LMN report on BHP Billiton AGM, London

Forest near site of BHP Billiton's planned Haju mine, Central Kalimantan

Extract from a report by Richard Solly, Co-ordinator, London Mining Network, November 5th 2013

Go to full report on LMN's website

In the days when Don Argus was Chairman of BHP Billiton, the company’s critics could rely on getting a metaphorical kick in the throat from a man not noted for courtesy. Jac Nasser is as smooth as silk but his answers to the same criticisms are just as unsatisfactory.

This AGM was made more interesting by the nomination of Ian Dunlop as an independent director. Ian, a former coal company executive, is now a convinced campaigner against climate change, and wanted BHP Billiton to begin to pull out of coal and oil. The Board opposed his nomination and he only received around 3% of votes cast, but his nomination and the points made by his supporters brought a welcome emphasis to the importance of ending reliance on oil and coal if we are to save the planet from climate catastrophe.

You can watch a video of the introductory speeches by the company’s Chair and Chief Executive on the company’s website. A number of shareholders asked questions and made points. The account below consists only of the points made during shareholders’ questions by London Mining Network’s friends and colleagues and on the issue of climate change.

Hendrik “Beggy” Siregar from JATAM, the Indonesian mining advocacy network, asked why BHP Billiton continued mining operations in Kalimantan. He said that although BHP has a history in Indonesia when dealing directly with Indigenous Peoples and conservation areas, such as in Sumba and Weda Bay, BHP has pulled out or stopped operating in most places. Why is it continuing to operate at the IndoMet Coal Project in Central Kalimantan? Does BHP like dirty energy exploitation, damaging the earth and contributing to climate change?

Jac Nasser said the company understands how important this issue is to JATAM. The Board have been consistent in their responses and actions in recent years. They will not sanction a major project in Kalimantan this year. They have progressed a small project involving road works, loading facilities and employee accommodation for a small mine. This is what they had said they would do. But they are not approaching this any differently from any other project in any other country. Any changes in what they are doing or thinking of doing will be discussed in the usual way. They had invited Andrew Hickman of DTE to visit them in Kalimantan and would welcome dialogue after the meeting.

Andrew Mackenzie added that a number of companies had been allowed to move into protected forest areas but that this does not apply to BHP Billiton. If the company did seek to mine in protected forest areas it would not be by open cut.

Andrew Hickman responded that he had visited the site of the proposed Haju mine and it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen. Mining operations around the area display an obscene level of destruction. He had talked to communities in the area. CEO Andrew Mackenzie had talked about gains to local communities, but these communities had said that they do not want any more mining in their area and that it does not contribute to their health, welfare or livelihoods. Hendrik had travelled from Indonesia to speak to the Board and shareholders. The company’s model of development is top-down, related to money, and not pursued out of concern for the wellbeing of communities. A declaration by twelve community organizations in Kalimantan rejects the railway being constructed in Central Kalimantan – they do not want this railway. There will not be agreement on models of development and probable impacts in Central Kalimantan, but the company should listen to the voice of civil society in Central Kalimantan regarding the railway, which will drive a spear into the heart of the forest there. Andrew asked what was the company’s relationship to the railway, and what the company would do to respect communities.

Jac Nasser said that the company takes this matter seriously but that it is not inconsistent with what the company holds itself to. The company will not do anything against its own charter. It is not like other companies.

Andrew Hickman pointed out that the hugely destructive Borneo Lumbung project bordered BHP Billiton’s concession.

Jac Nasser broke in to say that this is a different company [brushing aside the concern about the cumulative impacts of opencast mining in the area]. BHP Billiton is not progressing investigation or development of railway facilities.

Andrew Hickman asked whether this meant that, even if the railway is built, BHP Billiton would refrain from using it.

Jac Nasser suggested talking about the matter after the AGM, and stated that the company had made its position clear.

What was abundantly clear was that he was not going to give any public undertaking not to mine and not to use the railway.

Read the full report on LMN's website