Non-disclosure of dam safety risks could prompt big investors to pull out

Vale expects to lift production capacity to around 50 million tonnes at its Vargem Grande complex by the end of 2021. (Image courtesy of Data Plus Engenharia)

Investors with a combined $12.5 trillion in assets, including the Swedish National Pension Funds and the Church of England, could review their stakes in resource companies that use storage dams if they do not release information to assess safety risks.

The safety of dams used to store mining waste, known as tailings, gained prominence after the collapse of Vale’s dam at Brumadinho in Brazil in January, which killed about 250 people.

Vale and other big listed miners are among more than 200 companies that have released data on dams in response to a request on behalf of 100 investors, the Church of England Pensions Board – one of them – said on Monday.

Many other listed companies have not responded to the request, however, it said.

Vale and other big listed miners are among more than 200 companies that have released data on dams in response to a request on behalf of 100 investors

The Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish AP Funds Council of Ethics are working with other ethical investors, and industry body the International Council onMining and Metals (ICMM) to devise new standards for tailings dams.

In a joint statement, John Howchin, secretary-general of the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds, said the investors would be “engaging robustly” with those who have not responded to the request for information.

“Not disclosing is unacceptable and poses a very real risk to our investment,” he said.

The Church of England pensions board said that 50% of the industry by market capitalisation had responded after it contacted more than 650 publicly listed companies in April, including oil and gas companies, asking them to disclose data on all of their dams.

Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England pensions board, said the data marked the beginning of much-needed transparency.

“We now know who has a facility, where it is, and we are beginning to understand the risks associated with individual dams,” he said.

Vale’s response ran to 28 pages.

“We have not spared – and will not spare resources or efforts to repair any damages caused to the families involved, to the infrastructure of the communities and to the environment,” Vale said.

It also said it was supporting “with complete transparency, the investigation of the causes of the tragedy”.

The Church of England said it was still processing its data, but all of the biggest miners had responded, including BHP , Rio Tinto , Glencore and Anglo American as well as Vale.

As ethical investors increase the pressure for transparency, Rio Tinto said on Friday it had also published all its contracts with governments.

(By Barbara Lewis; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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