BHP in the Spotlight: October to Remember for Mining Giant

Monday, 21 October, 2013

It seemed pertinent after an agitated October for giant metals and energy producer BHP Billiton, that they should announce a A$10 million donation to the Australian Indigenous Scholarship Programme, which will fund ‘an additional 90 secondary and tertiary scholarships for Indigenous students in Australia.’

The decision comes after a strange and turbulent month for BHP with several incidents placing them in the spotlight. Two community disputes in Colombia, as well as the decision to relinquish nine oil and gas exploration licenses in India and an attempt from a climate change activist to join their board, have made it an October to remember. 

Earlier in the month, an indigenous protest group managed to halt operations at the Cerro Matoso Nickel project, with production only resuming last week. At the same time, BHP were engaged in a protracted land dispute with Colombian farmers over resettlement issues. Cerrejon Coal, owned by BHP, Anglo American and Glencore Xstrata operates one of the largest vertically integrated coal projects in Colombia, employing 10,000 people. An agreement was reached last week however, with the farmers agreeing to move from the village of Old Roche to a new plot. It is rare that such a cordial outcome is achieved, with the leader of the resettled families, Yoe Jefferson Arregoces, saying

“it is very gratifying moment for us and for the Company, especially since all activities that led to the agreement were analysed, discussed and agreed between us and Cerrejón, and hope that our relationship with the Company to continue in the same way";

Surely proof that public-private relations can be achieved with proper communication and sentiment. It is no coincidence that Cerrejon Coal boast one of the best community relations strategies, with an enthusiastic and well reported programme, reflecting an evidently genuine desire to get on side with the local polities. 

BHP now faces the interesting story of Ian Dunlop, who is seeking shareholder support to gain a seat on its board. Dunlop was a former senior mining executive, who quit the industry to join Safe Climate Australia, and is now a member of the Club of Rome. He has atacked the industry for 'stuffing up' the climate change debate and wants to provide a balance of views in the boardroom. BHP can take heart though from his admission, 'BHP, to be fair to them, is doing more than most'.

(Image courtesy of 'dan' @freedigitalphotos.net)