BHP BILLITON WATCH RECOMMENDATIONS
Last year, BHP Billiton’s response to the many concerns raised in our alternative annual report, BHP Billiton: undermining the future, was dismissive. The company simply stated:
‘The “Alternative” report … contains numerous outdated and erroneous assertions about BHP Billiton’s environmental and social performance. Stakeholders interested in the Company’s performance should refer to our independently verified sustainability report at www. bhpbilliton.com/bb/sustainableDevelopment.jsp. We would also be happy to respond to any specific issues raised in the alternative report.’(See http://www.businesshumanrights.org/Links/Repository/949446.)
This response was wholly inadequate, and confirmed the company’s reputation among its critics for failing to discuss detailed, evidence-based criticism of its operations. Its Sustainability Report did not deal with the matters being criticised.
The fact that this year’s alternative annual report contains so much of the same material as last year’s is sad testimony to the fact that company is slow to change its ways. There remains a wide gap between the company’s rhetoric and the reality on the ground.
BHP Billiton says that it is committed to Indigenous Peoples and has a good record in its relationships with them. But it refuses to apply the high standards set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it has benefited from operations which have ignored Indigenous rights in Colombia and the Philippines and it is pushing through projects in South Australia and Western Australia in the teeth of Aboriginal opposition. BHP Billiton needs to accept and respect Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. It needs to accept that ‘No’ means ‘No’!
At the Cerrejon mine in Colombia, BHP Billiton and its partners promised a better deal for communities facing relocation as the mine expanded. The mine’s management has certainly improved its behaviour in the face of continuing community demands supported by an international campaign; but community members complain about the painfully slow pace of relocation arrangements, of bad faith on the part of negotiators from Cerrejon Coal, and of inability to make a living as the mine has swallowed up agricultural land. BHP Billiton needs to ensure at a very minimum that the World Bank standards on involuntary removals are maintained in ALL operations in which it is involved and that it treats communities with respect. That means that if farming communities are moved off their land they must receive land of equivalent or greater agricultural value, and not be left without the means to make a living while new accommodation is prepared. The company should avoid projects where involuntary removals are necessary.
Agreements with First Nations communities around the Ekati mine in the Canadian Northwest Territories were hailed as a fine example of corporate respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. But unequal bargaining power put First Nations negotiators at a disadvantage from the beginning, and benefits hoped for have not materialised, while social change has disrupted community life. BHP Billiton must ensure that, where communities do accept a mine project in their area, economic benefits go to local people and social and cultural disruption are avoided.
The company aims for ‘zero harm’ for its workers, but over a two year period, ending in 2010, five workers died in fatal injuries at BHP Billiton’s operations in West Australia. Samancor workers in South Africa report that information about the health and safety risks of handling manganese is not readily available to them, and that they will never be healthy enough to get a job elsewhere because of debilitating illnesses contracted at work. BHP Billiton must not only work to avoid deaths at work but to eliminate sickness caused by work in operations in which it is involved – and where it happens, the company must deal justly with those who are ill.
The company says it intends to follow the highest human rights standards. It has pulled out of the Sibuyan project in the Philippines, where the murder of a prominent opponent of mining caused an outcry. But it is now bidding to buy Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, which is heavily involved in Western Sahara, much of which is under Moroccan occupation and is deemed by the United Nations and the African Union to be a country in need of decolonisation. BHP Billiton must avoid profiting from colonisation, military occupation and oppression.
BHP Billiton’s legacy at Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea is one of grave and lasting damage to the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers. Despite millions of dollars in legally mandated compensation, the people living along these rivers still find it difficult to feed their families. It plans to open the world’s biggest openpit uranium mine at Olympic Dam in Australia despite the problem of radioactive waste disposal and the danger that radioactive dust may be carried by wind storms over centres of population on the Australian east coast. BHP Billiton must live up to its ecological rhetoric, stop endangering fragile ecosystems, make good the damage it has already caused, and work for a ‘just transition’ out of uranium mining.
BHP Billiton says it is concerned about climate change and believes that it may adversely affect its operations and markets. But it continues to expand both its oil production and its coal mining. Its planned open cast coal mining project on the edge of the Heart of Borneo conservation area will cause massive destruction to a fragile ecosystem. But the expansion of coal mining in itself will exacerbate destructive climate change. Instead of boasting about rising production of fossil fuels, BHP Billiton must begin now to make a just transition away from production which hastens climate catastrophe.
Honesty and openess
BHP Billiton’s involvement in Cambodia has caused it grave embarrassment because of the lack of clarity over payments to government bodies. It says it is committed to revealing all payments made to national governments. It has not yet done so. BHP Billiton needs not only to avoid any and all forms of corruption in its dealings with authorities, but to be seen to be avoiding them. It is accused of failing to make information available to people affected by its aluminium smelter in Mozambique, even though across the border in South Africa the law would force it to be more open. It has also failed to report on exploration activities despite the known social and environmental impacts of such activities and controversy over land use. BHP Billiton needs to be open and honest, not only in financial matters, but also about its exploration activities and in every case where communities affected by its operations want to know what it is doing.