RIO DE JANEIRO – Stockholders in Brazil’s giant Vale mining company met on Tuesday at the company headquarters in Rio de Janeiro in the midst of a protest by a minority group of shareholders over the firm’s responsibility in the collapse of a mine tailings dam that killed 233 people, a tragedy in which 37 people are still missing and – in all likelihood – dead.
On the steps leading to the front door at the company building, the demonstrators set up 233 plaques with the names of the known fatalities and 37 with the names of those missing in the dam collapse in the municipality of Brumadinho.
The so-called “Memorial” for the victims was prepared by the members of the Organization for those Affected by Vale, who say that they are stockholders in the firm, which is the largest producer and exporter of iron in the world.
The protest coincided with Monday’s first general assembly of Vale stockholders since the accident and one day after the Administrative Council confirmed Eduardo Bartolomeo as Vale’s president, replacing Fabio Schvartsman, who resigned under the pressure of investigations into the firm’s responsibility in the tragedy.
“The initiative seeks to prevent the sadness of hundreds of the most affected families from being forgotten and taking an effective position vis-a-vis those who, in fact, can act regarding the firm’s conduct: the stockholders,” the demonstrators said in a statement.
The mine tailings dam that collapsed on Jan. 25 at one of the firm’s mines in Brumandinho, a small town in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, caused a massive flood that resulted in 270 dead and missing at the company’s facilities below the structure.
Videos of the tragedy show the moment when the dam collapsed and a cascade of mud, water and debris wiping out nearby homes and part of Vale’s local facilities in a matter of seconds.
The protest organizers said that they participated in the general assembly to denounce the violations and poor management practices of the firm, asking in vain for stockholders to reject the Administrative Report presented by company execs.
They also said that they had called for a halt to all company activities and the firing of all the directors who are still in their posts, claiming that their continued employment threatens the investigation into the firm’s responsibility in the tragedy.
“Such measures are necessary given the situation of complete denial of the risk inherent in Vale’s activities. Just in Minas Gerais, the mining company has not managed to provide a precise report on the safety of 17 dams and about 1,000 people were temporarily relocated from their homes, without any date for their return, due to the lack of safety,” the statement said.
On Monday evening, after being confirmed as Vale’s new president by the Administrative Council, Bartolomeo promised to take measures to meet the demands of the situation.
“I take on the commitment to lead Vale at the most challenging moment in its history. We’re going to work tirelessly to guarantee the safety of the people and the firm’s operations. We will never forget Brumadinho and we will not halt in our efforts to alleviate the suffering and make reparations for the losses of the impacted communities,” the new president said in a statement.
In the wake of the tragedy, while still Vale CEO, Schvartsman had referred to the company as a Brazilian “jewel” that should not be condemned “no matter how great the tragedy,” triggering angry reactions from both Brazilian ruling-party and opposition lawmakers who demanded a response from Vale for what many describe as a crime rather than an accident.