World’s biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, holds its annual meeting

Press Release by London Mining Network and War on Want, 25th October 2012

Poor ‘hit by mines giant’ press £2,000-a-day peer

Plea to former UK international development minister

The leader of a poor overseas community today will confront a former UK international development minister to demand compensation after people were allegedly forced off their land for the later benefit of the mining company which pays her over £2000 a day.

Felipe Ustate will seek redress for Afro-Colombians at the London annual meeting of the world’s biggest miner, the Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton, for whom Labour peer Baroness Shriti Vadera earns around £2,168 a day as a non-executive director. Ustate heads a group that represents the farming community displaced from Manantial in northern Colombia’s La Guajira region to make way for Latin America’s largest open pit coal mine, El Cerrejon, which accounts for £1,500 million in sales. And he will tell the meeting that Billiton’s plan to divert a stretch of a river for access to coal deposits risks polluting and reducing the drinking water of 115 communities that live downstream.

Ustate will be supported by a coalition of UK groups, including the Colombia Solidarity Campaign London Mining Network, that will hold a picket outside the meeting and challenge the company inside the AGM. The demonstrators expect protesters from the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp at St Paul’s Cathedral to join them.

Besides the Cerrejon allegations, campaigners will warn that BHP Billiton:

  • intends to exploit mining rights in the heart of Indonesia’s Borneo conservation area, and lobbied for the protected status of some of its concession areas to be lifted
  • is under pressure in Colombia for the derisory amounts of royalties it pays at its Cerro Matoso nickel mine
  • and is responsible for massive contributions to damaging climate through its increasing production of oil and coal

BHP in Central Kalimantan

BHP Billiton's seven coal mining concessions in Central Kalimantan threaten to open up a whole new mining area in Borneo. These concessions overlaps the 220,000km2 trans-border conservation area agreed between the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei known as the 'Heart of Borneo'. In developing these mining operations, the company has been accused of lobbying for boundary changes to conservation areas and for changes in the law to allow open-cast mining in protected forests. More importantly, local communities have protested at the influx of new forest development initiatives in the region. Having promised to start small and sustainably, the company has now signed an agreement to develop a major new coal railway line to ship the coal out, as well as building road and river-port facilities. BHP Billiton's promises to leave a legacy of environmental and biodiversity benefits are just a smokescreen for digging the heart out of Borneo forests.

Ustate, president of Asociacion de Desplazados Manantial, said: "Numerous communities in our part of Colombia have disappeared as a result of coal mining. We were uprooted and the social fabric of our communities was destroyed, without any help to live a dignified life. BHP Billiton is one of those now responsible for relocating these communities because it bought into the mine with a commitment to respecting the rights which had been ignored by the Colombian State and by the former mine operator."

Richard Solly, who coordinates London Mining Network, said: “BHP Billiton is the world’s largest diversified resources company. Its investment in coal, oil and gas make it one of the world’s greatest contributors to damaging climate change. Its uranium mining operations mean it is creating a legacy of deadly radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years to come. It benefits from removal of communities against their will and destruction of people’s livelihoods. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and many of us have investments in it through our banks, insurance companies or pension funds. Yet most people in this country have never heard of it. We need to force this massively profitable company to clean up its act.”

Colombian-born Graciela Romero, international programmes director at the charity War on Want, said: “BHP Billiton has the responsibility to act on demands from displaced communities to be resettled and receive compensation. In addition, the company must not go ahead with future explorations since communities have not given their consent. The company - under the auspices of the Colombian government and light-touch regulation by   the British government - is promoting so-called consultation with communities that in fact removes their power to veto mining projects which directly affect them. This consultation seeks to legitimise further displacement and destruction of people’s livelihoods. The internationally accepted principle of free, prior and informed consent must be upheld.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: The Billiton annual meeting takes place at 10 am today (Thursday, 25 October) in Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London SW1P 3EE (near Westminster Tube)


Richard Solly 07929 023214 Follow @LondonMining on twitter

Graciela Romero 07947 216104