Vale faces a lawsuit in the Netherlands over the Mariana tragedy; the company's subsidiaries are seized

77,000 people who have not yet received compensation have appealed the lawsuit filed in the European country

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Minas Gerais state |
A school destroyed by the toxic mud from the Fundão tailing dam. - Pedro Stropasolas

This week, the Brazilian company Vale became the target of yet another lawsuit abroad – this time in the Netherlands – seeking compensation for damages caused by the collapse of the Fundão Dam in the town of Mariana, Minas Gerais state. For the first time, the company's assets were seized by courts outside Brazil. The decision comes eight years after the disaster, whose victims are still to receive compensation from Brazilian courts.

The lawsuit was filed in the European country by 77,000 people and seven municipalities from three Brazilian states affected by the tragedy (Bahia, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo), as well as 1,000 companies and associations and 20 religious institutions. The plaintiffs are demanding around BRL18 billion (€3 billion) in compensation.

As a result of the lawsuit, the Dutch courts seized the shares of Vale's subsidiary in that country to guarantee that the money will be used to pay compensation to the victims at the end of the lawsuit. This is the first initiative of its kind targeting mining companies abroad, as a result of the Mariana tragedy.

"The lawsuits being filed in the Netherlands against Vale and Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV for their role in the disaster show that delaying justice and making lowball offers in Brazil will not stop victims from demanding justice. The time has come for multinational companies to be held accountable for their actions wherever they operate or make their profits,” says lawyer Tom Goodhead, a partner in the Poogust Goodhead law firm that is bringing the lawsuits against the mining company abroad.

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Goodhead adds: “Dutch subsidiaries have played a key role in the global extraction of profits from Samarco's mine, with Dutch Samarco being a significant means of managing, marketing and distributing Samarco's iron ore produced from the Mariana dam.”

According to the law firm, none of the people or municipalities affected have received any compensation from the Renova Foundation (“the entity responsible for the mobilization of the reparation of the damages caused by the collapse of the Fundão dam," as informed on the official website). They aren’t also part of the other lawsuit filed abroad against the company, in British courts, involving 700,000 victims of the mining company, which is scheduled to start being heard on October 7.

The Fundão dam in Mariana was operated by Samarco, a joint venture between mining giant companies Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP. To date, no one has been arrested for the tragedy, one of Brazil’s biggest environmental disasters.

Fisherpeople were never recognized as victims

The new lawsuit against the mining company brings together – for the first time – fishermen from Bahia state who were never recognized as being affected by the tragedy, which polluted the Rio Doce basin all the way to where it flows into Espírito Santo state. A study by the State University of Rio de Janeiro, published in 2019, found that the toxic mud had reached the sea in the Abrolhos region, southern Bahia.

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The fisherpeople who filed the lawsuit claim that their activities were affected by the pollution that, to this day, still impacts the municipalities hit by the tragedy, and that it pollutes with heavy metals one of the most important river basins in the country.

Brasil de Fato contacted Vale's press office by email and is awaiting a response.

Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho