Vale do Rio Doce, the worst company in the world?

Parody ad used during the disclosure of the Public Eye People's Award declaring Vale do Rio Doce the worst company in the world. The text says: "We transform rainforests into mines and dams - No matter what" - Photo: Adbusts

The Brazilian company Vale do Rio Doce, the second largest mining company in the world, was ahead of Japan’s TEPCO, accused of negligence in the safety of nuclear reactors that leaked in Fukushima.

Vale do Rio Doce was voted worst company in the world in reference to nature and human rights, by an Internet vote organized by the NGO’s The Berne Declaration and Greenpeace. Of the 88,000 votes, the Brazilian mining company was left with 25,000, about 800 more than Japan’s TEPCO at second place.

The voting site argued that the choice of the Brazilian company to compete for the “Public Eye People’s Award” (also known as the “Oscar of Shame”) is justified by a “history of 70 years marred by repeated human rights abuses, inhumane conditions of work and ruthless exploitation of nature”. Also mentioned is the participation of the mining company in the construction of the hydroelectric plant of Belo Monte in the Amazon region, and its environmental and social impacts.

Rio Xingu, where the hydroelectric plant of Belo Monte is projected

To defend itself, Vale do Rio Doce has created a website called “Vale Esclarece” (Vale clarifies). In it the company seeks to deconstruct point by point the arguments that led her to be nominated and elected. “Vale knows that mining activities generate impacts and, therefore, acts to control them and reduce them”, the website says. “In 2012, the company plans to invest USD 1.65 billion in social and environmental projects”.

Serra dos Carájas in the federal state of Pará is one of the largest open-air mines in the world. It is Vale do Rio Doce’s largest operation

When I read about Vale being the worst company in the world, I was a bit surprised. Ohh, don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t want to state that Vale is one of the best companies in the world, but the worst? No, not really, in my opinion. In the now some 20 years that I live in Pará, which houses the largest operation of Vale do Rio Doce, I don’t have the impression they are so devastating to nature and so repulsive in human rights that they earn the title “The Worst”. At least Vale do Rio Doce is one of that few companies that return a part of its revenue to the community. Consequently I suspect that many a vote on the ONG’s website has been influenced by the involvement of Vale in the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project. And worse I suspect that many a vote has been made with an absence of proper information.
But it is not only my opinion that counts. Let’s read the story in Veja, a high-profile weekly Brazilian magazine.
And (thank you for asking) I don’t get paid by Vale do Rio Doce.

Why Vale do Rio Doce isn’t the worst company in the world
Behind the election – which is coordinated by the NGO Berne Declaration and Greenpeace, and which this year counts with the participation of the Brazilian ONG Justiça nos Trilhos – is the accusation that the Brazilian company promotes environmental destruction and social injustice.

The Brazilian subsoil contains important quantities of minerals. A part of the reserves are considered exceptional when related to the rest of the world.

That is shortly after the company was nominated in 2011, for the second consecutive year, the best mining company in relation to management of climate change in the ranking of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), while this year it has earmarked 1.65 billion USD for social and environmental actions.

The Voting
A majority of the 25,042 people who voted for Vale over the Internet highlighted its participation in the construction of Belo Monte. The hydroelectric project on the Xingu River in Pará, and which stirs the passions of many Brazilians, especially environmentalists and supporters of social movements. But besides the voters overlooked the fact that Vale’s share in Belo Monte is a minority (only 9%), the award ignores other touted rationales that both minimize the impact of hydroelectric to the environment and society, and support the importance of the project for the future of the country.

The environment of Belo Monte and two artist impressions of the dam projected there in the Xingu river

First, the energy produced by the waters of the Amazonian rivers is today, say scientists, the most clean and cheap option. Unlike what many fear, no Indians live up till today in the areas of the Xingu River which will be flooded. Those who live nearby, in fact, celebrate what they call the “arrival of the development”. The flooding caused by dams doesn’t affect the Xingu National Park, which is many miles away, in Mato Grosso. Almost half of the area to be flooded, in fact, is part of the bed of the river itself. Finally, these and other logical arguments enfeeble the points mentioned by those who oppose the project – many of whom voted in the 2012 Public Eye.

The open-air iron ore mine of Serra dos Carajás, in Pará - photo Michel Filho-O Globo

In the cover story of Veja in December of last year, the magazine gave prominence to the national debate about Belo Monte, a debate which invaded the Internet, especially the social networks. The article highlights the entertaining clash between videos posted on the Internet by global players, full of untruths about the project, with those produced by university students, who support the project and gave a “beating” in common sense. Those who voted against Vale at the awards should take the same “beating”. And watch the videos.

Thus far Veja magazine. Do I agree what they wrote? Yes and no. Yes, for so far Vale is concerned in relation to the “Oscar of Shame”. They certainly are not the worst in the world and don’t deserve the “Oscar”.
And as far as the hydroelectric plant in Belo Monte is concerned, read my article “Brazil Deforests 5,300 km2 for Hydroelectric Plants”. It will be clear, that my personal views are a bit more nuanced.