English judge blocks £5bn Brazil lawsuit against BHP
A £5 billion English lawsuit against Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP has been struck out, in a blow to a 200,000-strong Brazilian claimant group seeking damages after a devastating dam failure in 2015.
According to a Reuters report, a High Court judge in Manchester has ruled that managing the largest group claim in English legal history would be like “trying to build a house of cards in a wind tunnel” and that the case is an “abuse of the process of the court”.
BHP welcomed the decision, the report adds, stating that it reinforced its view that victims should pursue claims in Brazil and that the case duplicated ongoing work and legal proceedings there.
Tom Goodhead, a lawyer at PGMBM representing the claimants, says the judgement is “fundamentally flawed” and vowed to appeal.
“We will continue to fight ceaselessly, for however long it takes, in any court in the world, to ensure that BHP are held accountable for their actions,” he states.
In 2015, the collapse of the Fundao dam, which is owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale. The collapse killed 19 and sent a torrent of mining waste into communities, the Doce river, and the Atlantic Ocean, 650 kilometres away. It was Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
The case is the latest battle to establish whether multinationals can be held liable for the conduct of subsidiaries operating abroad, the Reuters report says.
The ruling comes 18 months after the UK Supreme Court ruled that nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers could sue miner Vedanta in England for alleged pollution in Africa, because substantial justice was not obtainable in Zambia.
Martyn Day, partner at Leigh Day, the firm who represented the Zambian villagers, says that he takes his hat off to the Brazilian claimant’s legal team for having the guts to take on the vast case.
“The judge seems to me to have been tough on the claimants,” he says. “The question for the appeal court will be whether or not he was too tough,” according to the Reuters report.
Claimants allege that senior BHP executives sat on Samarco’s board, and that BHP representatives approved of plans to repeatedly ramp up the dam’s capacity, ignoring safety warnings. They assert that the victims have no prospect of proper compensation in Brazil within a reasonable timeframe.
Lawyers for the claimants, who include municipalities, indigenous people, businesses and churches, also argue that under Brazilian law, liability for environmental damage could be imposed on a defendant’s ultimate owner.
Both BHP and Vale say that they have donated £1.29 billion into the Renova Foundation, which was set up in 2016 by BHP’s Brazilian division, Samarco and Vale to manage 42 reparation projects, including providing financial aid to indigenous families, rebuilding villages and establishing new water supply systems.
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.