BHP to face music in UK over Fundão collapse following “monumental” judgement

A current view of Fundao dam, Samarco's iron ore waste dam in Mariana, Minas Gerais state, Brazil on October 23, 2017. Next November 5 marks the second anniversary of the burst of the iron ore waste dam of Samarco -owned by BHP Billiton and Vale SA- which killed nineteen people and destroyed the villages of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo and the Doce River ecosystem in the worst mining accident in Brazil's history. / AFP PHOTO / DOUGLAS MAGNO (Photo credit should read DOUGLAS MAGNO/AFP via Getty Images)

BHP Group will face a lawsuit in the UK over the Fundão dam collapse in 2015 in which 19 people were killed after it lost an appeal seeking to block the $6bn plus action, according to a report by Reuters today.

In what claimant lawyers described as a “monumental judgment”, the Court of Appeal on Friday overturned previous judgments and ruled that the group lawsuit – one of the largest in English legal history – could proceed in English courts.

“The days of huge corporations doing what they want in countries on the other side of the world and getting away with it are over,” said Tom Goodhead, managing partner of law firm PGMBM, which represents Brazilian individuals, businesses, churches, municipalities and indigenous people.

BHP, the world’s largest mining company by market value, said it would consider a Supreme Court appeal.

The collapse of the Fundao dam, owned by the Samarco venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale, killed 19 as more than 40 million cubic metres of mud and mining waste swept into the Doce river, obliterating villages and reaching the Atlantic Ocean more than 650 km (400 miles) away, said Reuters.

The lawsuit is the latest to establish whether multinational companies can be held liable on their home turf for the conduct of overseas subsidiaries, emulating cases brought in London against miner Vedanta and oil giant Shell over alleged pollution and oil spills in Africa.

BHP has dismissed the case as pointless and wasteful, saying it duplicates legal proceedings and reparation and repair programmes in Brazil, which will already cost roughly $5.6bn by year-end.

But claimant lawyers argue most clients have not brought proceedings in Brazil or sought compensation that excludes them from English proceedings and that Brazilian litigation is too lengthy to provide full redress in a realistic timeframe.