World’s largest mining company challenged at AGM
Another year - and another BHP Billiton AGM, held in London on October 29 2009.
This year the company more than ever boasted of its continual march to world domination (or at least, domination of the mining industry); as well as a sage-like ability to guess everything correctly.
BHP Billiton chairman, Don Argus, fired off what seemed like a never-ending salvo on why the company's wunder-CEO, Marius Kloppers, deserved his enormous pay-packet. (In real terms this had been frozen - even if he was still earning enough to buy himself the odd bankrupted bank or two).
Unlike the company's Australian AGMs, which have some passion to them, the London ones appear to be increasingly sterile and stage-managed. This was despite the circulation this year of an alternative shareholders report, outlining some key concerns about the company, followed by some impassioned interventions - not least from Colombian community representatives. They complained about unresolved issues at one of the world's largest open-cast coal mines, El Cerrejon - something that came much to Don Argus' surprise, who said he believed everything at the operation to have already been sorted.
BHP Billiton's scripted responses, though obsequiously polite, bordered on wilful disrespect. At many times during the AGM, the company stressed how much it liked to listen to shareholders (& local communities). Yet, in practice, control and damage limitation were the orders of the day.
Management will doubtless view the meeting as a success. However, journalists have stopped turning up to the AGMs, preferring simply to write stories off the pre-released corporate keynote presentations. The bulk of shareholders also seem to be voting with their feet, at least in London.
Soon, no independent voices may be left to challenge the hubris of management. At that point BHP Billiton may consider it's achieved victory of a kind - but it will be a pyhrric one.
[Comment by Andy Whitmore, 2 November 2009]
World’s largest mining company challenged at AGM
29 October 2009
“While you are getting a good standard of life … we Wayuu are eating food contaminated with coal … Why, when you have money in your bank accounts, why are our people living in worse conditions?”
- Karmen Ramirez, Wayuu from Colombia
A number of community activists and shareholders raised issues around the environment and human rights at today’s London AGM of BHP Billiton plc. Many of these focussed on the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples.
The issue of the Cerrejon Coal Company in Colombia (one-third owned by BHP Billiton) took centre stage. Representatives of communities in Colombia being removed to make way for expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine asked the company for fairness in the negotiations, and made requests to ensure this would happen. They also raised the issue of health problems from the dust caused by the current mine operations, and fears for their own security in a country where raising legitimate concerns against companies can make people targets of human rights violations. Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano made a special appeal to the company to take measures to guarantee the security of the communities and their leaders.
Karmen Ramirez, who works with Wayuu communities affected by the mining, made an impassioned plea to the company and shareholders to respect the rights of the local people. “All we want to ask the company is to respect our rights. Please review all agreements that the company has been making without any type of consultation.”
The issues of BHP Billiton’s activities in the Philippines and Australia were both raised. In Australia, there was a call to gain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples with regard to the massive expansion of the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. The words of Arabunna Elder, Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, were read out: ”Do not expand this mine. We don’t want an open cut mine. We do not want any more water taken out of the Great Artesian Basin.”
Shareholders were handed copies of an Alternative Shareholders Report. The report, which can be downloaded from http://www.piplinks.org/system/files/BHP+Billiton+Alternative+Report.pdf, catalogues abuses of human rights, particularly of affected communities, issues of worker health and safety, livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raises issues around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and promotion of both coal and uranium for power production. Marius Kloppers, CEO of BHP Billiton, said that he would review the contents of the report.
Although BHP Billiton is not a household name in Britain, the activities of the BHP Billiton group have a massive impact on communities all around the world. Those are part-funded by high street banks and pension funds investing money provided by millions of working people in the UK.
The company in all cases noted they worked to the highest standards, defended their record and promised to look further into some of the issues raised.
For more information contact Richard Solly, London Mining Network, 07929 023214.
London Mining Network, 41a Thornhill Square, London N1 1BE. Email: LMN@gn.apc.org
Notes to editors:
1. Colombian Community Representatives
Karmen Ramirez works with Wayuu Indigenous women's groups Cabildo Wayuu Nouna de Campamento and Sutsuin Jiyeyu Wayuu - Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu (SJW-FMW). The Wayuu People live between the mine and the coal export port of Puerto Bolivar. They are affected by the transportation of coal from the mine and the militarisation of the area to protect the company’s interests.
Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano represent the Afrocolombian communities of Roche and Chancleta, which face relocation as the Cerrejon coal mine expands and which, despite company protestations of goodwill, are being deprived of means of making a living while negotiations on relocation continue.
2. London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. Members include ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), CATAPA (Comite Academico Tecnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales), Colombia Solidarity Campaign, The Corner House, Down to Earth (the ecological campaign for Indonesia), Forest Peoples Programme, LAMMP (Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme), Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries), PIPLinks (Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links), TAPOL (the Indonesia human rights campaign) and the Society of St Columban.
LMN exists to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of controversial and unacceptable mining projects. It does this by publishing reports, participating as “dissident” shareholders in company meetings, holding educational events and, where appropriate, advocacy with investment institutions, politicians and NGOs.
3. London is the centre of world mining finance Most of the world’s biggest mining companies, and many smaller (‘junior’) mining companies, are listed on the London Stock Exchange, including its Alternative Investment Market (AIM). London is the world’s biggest centre for investment in the minerals industry: British high street and investment banks, churches and local boroughs invest hundreds of millions of pounds a year in scores of mining projects across the globe. The mining industry’s key lobbying organisation, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is based in London. So are the world’s most important metals price fixing mechanism, the London Metal Exchange; the leading precious metals trader; the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA); and the World Gold Council.
4. Mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It has a disproportionately negative impact on marine-dependent and land-based communities, especially Indigenous Peoples, and is frequently associated with forced evictions, militarisation, conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings. Use of coal in energy generation is a major contributor to destructive climate change; use of uranium produces a radioactive legacy which threatens the wellbeing of thousands of generations to come.
Community representatives in London to challenge world’s biggest mining multinational
Report from Colombia Solidarity Campaign, London, England
29 October 2009
Representatives of communities facing displacement by the massive Cerrejon mine are attending the Annual General Meeting of BHP Billiton plc in London today.
BHP Billiton is the biggest mining company in the world. Its headquarters are in Australia but it is also listed on the London Stock Exchange. BHP Billiton owns one-third of the Cerrejon Coal Company, which operates the biggest opencast coal export mine in the world. The mine is in the Colombian department (province) of La Guajira.
In 2007, in response to continuing international criticism, Cerrejon Coal set up an Independent Panel of Investigation into the impacts of its operations. The Panel made a number of recommendations in early 2008. As a result, in December 2008, Cerrejon Coal reached an agreement with former residents of Tabaco, a community evicted and forcibly displaced for mine expansion in 2001 – see http://www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk/content/view/446/31/. The company also began negotiations aiming at community relocation (as opposed to individual family compensation) for other villages affected by the mine. The villages involved are Chancleta, Patilla, Roche and Tamaquitos.
The Presidents of the Community Action Committees of Chancleta and Roche, Wilman Palmesano and Yoe Arregoces, are in London to make their concerns known to shareholders in BHP Billiton. They complain that Cerrejon Coal is not negotiating with them in good faith. They are also concerned about threats being made against them because of their community organising and criticisms of the company. Today they are presenting to BHP Billiton and its shareholders the following Demands and Communique.
For further background, see below the Communique.
Demands of the communities of Roche and Chancleta, in the Department of La Guajira, Colombia, concerning the current process of community relocation by the Cerrejon Coal Company (33.33% owned by BHP Billiton)
In all aspects of the relocation, there should be mutual agreement and consultation. The company must abstain from dividing and manipulating the communities.
Expert advice: an independent advice team must be established, paid for by the company but not dependent upon it.
Cerrejon Coal has not followed the recommendations of the Independent Panel of Investigation and the World Bank guidelines on involuntary resettlement, even though these are the minimum standards which should be followed. We do not accept that these guidelines are sufficient and just for our communities, and so we insist that whatever process is carried out should be by prior mutual agreement.
There must be consultation and agreement on all the stages and elements of the relocation. Above all, the timetables and relocation plans must be discussed and agreed with the communities and their advisers. The communities’ own proposals must be taken into account. The communities must have a say and a vote in the selection of contractors.
There is a preference for collective relocation to a rural area, with sufficient land, a guarantee of economic sustainability after the relocation, good services (electricity, drinking water etc) and above all, good education.
There should be respect for the rights of all the traditional inhabitants of the area without discrimination or exclusion on the basis of censuses which do not reflect in a transparent manner the number of inhabitants of the communities. Members of the community who have sold the properties to the mine or have otherwise been displaced must be taken into account.
A solution must be found to health problems, addressing both the contamination and the treatment and prevention of illnesses; including, for example, access to specialists.
An overall agreement must be reached about the reconstruction of Roche, the area and the distribution of the rooms and houses, and their design. This must include elements of self-build as a way of generating employment and investment. Construction must not continue before reaching agreement on this. The same must apply to the other communities.
The property valuations must be handed over, and there must be negotiation about them. There must be clarity over the levels of compensation and indemnity.
There must be an end to the pressure and persecution which occur every time a proposal is made. Yoe and Wilman are worried about their security on their return to La Guajira.
There must be investment, productive economic projects and/or employment from now on during the process of relocation.
29 October 2009
For further information, contact Colombia Solidarity Campaign, www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Or London Mining Network, www.londonminingnetwork.org, Email LMN@gn.apc.org, Tel: 07929 023214
Communique to the Cerrejon Coal company and its shareholders, the Colombian authorities and national and international public opinion from representatives of the communities of Roche and Chancleta in the Department of La Guajira, Colombia, affected by the Cerrejon coal mine (33.33% owned by BHP Billiton)
We, Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano, have been in Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom, explaining the situation which our communities are experiencing as a result of mining. We are seeking to be heard and we are seeking solutions to the most pressing problems that our people are facing. To this end, we have met with NGOs, government representatives, politicians, purchasers of coal, and the companies which own the Cerrejon mine.
Being in Europe, we have been worried about our security and physical and mental wellbeing when we return to our communities. We know from former visits by community and union leaders that they have frequently been subjected to accusations and all manner of pressures by the Cerrejon Coal company because of the statements they have made outside Colombia. Being here in Europe, we have learnt of a strong rumour about a possible incursion by paramilitary groups into the area where our communities are, and this increases our concern and creates anxiety in our communities and for us as well.
We call on the local, departmental and national authorities in Colombia and on the Cerrejon Coal company and its shareholders to take the measures necessary to guarantee the security of the communities and their leaders.
London, 29 October 2009
Background: community removals round the Cerrejon Coal mine
BHP Billiton was part of a consortium of three multinational companies which in late 2000 bought the Colombian Government’s 50% share of the massive opencast Cerrejon coal mine in the Department (province) of La Guajira in northern Colombia, reputedly the largest opencast coal mine in the world. The mine, operated by Exxon subsidiary Intercor (which owned the other 50% share) had a history of forced relocations of Indigenous and Afrocolombian communities, with inadequate or non-existent compensation, to make way for mine expansion.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indigenous Wayuu communities were moved to make way for a coal export port at Puerto Bolivar, and for a railway built to carry coal from the mine to the port. Burial sites were desecrated and tensions caused between family groups as displaced families moved into the traditional territory of other families.
In August 2001, the small farming village of Tabaco, inhabited mainly by Colombians of African descent, was bulldozed by the mining company in a brutal operation accompanied by hundreds of armed soldiers and security personnel. In February 2002, the consortium of which BHP Billiton was a part bought the remaining 50% of the Cerrejon mine from Intercor. BHP Billiton now owns 33.33% of Cerrejon Coal, the mine’s operator.
A sustained campaign of community opposition followed, supported by dissident shareholders in BHP Billiton and others around the world. Some of the former residents of Tabaco organized themselves through the Tabaco Relocation Committee, which was demanding not only compensation for the destruction of homes and livelihoods but also community relocation to farmland of equivalent agricultural value – as the World Bank’s Guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement urge. The best that Cerrejon Coal was willing to offer was family by family financial payouts based on property valuations which many in the community disputed. In 2007 a complaint against BHP Billiton was made to the Australian National Contact Point of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
In response to the criticism, in 2007 BHP Billiton and the other two multinational companies involved in Cerrejon Coal (Anglo American and Xstrata) commissioned an Independent Panel of Investigation to look into Cerrejon Coal’s social programmes and its general impacts on local communities. The Panel found substance in much of the criticism that had been levelled at the company. It made a number of recommendations, particularly concerning a just settlement for the people of Tabaco. The Panel recommended, among other things, that Cerrejon Coal work with the Tabaco Relocation Committee as well as with other former residents of the village to ensure just compensation, buy collective land for agriculture and help construct a church and community centre for common use by former residents. The Panel also recommended that in future open, transparent negotiations take place with communities badly affected by the proximity of the mine, leading to collective relocation with community consent.
Cerrejon Coal and its three multinational shareholders, including BHP Billiton, broadly accepted the Panel’s recommendations. Negotiations with the Tabaco Relocation Committee led to an agreement in December 2008 which, according to the Relocation Committee’s lawyer, contained most of what the Committee had been struggling for, including the purchase of a piece of land to which families from the former settlement could be moved, in order to continue their life together as farmers. Negotiations began with other small farming communities facing relocation as the mine expands – Roche, Chancleta, Patilla and Tamaquitos.
But conflict continues. There has been strong criticism of the levels of financial compensation in the Tabaco agreement. Provision of infrastructure to the new community – roads, drainage, electricity – is the responsibility of the local authority, and therefore relies on good will from the local mayor. The land being bought by the company is sufficient for housing but insufficient for farming on the scale practiced at Tabaco. It is unclear how people will make a living.
Difficulties also remain for the communities currently facing displacement. There are disagreements over the number of people subject to relocation. The company refuses to acknowledge the need for productive land in the relocated settlements, even though it is essential for the communities to continue their agricultural activities. In recent years, people have found it almost impossible to support themselves as mining expansion has encroached on agricultural land, and while the relocation process is under way – a process which may take two years – people will have no means at all of supporting themselves. Community members accuse Cerrejon Coal of undermining their community leadership, taking decisions without consultation, publishing relocation timetables on the company’s website without informing the communities, calling meetings at short notice and causing confusion and divisions by cancelling meetings already agreed at the last minute, informing only some of the participants and not others. The company has not succeeded in creating a relationship of trust with the communities and community leaders. Community members remain in the dark about what they will eventually receive – what kind of houses, land, work and financial compensation.
Meanwhile, people are living in extremely difficult conditions, with blasting from the mine causing damage to homes, coal dust in the air causing skin and respiratory problems, land on which people used to work being swallowed up by mining activities or fenced off in readiness for mine expansion. People feel that their communities are being ‘strangled’. The Independent Panel of Investigation recommended that the company do more to ensure that people could make a living – including provision of services and financing of small-scale economic projects – but it has not done so to date.
At the same time, Cerrejon mine workers who are members of the SINTRACARBON trade union are concerned about the inferior working conditions of non-unionised contract workers at the mine. SINTRACARBON is also worried about exposure to coal dust. The union says that coal dust is a hazardous substance under Colombian law and that because of this the company is legally bound to pay higher social security contributions than it is currently paying, in order to facilitate earlier retirement for mine workers.
C of E investing in company accused of human rights abuses
By staff writers - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10465
27 October 2009
A company in which the Church of England has a £29 million shareholding will face allegations of human rights abuses and widespread environmental destruction as campaigners publish an ‘alternative report’ into its activities today.
The Church is seeking to profit from a portfolio of mining companies including BHP Billiton, which campaigners say are having a massive detrimental impact on poor communities around the world.
The company will present its own report on its activities at its London AGM this Thursday 29 October. It will claim to work to the highest corporate responsibility and environmental standards in the industry.
But today, critics of the company will present an alternative report outlining the negative impacts of many of the company’s operations – in Australia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile.
The report is the work of organisations from many countries working with directly impacted communities, including church groups.
The report catalogues abuses of human rights, particularly of affected communities, issues of worker health and safety, livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raises issues around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and promotion of both coal and uranium for power production.
At the launch, representatives of communities in Colombia which are being removed to make way for expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine, Cerrejon (one-third owned by BHP Billiton) will describe their own experience with the company. Farming families in villages around the mine have been deprived of their livelihoods as the mine expands and accuse the Cerrejon Coal company of failing to negotiate in good faith or offer sufficient assistance or compensation. They want BHP Billiton to make Cerrejon Coal deal with them fairly.
Recent publicity over four other London-based mining companies – Vedanta, Rio Tinto, Monterrico and GCM Resources – some of which the Church of England also invests in - has has drawn attention to London’s key role in financing destructive mining activities around the world.
The London Mining Network (LMN) which is producing the alternative report, is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. Members include ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), CATAPA (Comite Academico Tecnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales), Colombia Solidarity Campaign, The Corner House, Down to Earth (the ecological campaign for Indonesia), Forest Peoples Programme, LAMMP (Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme), Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries), PIPLinks (Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links), TAPOL (the Indonesia human rights campaign) and the Society of St Columban.
LMN exists to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of controversial and unacceptable mining projects. It does this by publishing reports, participating as 'dissident' shareholders in company meetings, holding educational events and, where appropriate, advocacy with investment institutions, politicians and NGOs.
They point out that mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world. They say it has a disproportionately negative impact on marine-dependent and land-based communities, especially indigenous peoples, and is frequently associated with forced evictions, militarisation, conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings. Use of coal in energy generation is a major contributor to destructive climate change. Use of uranium produces a radioactive legacy which threatens the wellbeing of thousands of generations to come.
The Catholic aid agency CAFOD, War on Want, Anglican bishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have all previously condemned mining companies such as BHP Biliton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American for their human rights abuses and destruction of the environment. The Church has a combined shareholding of £62 million in these three companies according to its last annual report.
Columban priest tackles a mining giant
By Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News
1 November 2009
A Columban priest has challenged the appalling environmental and human rights record of the world’s biggest mining company at its recent AGM on 29 October. Attending alongside other justice and peace activists and indigenous Wayuu people from Colombia, he called on BHP Billiton to respect the human rights of local people in mining areas around the world. Also, to care for water, air and biodiversity which are often polluted by large scale mining, thus destroying livelihoods.
Fr Frank Nally, who worked in the Philippines with indigenous peoples, challenged BHP Billiton’s Hallmark project in the Philippine island of Mindanao. In mining for nickel, it poses significant risks to the environment, particularly because of the large amounts of water required, the transportation and containment of acid, air emissions, and the storage, treatment and disposal of mine waste. CAFOD agrees that the community are worried about the impact that the proposed mine could have, and feel they have not been properly consulted about it.
London-based BHP Billiton is not a household name in Britain, but the activities of the BHP Billiton group have a massive impact on communities all around the world. These are part-funded by high street banks and pension funds investing money provided by millions of individuals, church and other groups in the UK. An alternative report released at the offices of Amnesty International outlined the negative impacts of the company’s operations in Australia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile. The report was the work of organisations from many countries, including church-based groups, working with affected communities.
"Our Columban mission is to support the local people and care for the natural world around them" says Fr Nally.
The report catalogued abuses of human rights concerning worker health and safety, livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raised issues around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and promotion of both coal and uranium for power production.
Representatives of communities in Colombia, displaced to make way for expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine, Cerrejon, which is one-third owned by BHP Billiton, complained of the company’s practices. Farming families in villages around the mine have been deprived of their livelihoods as the mine expands and they accuse Cerrejon of failing to negotiate in good faith or offer sufficient assistance or compensation. The Wayuu indigenous people also fear the militarisation of the area around the vast mine.