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BHP Billiton accused of green abuse

Published by MAC on 2003-10-25

BHP Billiton accused of green abuse

Sydney Morning Herald

October 25, 2003

BHP Billiton chiefs came under attack from shareholders who accused the company of environmental and labour breaches. Shareholders questioned chairman Don Argus and chief executive Chip Goodyear over the mining giant's interests in Indonesia, Botswana and Brazil at BHP Billiton plc's AGM in London.

One raised the issue of Gag Island in Indonesia which UNESCO has recommended be declared a protected area and which BHP Billiton was hoping to mine for nickel. The Indonesian government is split over whether to amend its laws to allow mining on the island and shareholder Roger Moody asked Argus whether BHP Billiton had put any pressure on the government. "To my knowledge no. And I certainly wouldn't believe we would apply any pressure anywhere," Argus replied via video link from Melbourne.

Argus said if the island was declared a protected area, BHP Billiton would not pursue its interests. Goodyear fended off accusations from another shareholder that the company was condoning illegal activity by the Alumar alumina smelter in Brazil which was refusing to abide by a court order to pay workers in a wage dispute and was pressuring leaders to leave the union. "On the face of it, that appears illegal activity on the part of the company," shareholder Richard Solly said.

Goodyear said because BHP Billiton has between 36 per cent and 46 per cent stake in the smelter, labour issues were out of its hands. "We do not operate that facility and issues in labour and labour relations would belong to the operators. Obviously if there were things illegal, we would look into that," he said.

Argus said BHP Billiton, the world's largest diversified miner, took pride in its relationship with its workforce around the world.

Another shareholder, Andy Whitmore, said large numbers of bushmen in Botswana were being removed from their homes in an area being prospected for diamonds by the Kalahari Diamond Company in which Billiton has a 20 per cent stake. But Goodyear said the displacement had occurred long before BHP Billiton's interests in the area and that its current exploration was entirely airborne and had not left any physical presence on the ground.

On more straightforward company issues, Argus said the global environment would remain tough for commodities while strengthening domestic demand and continued growth in Asia was driving a modest recovery. He said while the European economy remained flat, there was some strengthening in the United States market and Asia.

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