$1.3 Trillion Church-led Pension Coalition to Pressure Mines on Dam Safety

After the Brazil dam collapse, a call for mining company investors to insist on better standards.

The Vale dam disaster that occurred in Brazil last week has sparked a $1.3 trillion union of asset owners to demand new global safety policies in the mining industry.

The group, which includes the Church of England Pensions Board, Church Commissioners for England, and Sweden’s Public Pension Funds Council on Ethics, wants a new type of classifications system that ensures the safety of mining companies’ tailings dams. A tailings dam is a landfill that holds back the toxic byproducts of mining operations.

Last Friday, the tailings dam of the Corrego do Feijao mine, owned by Brazilian mining company Vale, burst. The collapse tore through the town of Brumadinho, and has killed 110 workers and residents to date. Another 238 people have been reported missing.

The incident is being called Brazil’s deadliest mining disaster by local firefighters.

A similar tragedy occurred in 2015, when another Vale-owned mining dam about 74 miles away from Brumadinho collapsed, killing 19 people and decimating two neighboring villages.

The collective funds want the new safety system to be independent of companies. Part of that system would require annual audits of tailing dams and verification that these companies are employing top safety standards. The group is also demanding reporting be publicly available through a central database.

“The fact that in just three years you’ve had these two hugely significant events with Vale is really deeply concerning,” Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board, told CIO. “When this happened last Friday, we just felt that there needs to be something different in the way that we go forward there.”

The funds plan to urge that investors in mining pressure companies into improving safety.

“The systems in place aren’t working because clearly you’ve got an increase in the number of severe events, which have resulted in the loss of life,” Matthews said.  He added that companies need to find “a way here to see if we can create a system that gives us that assurance.”

The meeting with the investors will be chaired by the bishop of Birmingham, David Urquhart. 
“We really see this as the beginning of a significant process, where you’ve got major asset owners and investment funds that are saying they need something different,” said Matthews.

Vale said it will cease operations on up to 10% of its production, and pay about $1.36 billion to decommission 10 dams that are similar to the one that collapsed. The company also promised to continue paying taxes on the Corrego do Feijao mine and donate roughly $27,400 to the family of each victim.

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