World's biggest mining company under fire

Date of publication: 
28 October 2009

London-based BHP Billiton plc 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. Those are part-funded by high street banks and pension funds investing money provided by millions of working people in the UK.

The company will present its own report on its activities at its London AGM on Thursday 29 October. It will claim to work to the highest corporate responsibility and environmental standards in the industry. But two days before this, critics of the company will present an alternative report outlining the negative impacts of many of the company’s operations —- in Australia, West Papua, PNG, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile. The report is the work of organisations from many countries working with directly impacted communities.

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 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 —- has drawn attention to London’s key role in financing destructive mining activities around the world. BHP Billiton is the biggest mining company, and its impacts are felt across the world.


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 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.