United Kingdom accepts billion-dollar lawsuit against mining company for disaster in Mariana (MG)


The Court of Appeal of the United Kingdom ruled this Friday (8) that the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton could be tried in the country for the rupture of the Fundão dam, in the municipality of Mariana (MG), in 2015. The structure belonged to the mining company Samarco , a joint venture formed by BHP and Vale. Nineteen people died in the tragedy.

The wave of iron ore tailings that descended from the dam destroyed the district of Bento Rodrigues, reached the Doce River and traveled all the way to its mouth, in Espírito Santo, in one of the biggest environmental disasters in the country.

A lawsuit filed by those affected by the tragedy has been going through the English courts since 2018. This Friday’s decision was necessary for the proceeding of the process. The action asks for 5 billion pounds sterling (R$ 31.9 billion).

The value, however, will undergo a new calculation, according to lawyer Pedro Martins, a partner at the PGMBM office, which represents the victims of the disaster. A total of 200,000 people affected are part of the action, including individuals, indigenous communities, municipalities and companies.

BHP can still appeal to the Supreme Court of England. In the lawyer’s opinion, there is a narrow margin for this to occur. “The Court of Appeal’s decision was very robust,” he says.

In the action presented to the English Court, the former Attorney General of the Republic Rodrigo Janot acted as an expert appointed by the PGMBM office. It was up to the former PGR to report on how Brazilian environmental legislation and the country’s legal system work.

For Janot, the position of the English court will have consequences. “This decision will change the framework of international law as it relates to class actions,” says the former attorney general. “Jurisdiction globalization is taking place. It was unthinkable ten years ago.”

The action against BHP was brought on the grounds that, according to Brazilian law, compensation must be full – which, in the assessment of the office representing those affected, did not occur in Brazil.

In November 2020, a civil court in Manchester, where the case is pending, decided not to proceed with the action. The justification was that there was a risk of simultaneous trials in both countries. The English court, however, reopened the case on July 27 of last year.

In a note released this Friday, BHP states that the decision refers to preliminary issues of the case, not yet dealing with the merits of the actions brought in the English courts.

The company says it will review the decision to define the next steps to be taken within the process. “BHP will continue to defend the action in the UK, which we believe is unnecessary as it duplicates issues that are already covered by the Renova Foundation’s ongoing work under the supervision of the Brazilian Judiciary and by ongoing legal proceedings in Brazil,” he said.

The Renova Foundation is the entity created by the mining companies to be responsible for repairing the damage caused by the dam failure. BHP adds that it is committed to compensation actions involving those affected by the dam failure.

“To date, R$ 21.8 billion has been disbursed in the remediation and compensation programs carried out by the Renova Foundation”, says the company in the note.

Mônica dos Santos, 37, is a resident of Bento Rodrigues and is part of the Commission for People Affected. According to her, the expectation is that the process will be faster and that justice will be done.

“We know it’s just a beginning, there’s still a lot to come until the end of this process. But just knowing that it was accepted is a relief, it’s a great joy, because it’s going to be seven years of a life stopped” , she says.

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