3 November 2010


A number of criticisms of the world’s largest and most-profitable mining company BHP-Billiton (The 'Big Australian') were raised at the annual share-holders meeting held in London recently.

The company was urged to halt its coal mining operations on the Indonesian island of Borneo by representatives of JATAM an Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network and of indigenous peoples who reported that mining "has destroyed our forests, rivers and livelihoods."

"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?"
asked Richard Solly, co-ordinator of the London Mining Network He argued that 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.

In response CEO 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 believed that only national governments had the right to decide on mineral development.

The company was also accused of trying to change the boundaries of protected forests to enable it to mine in areas currently off-limits, an accusation which it denied and the company claimed to be unaware that its subsidiaries were continuing to explore in an area where permission had been withdrawn.

Complaints were also aired relating to communities in Colombia that had been removed for mine expansion around the company’s part-owned Cerrejon Coal mine. Complaints centred on the continuing slow pace of progress in implementing relocation agreements, the company’s failure to adequately assist the increasing number of workers are suffering work-related illnesses and the denial of union rights to the six thousand sub-contracted workers at the mine.

The new company chair Jac Nasser and the CEO Marius Kloppers washed their hands of responsibility for any action on global warming while fully accepting the findings of science and acknowledging that greenhouse gas emissions need to be limited. In their view, it is up to society and governments to decide on the way forward which means that in the meantime the company will continue with its plans to increase production of coal, oil and gas - presumably in the hope that currently unavailable technical solutions might one day help limit the effects of burning them!

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