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BHP Billiton

BHP Billiton boasts of a strong reputation for corporate responsibility. But is this really the case? There is a growing gap between the company’s rhetoric and the reality on the ground.

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BHP Billiton says that it is committed to Indigenous Peoples and has a good record in its relationships with them. But, BHPB refuses to apply the high standards set out in the recently adopted 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 despite 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, it promised a better deal for communities facing relocation as the mine expanded. However, community members still complain of being kept in the dark about the progress of relocation arrangements, of bad faith on the part of negotiators from Cerrejon Coal, and of the 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. That means that if farming communities are moved off their land they must receive land of equivalent or greater agricultural value. It would be better if the company avoided 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 materialized, 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. However, 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. There have also been five fatalities at their operations in Western Australian between 2008-2009. BHP Billiton must not only work to avoid deaths at work, but also to eliminate sickness caused by work in operations in which it is involved. Where it happens, the company must deal justly with those who are ill.

The company claims to follow the highest human rights standards, but the Sibuyan killing in the Philippines shows that it is falling short. Additionally, BHPB’s contribution to the possible forced displacement of thousands in the Congo due to the mega-hydropower site necessary for its operations there deserves scrutiny. BHP Billiton must ensure that all partners and actors in the supply chain respect human rights and avoid any form of violence or intimidation against opponents to its projects.

BHP Billiton withdrew from the Gag Island project partly because of the controversy over the project’s potential ecological impact. But, it has bought ore from destructive operations elsewhere in the Raja Ampat archipelago and it has shipped that nickel through this ecologically sensitive area to supply its Yabulu Refinery in Queensland, Australia. It plans to open the world’s biggest open-pit 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. It plans to reduce the ‘carbon intensity’ of its operations but not its overall carbon emissions. BHP Billiton must live up to its ecological rhetoric, pull out of uranium mining and reduce its overall carbon emissions, not just their ‘intensity’.


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