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Church House hosts tailings safety summit

31 January 2020

Investors discuss means of preventing dam-burst disasters


In a picture taken on Saturday, one year after the dam burst at an iron-ore mine in Brumadinho, Brazil, a banner shows the names of the 270 victims of the disaster

In a picture taken on Saturday, one year after the dam burst at an iron-ore mine in Brumadinho, Brazil, a banner shows the names of the 270 victims of...

ONE year after the Brumadinho disaster, in which the collapse of a tailing dam in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais killed 250 people, a coalition of investors led by the Church of England met to discuss interventions to ensure that similar disasters do not happen again.

Last Friday, Church House hosted the Global Mining and Tailings Safety Summit, at which the Global Tailings Portal was launched, in an effort to give “communities, investors, regulators and the media unprecedented access to information about mine waste”.

The Global Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative is headed by the Pensions Board and the Swedish Council on Ethics of the AP Funds.

Last year, the Brumadinho disaster led to calls for tailing dams to be more heavily regulated (News, 8 February, 12 April 2019).

Tailing dams are built up during mining operations, holding waste and mud back. It is estimated that there are 33,000 of them around the world. The portal holds details of about 1939 dams so far.

Speaking on Monday, the director of ethics and engagement for the C of E Pensions Board, Adam Matthews, said: “Friday was a key moment which demonstrated the progress that has been made since the terrible Brumadinho disaster. We are creating transparency on this issue where there was none before. There is a new standard for tailing dams being developed, along with the launch of a global data portal.

”This is a huge issue that has been completely overlooked in the past and treated as an externality. We are leading an investor response to make a series of interventions, including creation of a global alert system as well as establishing a mechanism to identify and remove dams that are simply too dangerous.”

The initiative has more than £10 trillion of assets under management, and will use shareholder pressure to force mining companies to disclose their use of tailing dams. They are calling for a global alert system, new technologies to help end their use, and new safety structures.

Mr Matthews warned that further dams will probably collapse, causing untold human and environmental costs. “It is a systemic problem, with the increasing waste that goes into these enormous structures. We have seen a massive increase in waste from mining, with a 25-per-cent increase in just the 98 companies that we have tracked through the global database. This equates to an additional 2728 Wembley stadiums of waste. . . .

“My sense is that you will see companies increasingly disclose; so far, we have had 40 of the top 50 companies disclose. We are moving at pace with the interventions; we are working to create a global alert system.”

At Friday’s event, a survivor of the Brumadinho disaster, Angelica Amanda Andrade, read a testimony on behalf of the community that was affected by last year’s dam collapse.

During the summit, investors adopted a set of principles for mining companies, as well as principles to guide investors on how to engage with, and finance, the sector.

Mr Matthews said: “Friday was a hugely poignant and emotional day. [The survivor] brought the human consequence of the disaster to everyone in the room. It was sombre but focused. . . Mining done well is important.”

He continued: “This initiative is focused. We have been able to form a very significant grouping of investors on a narrow issue. The [Pensions] Board was ready to take a lead early on, when the disaster occurred, as we had already been talking to companies about the issue, due to the previous work of the National Investing Bodies through the Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

“I’m only seeing growing support for the initiative, and we are now focusing on the systemic problem, not just the companies.”

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