mark that the LSX claims.

The world’s biggest mining company – BHP Billiton – has found itself under scrutiny in country after country, being implicated in forced community displacements in Colombia, insufficient clean-up efforts in the aftermath of a tailings dam breach which killed 20 people in Brazil; and water contamination in Indonesia. Representatives from the local struggles against the company’s operations have come to London to protest the mining giant’s Annual General Meeting. This is what some of them had to say about life next door to the London-listed company’s various operations:

RELATED: ‘We are slowly being killed by this mine’

Rodrigo de Castro Amédée Péret is a Brazilian Franciscan brother working with communities affected by mining. For more than 30 years, he has been involved in the struggle for agrarian reform in Brazil. He is a member of the Churches and Mining Latin America Network board, coordinator of Franciscan Solidarity and Ecology Action and a member of Franciscans International, a NGO at the UN.

‘The Fundão dam breach in Minas Gerais in November 2015 led to the destruction of all forms of life and means of survival in the region. The mud covered everything, resulting in 20 deaths (including that of an unborn child after the mother miscarried after being injured by the flood) and unmeasurable destruction to the environment.

It also destroyed biodiversity, caused the sedimentation of the river and the destruction of many precious water sources, which now find themselves submerged in mud. Not only this, but the plants and vegetation along the river bed were also lost.

We have seen whole communities levelled, where the people have lost everything, without receiving sufficient compensation. Instead of reparations for the victims of the destruction, we have seen Samarco act in their own corporate interests and capture those of governments, who seem to exist to do the bidding of transnational corporations.

What all this has made clear, is the eminent risk of mining. We know BHP employs a high-risk type of tailings dam. We know that their methods cannot be sustainable. In Minas Gerais it is irrefutable today that mining kills.’

Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayú is a Colombian human rights defender, artisan and mother of six living in the Wayúu indigenous reservation of ‘Provincial’ in the La Guajira region. She lives with her family two kilometres from Cerrejón, the largest open-pit coal mine of Latin America and one of the biggest suppliers of UK-burnt coal. Cerrejón is co-owned by London trio BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore.

‘Since I began to understand the difference between right and wrong I have not known a single positive memory about Cerrejón. I remember the company came to our community promising us the world, but they never actually sat down and spoke to us.

When I was a child, they gave us toys. Now I am thirty years old and those toys were the last benefits the company brought to my life.

At night, we don’t sleep, as the constant hum of the huge machines don’t let us. We cannot live in any sort of peace. But beyond the noise pollution, the mine contaminates the environment. The air we breathe is polluted.

This in turn generates health problems and illnesses in our communities. There are many sick children and adults, too, including my two-year-old son. Their illnesses are due to the pollution caused by the mine, which also contaminates the water. So between the water they contaminate and the water they take for their operations, there is hardly any drinking water available for us in the already drought-prone region.

And these realities are made much worse by the lack of basic healthcare in the area. These are the consequences we face with having Cerrejón – and BHP Billiton – as neighbours.’

Arie Rompas is an environmental activist and executive director of WALHI Central Kalimantan. WALHI is a grassroots organization that works on environmental and human rights issues and is a member of Friends of the Earth (FOE) International. He has been working since 2003, advocating and strengthening communities to fight for the rights deprived of them by transnational investment and government policy.

‘I came to London to tell people that BHP Billiton is leaving a terrible legacy at the IndoMet coal project which the company has been developing in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. My family come from the precise area where the company is mining and I have seen the impacts with my own eyes.

They are destroying what is left of the forest where the indigenous Dayak Murung people live and upon which they rely for their livelihoods and cultural traditions. The company paid criminally-low levels of compensation for the lands they have taken away and now they are polluting our rivers. They must be held accountable for all this.’

Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop