Brumadinho dam collapse: lessons in corporate due diligence and remedy for harm done
On Friday 25 January, a Vale owned tailings dam in Brumadinho, Brazil, burst sending a wave of mud and mining waste through the surrounding site and villages. At least 58 people are dead and hundreds are missing.
This latest disaster comes just over three years since Samarco dam - in the same state and also owned by Vale, along with BHP Billiton – collapsed killing 19 people and displacing hundreds. In November, activists from Brazil travelled to London to meet with BHP Billiton and demand full compensation and resettlement for affected communities.
Julia Mello Neiva, Senior Brazil Researcher at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said:
“What happened in Brumadinho on Friday illustrates the devastation wreaked when mining companies get it so wrong.
The immediate focus must be on rapid humanitarian response, but there are serious questions to be answered about how this could happen again, and so quickly. Especially given moves to ban upstream tailings dams in Brazil and internationally.
Vale must listen to affected workers and communities and ensure they are comprehensively compensated and resettled.
There are lessons from the Samarco dam collapse. As the victims said this week “the tragedy does not end when the mud stops running”. Their own bitter experience is one of being “forgotten”, and when they have sought remedy through the courts, they have been short-changed. Just last month they were told that, contrary to previous agreements, payments made as emergency financial aid will be deducted from the overall compensation owed to the communities. The public defender’s office claims this ruling was made in response to demands by Vale and BHP Billiton.
This tragedy highlights the need for tougher regulation on companies to assess the human rights risks of their operations and supply chains. Mandatory due diligence, that insists companies must identify and mitigate human rights risks, is already law in France, and under discussion in many other countries. This allows victims to pursue criminal proceedings if companies are negligent and tragedy occurs. Coupled with strengthening of state monitoring bodies, this would go a long way to prevent disasters and human rights violations that destroy lives and communities.”
We will continue to monitor new details of this case and will be approaching Vale to provide a response.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Read a statement from communities affected by the Samarco dam collapse here.
Julia Mello Neiva, Senior Brazil Researcher
+55 11 97066-9551
Joe Bardwell, Senior Corporate Accountability & Communications officer