More than 200,000 victims of Brazil’s worst environmental disaster are seeking compensation in a UK court this week, in one of the biggest class claims in English legal history.
The claimants, including representatives of the Krenak Indigenous communities, are fighting to obtain compensation for the devastation caused by the Mariana Dam disaster in November 2015. The £5billion lawsuit is against British-Australian mining company BHP.
When the Fundão tailings dam burst, it released 40 million cubic meters of toxic mine waste, killing 19 people and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands more. The brown, polluted mud has spilled onto the Doce River in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, flowing 670km into the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of people were left homeless and livelihoods centered on the river were destroyed.
This week’s court case is the culmination of a three-and-a-half-year legal battle in the UK, with lawyers from London-based international law firm PGMBM representing hundreds of thousands of individuals as well as 530 businesses, 150 members of indigenous community organizations, 25 municipalities and six religious organizations.
PGMBM sued in 2018 and last July won the right to reopen the case after an earlier ruling denied the English courts jurisdiction to hear it.
A representative of the Krenak Indigenous Communities in London said yesterday: “Every time I remember what my family and my community have been through, every time I revisit the river, I get angry.
“These times are a time of great struggle for my people, and I have made it my goal to help us gain just compensation. Alas, I understand that no matter how hard we fight, much of what the companies have taken from our people is irrecoverable. The fact that the defendants have suggested that my community should receive full reparation in Brazil makes me even more angry.
Tom Goodhead, Managing Partner of PGMBM, said: “BHP is a multinational company that generates huge profits in the regions where it operates, and it is right that the company…be held directly accountable at its headquarters. Gone are the days of big corporations doing whatever they wanted in countries halfway around the world and getting away with it.
In Brazil, BHP, together with the Brazilian iron ore mining company Vale, and Samarco, the joint venture responsible for managing the Fundão tailings dam, created the Renova Foundation to mitigate the environmental consequences of the collapse and to compensate individuals and certain small businesses for loss and damage. As of November 2021, Renova has spent more than 19.6 billion Brazilian reals (£2.6 billion) on environmental and economic repairs and rehabilitation projects, including 7.78 billion reais in compensation and financial assistance to 359,000 people, according to the company.
BHP had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The hearing is due to continue until Friday and will be heard by three senior judges from the court of appeal. It is being streamed on the London Court of Appeal YouTube channel.