Brazil’s Minster of Natural Environment said Friday that the country’s government plans to sue BHP Billiton Ltd., Vale SA, and Samarco Mineração SA for USD $5.24 billion for damages caused by a dam collapse at an iron ore site the two co-own. The iron ore site, Samarco Mineração SA, is a joint mining venture between the two companies [Reuters report]. BHP Billiton Ltd. is the largest mining company, and Vale SA is the biggest ore miner in the world. The dam contained and released 60 million cubic meters of mine waste and mud that killed at least 13 people, left approximately 11 people missing, and devastated an entire village when it collapsed earlier this month [Economic Times report]. Brazilian Minister Izabella Teixeira announced that the government would seek to create a fund to compensate victims and to pay for the environmental recovery of the effected areas. The fund would be created gradually [Guardian report] as a percentage of the companies’ profits. The Special Rapporteurs sent by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported [Guardian report] on Wednesday that the “steps taken by the Brazilian government, Vale and BHP Billiton to prevent harm were clearly insufficient” and that “this disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the failure of businesses to adequately conduct human rights due diligence to prevent human rights abuses” [press release].
Brazil’s environmental record has been controversial because deforestation and the relationships between government and multinational corporations. In July US President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced [JURIST report] an agreement [text] to address climate change [JURIST report]. Both countries pledged to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the use of wind and solar power sources to 20 percent of each nation’s electricity production by 2030. Brazil also pledged to help reduce the deforestation problem by restoring nearly 30 million acres of Amazon rain forest. In 2013, a Brazilian federal judge dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against Chevron [corporate website] after approving a negotiated settlement, closing a lengthy legal battle over a 2011 oil spill. A federal court in Brazil ordered [JURIST report] Chevron and drilling company Transocean to suspend all oil drilling in Brazil within 30 days in August 2012 days in the wake of two oil spills off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. In April that year a Brazilian prosecutor filed an $11 billion lawsuit [JURIST report] against Chevron after the company reported a new leak in the Frade oil field. Chevron lost an initial appeal of the $18 billion fine [JURIST report] in January 2012 for pollution in the Amazon jungle.