They will tell the court most of the reparations promised or won legally in Brazil have not been paid or completed. They are hoping an English court can hold one of BHP’s parent companies, the London-headquartered BHP Group Plc, to account.
The £5billion ($8.9 billion) action, brought by international law firm PGMBM, claims the reparations mechanism set up in the form of foundation Renova in Brazil is inadequate and has been used as a shield to defend the corporations from personal and environmental compensation claims.
Luz, whose council takes its name from the river destroyed by the disaster, said the area was of historical and cultural significance and a place of “natural beauty and huge potential”.
He said the town was also heavily reliant on income received from the Risoleta Hydro Power Plant (as was neighbouring Santa Cruz do Escalvado) but the plant remained paralysed after collecting spilled tailings.
He told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Renova has not been able to advance works to clean or restart the plant. He estimated the paralysis has led to a 22 per cent deficit in his council’s revenue.
He said the people impacted by the disaster were still unable to use the river for fishing or gold panning to help ends meat.
“The Renova Foundation has departed from its objective of reparation and restitution, and today acts only to defend the rights of Vale and BHP,” Luz said.
Goncalvez Jnr, whose council area includes the towns of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo, wants the English court to hear the claimants’ grievances.
“We are disheartened. The scheme that was built to provide compensation hasn’t worked. It was built to shield the corporations,” he said.
Renova is recreating three towns from scratch away from the main river, but construction has been delayed. The first, Bento Rodrigues, is due for completion in February.
Both men acknowledged some work has been done and services provided to the affected people, but said it was not enough.
A spokesperson for BHP in Australia said the company was “fully committed to doing the right thing for the victims of the Fundao dam failure and remains committed to supporting the ongoing remediation and compensation efforts of the Renova Foundation”.
The company has spent 8.85 billion reais ($2.4 billion) in reparation and compensation programs up to May 2020. It has made provisions for another $US1.7 billion ($2.3 billion) for future payments, to be matched by Vale. It has resolved more than 10,000 claims for damages with another 12,000 under consideration.
It will tell the court the proceedings “do not belong in the UK”.
“This action in the UK is based on Brazilian law and duplicates matters which are covered by the existing and ongoing work of the Renova Foundation and are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in Brazil,” the spokesperson said.
Samarco has been closed since the disaster in November 2015. Vale is not part of the legal action.
Tom Goodhead, managing partner at law firm PGMBM, said the case was seeking to deliver “some modicum of justice” for the thousands of people who had lost loved ones and livelihoods.
“The main point is had this happened in Australia or in the UK, there’s no way [BHP] would’ve permitted a situation to emerge that has taken four and half years before proper remediation.”
Lia is Deputy Foreign Editor at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald