Columban priest tackles a mining giant

Tackling BHP Billiton at its recent AGM (l-r) Fr Nally, Colombian Wayuu Indigenous People  Karmen Ramirez, Wilman Palmesano.

Tackling BHP Billiton at its recent AGM (l-r) Fr Nally, Colombian Wayuu Indigenous People Karmen Ramirez, Wilman Palmesano.

A Columban priest has  challenged the appalling environmental and human  rights record of the world’s  biggest mining company at its recent AGM on 29 October. Attending alongside  other justice and peace activists and indigenous Wayuu people from  Colombia, he called on BHP Billiton to  respect the human rights of local people in mining areas around the world. Also,  to care for water, air and biodiversity which are often polluted by large scale  mining, thus destroying livelihoods.

Fr Frank Nally, who  worked in the Philippines  with indigenous peoples, challenged BHP Billiton’s Hallmark project in the  Philippine island  of  Mindanao. In mining for  nickel, it poses  significant risks to the environment, particularly because of the large amounts  of water required, the transportation and containment of acid, air emissions,  and the storage, treatment and disposal of mine waste. CAFOD agrees that the  community are worried about the impact that the proposed mine could have, and  feel they have not been properly consulted about it. 

London-based BHP  Billiton is not a household name in Britain, but the  activities of the  BHP Billiton group have a massive impact on communities all around the world.  These are part-funded by high street banks and pension funds investing money  provided by millions of individuals, church and other groups in the  UK. An alternative report released at  the offices of Amnesty International outlined the negative impacts of the  company’s operations in Australia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South  Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile. The  report was the work of organisations from many  countries, including church-based  groups, working with affected communities.

“Our Columban mission is to support  the local people and care for the  natural world around them” says Fr Nally.

The  report catalogued abuses of human rights concerning worker health and safety,  livelihood and food security, and environmental problems. It also raised issues  around climate change and BHP Billiton’s commitment to increased extraction and  promotion of both coal and uranium for power production. 

Representatives of  communities in Colombia, displaced to make way for  expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine, Cerrejon, which is  one-third owned by BHP Billiton, complained of the company’s practices. Farming  families in villages around the mine have been deprived of their livelihoods as  the mine expands and they accuse Cerrejon of failing to negotiate in good faith  or offer sufficient assistance or compensation. The Wayuu indigenous people also  fear the militarisation of the area around the vast mine.

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