Report by Richard Solly, Secretary, London Mining Network, 41a Thornhill Square, London N1 1BE.
BHPBilliton plc AGM, 25 October 2007
Trade unionists from Colombia and representatives of mining-affected communities in the Philippines attended the BHPBilliton plc AGM in London on 25 October.
Freddy Lozano and Jairo Quiroz represented Colombian coal miners’ union SINTRACARBON, which organises workers at the Cerrejon Coal mine in La Guajira in the north of Colombia, one-third owned by BHPBilliton. Freddy told shareholders that a statement from the union had been given to BHPBilliton management the previous day. A summary of the statement was read out. The statement said that pay rates at the mine had not kept pace with the cost of living; pay differentials were far greater than at the company’s other mines around the world; the company was failing to recognise work-related illnesses and injuries, and many disabled workers were losing all pay after 180 days of illness; social security payments required by law for workers exposed to carcinogenic crystalline silica were not being paid; buses used for transporting workers were inadequate and adding to health problems; and layoffs and disciplinary action against workers were increasing.
The SINTRACARBON statement deplored Cerrejon’s treatment of the community of Tabaco, whose residents were forcibly evicted to make way for mine expansion, and their homes demolished, in 2001. The statement noted that the Cerrejon Coal company had acknowledged that this had been a mistake and that it was now involved in collective negotiations with most of the other communities facing displacement. The negotiations, carried out in accordance with World Bank guidelines, were making good progress. The company had accepted the union as an advisor to the communities in these negotiations, as the communities had requested. SINTRACARBON urged that other communities be included in the negotiations and that a just settlement be made with the former residents of Tabaco.
BHPBilliton Chairman Don Argus acknowledged the SINTRACARBON statement and said that the union’s concerns would be investigated. He made no comment on the process of negotiation between the company and the communities facing displacement – perhaps because he knew that any inaccuracies would be swiftly challenged by the union representatives, who had met with community representatives only days before the AGM.
Datu Victor Aying (aka Manaol), a community leader from Macambol in Davao Oriental on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, spoke about the community opposition to BHPBilliton’s Pujada Bay nickel project in his area. ‘Datu’ is a tribal term of authority, and Datu Aying also represents the Macambol Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Integral Development (MMSAID). The Pujada Bay area includes indigenous territories and is also an important environmental zone rich in rare and threatened species. Datu Victor Aying pointed out that under Philippine law, no mining project can proceed in Indigenous territory without the Free, Prior, Informed Consent of the Indigenous People concerned. He said that in this case consent had been obtained from Indigenous People who were peripheral to the projected mining area but not from those within it, who were not properly consulted.
Don Argus asserted that the overwhelming majority of people consulted supported the project. He did not answer Datu Victor’s point that those directly impacted were not consulted. Don Argus said that if there were ‘issues in the community’ the company would take note.
Datu Victor added that the project was to proceed in an ecologically sensitive zone, which included a legally protected forest area and a protected seascape. It would involve excavating a mountain sacred to the local Indigenous People.
Don Argus said that the project would not proceed before environmental and social impact studies had been completed and asserted once more, without answering Datu Victor’s point, that ‘overall community support is obvious’.
Jo Villanueva of LRC, the Philippine branch of Friends of the Earth, asked what BHPBilliton’s involvement is in the Pujada Bay Nickel Project, given the project’s complicated and confusing corporate structure (with up to 8 local companies, the most prominent of which are Amcor and Hallmark). Jo also asked about the nature of a legal dispute between BHPBilliton and Amcor in the Singapore courts. BHPBilliton Chief Executive Marius Kloppers stated that the nature of the dispute with Amcor is commercially confidential and that it had not impacted on the company’s work programme.
Jo also noted that BHPBilliton had signed an agreement with Pelican Resources of Australia, whose Philippine subsidiary, Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd (SNPDC), was operating illegally on Sibuyan island, as it was using permissions for small-scale mining to conduct large-scale operations. She pointed out that SNPDC was implicated in the murder of a local councillor and environmental campaigner, Armin Marin, by one of the company’s security guards, and that local people hold BHPBilliton responsible for this death because BHPBilliton’s financial backing is allowing the project to go ahead. She reported that thousands of people in Sibuyan have signed a petition calling on BHPBilliton to pull out of the project.
Don Argus reacted angrily, saying that the company had no involvement in the ‘tragic incident’ involving Armin Marin. It was involved in the project but not in the killing. The project would not proceed before environmental and social studies had been conducted. Jo asked whether, given the huge opposition to the company in Sibuyan, the company would not just pull out. Don Argus asserted that the company was well accepted in the Philippines and throughout the world. Jo reminded him that it was not accepted in Sibuyan.
In response to a question by Fr Frank Nally, who works with mining-affected communities in the Philippines, Don Argus stated that Free, Prior Informed Consent is ‘poorly defined’ but that it was all about ‘getting local people on side’ and understanding the benefits of BHPBilliton’s activities. Indigenous Peoples themselves might see FPIC rather as a mechanism for ensuring that they can make their own free decisions based on objective, independently provided information.
Andrew Hickman, of environmental group Down To Earth, called for the company to stay out of protected areas in Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo, and to ensure that its activities in areas surrounding protected areas had as little impact as possible. Marius Kloppers acknowledged that the company’s leases intersect with protected areas but stated that the company would not mine in them. BHPBilliton has given this assurance before, without terminating its leases in such areas.
Richard Solly, accompanying the SINTRACARBON representatives, expressed concern that critics of the Cerrejon mine in Colombia suffered often intimidation from ‘persons unknown’ and that a company representative had recently made a remark suggesting that the company was aware of this. He asked for an assurance that the company would ensure the safety of its critics, including the SINTRACARBON representatives. Don Argus reacted with anger, accusing Richard of suggesting that the company was threatening its critics. Richard pointed out that he had made no such suggestion but that he took it from what Don Argus had said that the company would indeed ensure the security of its critics.
In 2000, BHPBilliton formed part of a three-company consortium which bought a 50% stake in the Cerrejon mine in the Colombian province of la Guajira. The mine was operated by a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil and had a history of intimidating local people into selling up for inadequate compensation. Communities were broken up and dispersed.
Some of the residents of one village – Tabaco – held out for a community relocation arrangement so that they could move as a community to new land and carry on farming. The company refused. In August 2001, unarmed residents were evicted from their homes by soldiers, police and private security guards, and their homes were demolished. Homes left standing that day were demolished in January 2002. In February of that year, the consortium in which BHPBilliton was involved bought out the other 50% of the mine. BHPBilliton now owns one-third of the mine and participates in operational decisions.
The people from Tabaco holding out for community relocation have still not received justice in spite of a Supreme Court decision in May 2002 which ordered the local authority to relocate them. The company has offered inadequate compensation and inappropriate pieces of land. The community has found a suitable piece of land and the owner is willing to sell! Neither the government nor the company has proved willing to finance the move, and community members remain in grave difficulties. Now other communities are under pressure to move. The company says it is willing to engage in collective negotiations with each community but community members say that company employees are continually pressuring them to sell up individually for inadequate sums, and get out. Company-sponsored economic development projects are condemned by critics as inadequate, divisive and a poor substitute for justice.
Sibuyan is a small (46,000-hectare) island in the province of Romblon. One-third of it is a protected area. Having been separated from the mainland as far back as the last Ice Age, Sibuyan has been dubbed the "Galapagos island of Asia." Home to one of the densest forests in the world, the local people are well aware of the value of their unique ecology.
The 3 October protest was the latest in a continuing campaign by islanders to show their rejection of plans to develop mining on their island. These include protests against the announcement of an agreement between BHPBilliton and Pelican Resources of Australia, who are seeking to develop the mine. The agreement is for BHPBilliton to purchase the nickel ore from Pelican’s Philippines partner/subsidiary, Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd (SNPDC), as well as funding an exploration program. BHPBilliton is therefore providing financing and incentives to drive the project forward despite strong local opposition and the inevitable serious environmental and social impacts which will result.
Councillor Marin, who was in his forties and married with 5 children, is a former employee of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Philippines. He has been listed as the 23rd environmental activist to be killed under the current regime of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Violent incidents and the intimidation of legitimate protestors against mining are a widespread and growing occurrence in the Philippines.
The SINTRACARBON representatives’ visit to Britain was hosted by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign (http://www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk/) and the Philippine representatives’ visit by PIPLinks (http://www.piplinks.org/). Both groups are members of the London Mining Network.
THE HISTORY OF INEQUALITY IN EL CERREJON , SINTRACARBON declaration