[How] could a UN Treaty make transnational corporations accountable?

A new analysis on the disaster of Brumadinho, Brazil, showcases how a binding instrument to regulate transnational operations could protect the rights of millions and save our planet from catastrophe.

The Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine is located by the Ferro-Carvão River, tributary of the upper Paraopeba River, in the rural zone of the municipality of Brumadinho, Brazil. Since April 2001, the mine has been under the control of Vale S.A (Vale), a publicly listed Brazilian multinational mining company with operations in every continent of the world. In 2018, the company declared net operating revenues of over US$ 36.5 billion, making it the fourth largest mining company in the world that year.

To contain mining tailings, the Córrego do Feijão mine had two dams (Dam 1 and Dam 6). On 25 January 2019, Dam 1 broke, sending approximately 12 million cubic meters of mining waste down the Ferro-Carvão River. The waste buried the river along with more than 130 hectares of vegetation, houses, plantations, animals and a hotel. The sludge advanced 220 km along the Paraopeba River, irreversibly damaging aquatic life, affecting local municipalities’ ability to supply water to residents and leading to a ban in the use of water including for irrigation and cattle. The consequences on the human rights of workers and the local community were devastating.

As of September 2019, 272 people, including employees, contractors and community members, had been confirmed or were presumed dead. Many more people were injured. Many families lost their only source of income and saw their way of life and economic stability totally disrupted. This was not the first time that Vale found itself at the center of an environmental and social disaster. In November 2015, the Vale-BHP owned Fundão tailings dam in Mariana failed, killing 19 people and causing devastating environmental destruction, which has seriously affected local people’s lives to this day.

On the occasion of the negotiations for a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, FIAN International and Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens take the case of Brumadinho to illustrate how a UN Treaty could prevent and tackle disaster. An infographic and a legal analysis highlight how the second revised draft would serve this case or what additional provisions would need to be added.

Download the infographic and the legal analysis.

You can access the infographic in Portuguese here