Uncovering: BHP Billiton

By Rita Prokofieva

One of the companies included in Strathclyde Pension Fund‘s portfolio,  is BHP Billitonthe worlds largest mining company, measured by market value in 2015.

About BHP Billiton

  • It has the 6th largest reserves of coal in the world (source)
  • The company is primarily focused on the extraction of oil, coal, iron ore, gas production and copper, but is also produces silver, lead, uranium and zinc (source)
  • From the beginning of the industrial age, until 2010, BHP Billiton was one of the 90 companies responsible for 63% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions 
  • BHP Billiton operates in 25 countries, Columbia’s case will be presented here.

Case Study: Columbia

  • The Cerrejòn coal mine in Colombia opened in 1976 and is the largest in Latin America – one of the largest in the world
  • The mine owned by BHP Billiton, PLC and Glencore
  • The coal is mined almost exclusively for export to Europe and North America
    Skärmavbild 2016-02-20 kl. 13.53.19

    Social Impact

  • Many villages (e.g. Tabaco,Roche, Chancleta, Tamaquitos, Manantial, Tabaco, Palmarito, El Descanso, Caracoli, Zarahita, Patilla) and small scale farms have been destroyed to make way for the opencast cole mine in Colombia.
  • For example Manatial: Was the first village to be evacuated (1986). People are still waiting for compensation, which they were denied at the time.
  • Another example – Tabaco: Local people describe how their land and water has been privatised. The little land they have left is contaminated. The are unable to live healthy lives because water streams and rivers are polluted. While the mining company uses 30 million liters of water per day, one person in Tabaco can use 1 l per day. Despite court orders, the people of Tabaco have not received any suitable homes, promised by Cerrejón.
  • Village of Roche: The coal mine has not only destroyed villages, it has also created a division amongst them. Some people in the village were paid extra money to leave early. ‘Others who decided to stay faced power cuts and water shortages that lasted for weeks at a time’.
  • There is
    (source, another source)

    Environmental Impact

  • Damage to habitat around rivers
  • Coal dust, which leads to respiratory problems for locals and workers. This is a huge problem for children under age 5. In a recent case involving a two-year old suffering from respiratory problems due to air pollution, a judge ordered del Cerrejón to reduce its pollution levels.
  • The Columbian Andes glaciers have already seen an 82% reduction due to global warming.
  • Resistance

  • Campaigners from CENSAT (Friends of the Earth Columbia) are trying to pressure the Columbian government to change its government mining policies
  • Local people have formed an organisation, FECODEMIGUA, to defend their interests and demand compensation
  • In 2011, the coal mining companies decided to expand the mine. This would mean a rerouting of a 26km river, which is the main water resource for local people. This created strong opposition from communities and the rerouting is now being reviewed. However, the mine is still due to be expanded and more local people will be displaced.

    Human Rights

  • BHP Billiton exploits cheap labour and workers forced to work and live in conditions damaging for their health
  • According to Sintracarbon (workers’ union), 700 workers are currently suffering from serious health problems as a direct result of the working conditions at the coal mine
  • Employees have to work 12 h shifts with no adequate medical help
  • Noise-induced hearing loss is also a common health problem, according to BHP Billitons own report
  • Situations have been reported where pro-union workers have been sacked or threatened and replaced by part-time workers on an even lower pay (source)
  • Adolfo González Montes, a union leader, was tortured and killed in 2008. He was the 13th unionist murdered in Columbia that year.
  • Indigenous people (who make up 45% of the population) are not even getting these jobs. Only 1% of the employees are indigenous people.
  • Women also excluded from these jobs (only 6% of the workforce)
  • Colombia-coal-miner

    Workers of the Carrejón mine go on strike

    Recent scandals

  • Dam burst in November 2015. Polluted the 400 mile river Doce with mining waste. 13 people were reported to be killed and according to the UN News Centre, one moth later, hundreds of thousands were still without access to clean water. ‘According to the Brazilian Minister for the Environment, the disaster is the worst environmental accident in the country’s history.’ (source)
  • Bribery scandal around the Olympics in Beijing
  • Scandal with faked lobbying letters to US congressmen


    In August 2015 BHP Billiton’s shares value reached a 7 year low due to a decline in profits. However, BHP Billiton reported in 2015 that they are still planning on extracting 80 million tons of coal this year. Their coal reserves are estimate to about 16 billion tons – and if burnt, they would produce 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

    A good explanation from Bob Burton:

    ‘Make no mistake, when it comes to climate policy, BHP Billiton is in panic mode.

    The broad outline of BHP Billiton’s master plan for saving the coal industry is obvious: undermine anti-coal activism and marginalise what remains, rebuild and expand the industry’s lobbying efforts, hype the potential of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or higher-efficiency coal power stations, undermine or delay the growth of renewables as much as possible and claim – for the benefit of worried investors and nervous politicians – that all of this is aligned with good science and the company’s climate policy’


    Samuel and Danilo from Tabaco, Columbia, at the launch of Divest Scottish Parliament Pensions campaign. Photo: Ric Lander.

    As consumers of coal, we are contributing to the forceful relocation of indigenous people in Columbia and other countries. We are contributing to the life threatening air/water pollution and the dangerous conditions that make workers sick.

    Strathclyde Pension Fund invests over £10 million in BHP Billiton, supporting all of these operations. This is a fund delivering pensions to 200,000 people working in Glasgow, Edinburgh and all around the Strathclyde area. It is up to us to take a stand on which companies to support. If you think the fossil fuel company BHP Billiton is unethical and Strathclyde Pension Fund should divest from it, please sign our petition.


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