MAC: Mines and Communities

BHP Billiton: new chair, same old story

Published by MAC on 2010-11-01
Source: Statement, Independent Catholic News (2010-10-21)

BHP Billiton: new chair, same old story

London Mining Network

21 October 2010

At today's London AGM of the world's biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, new company chair Jac Nasser and CEO Marius Kloppers spoke at length about climate change. They explained that the company fully accepts the science and believes that greenhouse gas emissions need to be limited so that the increase in average atmospheric temperatures can be held at two degrees above the pre-industrial average.

But BHP Billiton believes that it is for society and governments to decide on the way forward. Meanwhile it will continue with its plans to increase production of coal, oil and gas in the hope that currently unavailable technical solutions might one day help limit the effects of burning them. Jac Nasser did not rule out future involvement in the massively destructive and controversial tar sands exploitation in Canada or deep sea oil drilling in the Arctic.

Part of the solution to climate change, in the company's view, is increased reliance on nuclear energy - unsurprising, given its investment in uranium mining expansion in Australia, expansion opposed by Aboriginal communities in both South and Western Australia.

Not that the company wishes to go too far towards accepting Indigenous Peoples' rights. Marius Kloppers explained that accepting the right to Free Prior Informed Consent as envisaged in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could violate the terms of company leases if it conflicted with national governments' views on Indigenous rights. The company believes only national governments have the right to decide on mineral development.

Siti Maimunah of JATAM, the Indonesian mining advocacy network, drew attention to the destructive impacts of existing opencast coal mining in Kalimantan (Borneo) and called for BHP Billiton to cancel its plans to begin coal mining in Central Kalimantan. She accused the company of trying to change the boundaries of protected forests to enable it to mine in areas currently off-limits. Both Nasser and Kloppers assured her that the company had not attempted to change the boundaries of protected forest areas and that the company would not begin opencast mining within protected forests.

Siti Maimunah accused the company of allowing its subsidiaries to continue exploring in an area where permission had been withdrawn. Marius Kloppers said that he was unaware of this; Siti Maimunah pointed out that the Indonesian Department for Forestry had made the information public in March 2009.

What the company would not do was commit to pulling out of Kalimantan: it refuses to take no for an answer.

Communities removed for mine expansion around the company's 33% owned Cerrejon Coal mine in Colombia complained of the continuing slow pace of progress in implementing relocation agreements. The mine workers' union sent a statement in which it said that an increasing number of workers are suffering work-related illnesses and the company is failing to assist them adequately, while the six thousand sub-contracted workers at the mine are denied union rights. Jac Nasser said the company would investigate the complaints and continue to work with Cerrejon Coal to improve its performance.

Questioned on the company's plans to buy Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Jac Nasser claimed it was too early in the negotiations to comment and so pleaded ignorance of the details of Potash Corp's involvement in phosphates mining in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Ken Ritchie of the Western Sahara Campaign pointed out that buying phosphates from an illegally occupied country is itself against international law and would be in violation of United Nations resolutions. Nasser said that the company was still conducting its ‘due diligence' on Potash Corp and would avoid violating its own business principles.

BHP Billiton sees itself as indispensable to the prosperity of the world. Millions of the world's poor are apparently relying on it to help them embrace the urbanised life of high consumption which it believes to be their destiny. Those who have a different view - like Indigenous communities in Kalimantan or small farmers in Colombia - have to be moved out of the way. BHP Billiton plans to continue mining, burning and irradiating its way towards a vision of the future that its board finds inspiring and which many of its critics reject as apocalyptic.

An alternative report on some of the company's activities is available at http://londonminingnetwork.org/2010/10/bhp-billiton-other-sides-to-the-story/


Conduct of world's largest mining company under scrutiny

By Jo Siedlecka

Independent Catholic News

21 October 2010

Conduct of world's largest mining company under scrutiny

The rescue of the trapped Chilean miners recently captured the imagination of the world. But away from the television cameras, mining operations across the globe are causing untold devastation - destroying whole communities and wrecking the environment - a meeting yesterday at the House of Lords was told. Multinational mining companies working in developing countries or countries with unstable governments have a particularly poor record.

The meeting, chaired by Baroness Sue Miller of Chilthorne Domer and organised by the London Mining Network, was held the day before the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton, held their AGM in London.

Alternative reports were presented, outlining the damage done by the company's operations in Australia, Colombia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. Representatives from the Western Sahara and Indonesia gave dramatic testimonies.

Ken Ritchie, from the Western Sahara Campaign, expressed concern that BHP Billiton has announced its interest in acquiring phosphate mining in the Western Sahara, a territory whose ownership is still in dispute - Morocco invaded it in 1975. Much of the indigenous population, was driven out, under cluster bombs, by the Moroccans, and are living in refugee camps in Algeria. The remaining Saharawis are living as second class citizens in their own country, while Morocco has brought in many thousands of settlers. Sensitive negotiations are taking place to establish some autonomy for the Saharawis. Campaigners say that under international law, Morocco does not have the right to sell their mines. If a deal goes ahead, "BHP Billiton will be the largest private funder of the illegal and brutal occupation of Western Sahara, he said."

Two representatives of indigenous people from the Indonesian island of Borneo urged BHP Billiton to halt its coal mining operations there, which they said: "has destroyed our forests, rivers and livelihoods". Siti Maimunah of JATAM, the Indonesian mining advocacy network, explained that the Kalimantan region is already destroyed by logging and now oil palm and coal are causing further devastation". Her colleague, Kahar, spoke with emotion about how the region is threatened by more than 2,000 mining concessions. "Despite being such big producers of coal, we are amongst the poorest provinces in Indonesia" he said "and we have a problem getting electricity, having power cuts all the time". He hoped BHP Billiton would not be allowed to build a railway across Central Kalimantan because "some of our people have been relocated three times already".

Ian Wood, a representative from BHP Billiton sat in on the meeting. He explained that his company always consulted with communities and said that their code of practice could be found on their website.

London Mining Network is an ecumenical group which identifies the key role of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, London-based funders and the British Government in promoting destructive mining projects. Members include the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility and the Missionary Society of St Columban.

LMN co-ordinator Richard Solly, told the meeting that although BHP Billitong is based in Australia and "you may never have heard if it, in fact you may well be financing it and be financed by it, through your bank depostis, your insurance premiums and your pension funds." Investors include Legal and Genral, Barcals, HSBC and Standard Life, he said.

The difficulty is, that decisions about mining are made in boardrooms and government offices, not in the farms, villages, rivers and forests affected by the mines. Siti Maimunah said to Ian Wood: "Please come and visit us. Please come and see what your mines are doing."

Richard Solly asked: "Can communities say an outright 'No' to destruction of their forests, biodiversity and water, in fact to a model of economic development they don't want?"

He felt people should have the right to say 'No' and pointed out that indigenous peoples in particular have rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He recalled a poster he had seen on the door of a Native American anti-mine campaigner. It said: 'What part of No don't you understand?'

Solly reflected that: "indigenous peoples everywhere are saying ‘No' to a so-called model of development which will ultimately destroy all of us unless we stop it."

At the London AGM of BHP Billiton the following day, new company Chair Jac Nasser and Chief Executive Officer Marius Kloppers, took the view that it is for national governments to decide on mineral development. They told Siti Maimunah, who put her complaints directly to the AGM, that the company would not begin opencast mining within protected forests, but it would not be pulling out of Kalimantan.

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