Swedbank Robur Sustainability in Brazil2017-07-03 9:40
Last week I had the privilege of joining a team of international investors on an engagement and study tour to Brazil, where we’ve been talking to companies involved in a couple of the bigger sustainability (non-football) related events in recent years.
The first three days were dedicated to touring the Samarco iron ore mine site in Minas Gerais state in the south east of the country. Minas Gerais literally means general mining – it’s rich in minerals. It’s here that in 2015 a tailings dam holding mine wastes collapsed, resulting in a number of fatalities, destruction of villages, and the pollution of over 600 km of downstream rivers. One of the worst such events in recent memory. The three companies involved (Samarco, BHP and Vale) wanted to show us both the extent of their challenges and the results of the intensive remediation they have undertaken since the event. To their credit the companies were highly transparent, showing us the good, the bad and the ugly during our visit, which was the initiative of BHP.
Despite the fact that an enormous amount of remediation work has been achieved by the companies in a relatively short space of time, much remains. There is however a well-planned program and an organisation and budget in place to enable efficient completion of the outstanding work, which will take many years. Multiple stakeholders are being consulted and are involved in the decision making around remediation, compensation and rebuilding. Challenges remain with Brazil’s special prosecutors however, who do not recognise all of these efforts and are still calling for massive fines and the jury is still out on how that might end.
On the second big issue rocking Brazil – the so called Lava Jato car wash corruption scandal – the jury is also well and truly still out.
Thus far a multitude of politicians and companies are implicated including Brazil’s main oil company Petrobras and many of its contractors, who allegedly inflated contract prices over many years in order to skim money to politicians for favours. We took the opportunity to meet a selection of the involved companies including Petrobras, Eletrobras, Braskem, Odebrecht and JBS. To summarise my impressions, I’d say that the level of commitment and remedial actions taken by the companies differ greatly, and are largely dependent on the tone from management and the organisational culture this has created. In some cases the work is very good and is getting results. The younger generation of staff working with ethics and compliance issues are largely doing a great job, and very much want to see improvements both within their own organisations and Brazil as a whole, which gives one cause for optimism. Let’s hope they get the support they need.