BHP Billiton challenges Mariana collapse dam case in UK

The mining firm claims the matter should be settled in Brazil

Published in 11/11/2019 - 15:27 By Léo Rodrigues* - Mariana

BHP Billiton, the British-Australian mining company being sued in the UK over the tragedy in Mariana, Minas Gerais, is challenging the jurisdiction of the British courts moving ahead with the case. The matter is expected to be discussed at a hearing on June 9, 2020. Until then, the company and firm SPG Law, which submitted the motion, may present arguments and evidence to support their viewpoints.

The tragedy turned four years old on November 5, when a dam of a complex controlled by mining giant Samarco collapsed, releasing 39 million cubic meters of sludge. The company has BHP Billiton and Vale as shareholders. The incident caused 19 deaths, left local communities devastated, and polluted the Doce river basin all the way to the neighboring state of Espírito Santo.

To repair the damage, the a change of conduct term was signed in March 2016  between the three companies, the federal government, and the governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. The deal led to the creation of Fundação Renova, aimed at implementing all necessary measures. Four years after the tragedy, the compensation process is still being debated by the families affected, and the works to resettle the people who were forced out of their homes are delayed.

The UK motion was filed by SPG Law in November last year. More than 200 thousand people affected, three indigenous communities, some 600 companies, and 25 municipalities joined the case, in addition to the diocese of Mariana. They seek whole compensation for the losses that stemmed from the tragedy.

However, the mining company is requesting the interruption of the case and argues deliberations should take place in Brazilian courts. “BHP believes that the case in the UK doubles the issues that were subjected to preexisting legal procedures in Brazil already being tackled through the efforts of Fundação Renova,” the firm says in a note.

SPG Law is known for filing joint motions against multinational companies and was recently successful against representatives in the US pharmaceutical industry. In the UK, the firm also sought compensation from  British Airways over the leaking of data about 380 thousand consumers, and Volkswagen, accused of having violated EU gas emission laws. The process is expected to be concluded more expeditiously in the UK than in Brazil, SPG Law stated.

“BHP itself admitted in a public statement that the process of compensation and remedy is delayed,” said Tom Goodhed, one of the partners of SPG Law. He is referring to a note released on the company’s website on October 30. “The progress has been more slowly than we wished it to be, but these solutions must not be developed and handed in hastily—the involvement of different groups, including the affected communities, means more people have joined it, but it also takes time,” the statement reads.

The case on the Mariana tragedy is being scrutinized at the Court of Justice of Liverpool, where SPG Law has its headquarters. The firm reports it will produce evidence and reports covering the jurisdictional matter and believes the case will be resumed. “We believe we will have made real changes by the fifth anniversary,” Tom Goodhead said.

*The reporter traveled at the invitation of Fundação Renova.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Liliane Farias / Nira Foster

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