Brazil: Unions to mark Brumadinho dam disaster, push for stricter regulatory measures

(Photo: CNN)

On 25 January, Brazilian trade unions will mark the third year since the collapse of the Vale dam in Brumadinho (Minas Gerais) which took the lives of 270 people and left at least six people still missing.

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) and its affiliates in the country will join various trade unions and communities in remembering the victims of the tragedy and reminding the government to radically improve the environmental and safety mechanisms of its dams. 

According to Eduardo Armond, Director of SITICOP-MG and BWI's Dams Network for Latin America and the Caribbean, the country’s weak regulatory structures and regulatory gaps provided the climate for the series of dam disasters. “Lack of monitoring, control and inspection mechanisms, wanton disregard for the rights and safety of citizens and state incompetence led to these disasters,” he said.

Armond said that the Brumadinho dam disaster is not an isolated incident. He pointed to the numerous cases of dam failures in the state such as the Rio Verde dam in Nova Lima (2001), Rio Pomba Cataguases in Miraí (2007), Herculano dam in Itabirito (2014), Samarco-Vale-BHP in Mariana (2015) and the Córrego do Feijão in Brumadinho (2019).

“These mining dams cannot be placed above the interests of the Brazilian population. If these mining companies will insist on putting workers’ lives, communities and the environment at risk, a direct response is needed beginning with the revocation of their mining rights granted by the Brazilian State,” Armond asserted.  

As of the last count, Minas Gerais has 38 mining dams which employ more than 10,000 outsourced workers who are working 12 hours a day in extremely perilous working conditions. 

BWI and its Brazilian affiliates are continuously putting pressure to the government to implement health, safety and environmental policies that comply with international guidelines to avoid future disasters. BWI is also using international mechanisms, such as the OECD and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to ensure adequate compensation for affected workers and communities.