BHP and Rio Tinto’s ‘mining messes’ must be held to account: Report

The two UK-based multinationals had mined in Brazil, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and then left the scene without compensating for their ecological destruction, it said

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 20 February 2020
The OK Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

BHP and Rio Tinto have wrecked ecosystems in the Global South, a new report alleged and argued the two multinational mining companies must be brought to justice for not compensating for what they have destroyed.

The legacies of conflict and environmental destruction of the two companies lingered long after they fled the scene, according to the report Cut and run: How Britain’s top two mining companies have wrecked ecosystems without being held to account’. It was produced by climate justice advocacy London Mining Network on February 19, 2020.

Instances of ‘cut and run’

Brumadinho, a tailings (mining waste) dam owned Vale SA, collapsed in January 2019 in Minas Gerais. Executives of the Brazilian mining company, along with its German advisors TUV Sud, were recently charged with the homicide of 272 people; 14 people are still missing.

Vale, along with BHP, jointly own the Samarco iron ore mine and another tailings dam that collapsed in 2015, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster and the deaths of 20 people.

“The trauma due to loss of life, displacement and job loss and the environmental repercussions of contamination of river systems in both catastrophes will be felt for decades to come,” according to a press statement by London Mining Network.

The report also cited the example of the Ok Tedi copper-gold mine BHP had controlled since 1982 in Papua New Guinea. For years it had dumped waste straight into the local river system.

“Eventually, the company concluded that it should no longer do that and should not have operated the mine after all. But 18 years later, the contamination and mess remains,” the statement said.

There is also the case of the Panguna mine in Bougainville, an island near Papua New Guinea of which Rio Tinto was the majority owner.

The copper-gold mine dumped toxic mining waste into the local river system between 1972 and 1988. This caused such outrage that it sparked a war for independence from Papua New Guinea, a war in which thousands were killed and independence was not won.

The mine was abandoned. In 2016, Rio Tinto gave the mine to the authorities in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea but they do not have the financial or technical means to clean up the waste.

“This report shows how British multinationals have profited from destroying ecosystems and people’s livelihoods on vast scales in the Global South, while leaving their mess behind for communities to deal with,” Hal Rhoades, a co-author of the report from The Gaia Foundation, said.

“These are the same companies who are now trying to convince us that they hold the answers to the climate emergency. We cannot continue to pay lip service to tackling climate change while allowing the world’s largest corporations to devastate ecosystems that help regulate the climate and the communities that care for them. Holding these companies accountable and calling out their greenwashing is a crucial part of climate justice,” Rhoades added.

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