Fighting Vale and corporate capture in Brazil

This interview with Tchenna Maso, a community lawyer and a member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), first appeared on the website of Transnational Institute.

What experience do you have of working to challenge corporations?

In Brazil, we have been deeply affected by corporations. Our communities were strongly impacted by the privatisation of the electric sector, the increased role of private water firms such as Suez, and the building of dams by corporations. That is why MAB was created. Our focus on energy led to work on mining and struggle against giant mining firms such as Brazilian firm Vale and British-Australian BHP. They not only consume huge amounts of energy, they have also been responsible for terrible environmental disasters, such as the collapse of two dams storing toxic waste water in Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019) which killed 270 people and displaced more than a million people. Similarly in my work with La Via Campesino, we are up against corporations such as Bayer and Monsanto. Corporations in Brazil shape everything – labour rights, public politics, poverty, access to land, even violence against women.

Our goal is to hold corporations to account and to support the realisation of the human rights of communities. This involves education on the corporation’s role, what rights people and communities have under the constitution, what the state owes to them. So in the case of Vale, we support them as they demand their rights from state bodies such as the Auditor, People’s Defender (Defensor del Pueblo) and Congress. It also involves education among the broader public, who know very little about how the concentration of power has not just led to terrible social and environmental abuses but also increase in prices.

This January [2020], we won a significant victory against Vale, when the State Prosecutor’s office of Minas Gerais charged 15 people with murder for the Brumadinho disaster. This was a very important decision because it also charges top directors of the Vale company and other companies involved in their operations, including the industry auditor and certifier Tüv Süd. This decision is a result of MAB resolving not to allow history to be repeated after the impunity of the case of Mariana.

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