Anger at Vale over Brazil mine accident fed by cautious, slow public response -by Stephen Eisenhammer (Reuters U.S. – December 31, 2015)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Within hours of a deadly mining spill in November that would become Brazil’s worst environmental disaster, BHP Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie was in front of a camera offering his sympathies to those affected.

Meanwhile, his counterpart at joint venture partner Vale SA, Murilo Ferreira, took nearly a week after the mine wastewater flood to talk to the press, setting the tone for a media strategy experts say has been slow and clumsy.

While both companies’ legal strategies seem similarly aimed at limiting their direct liability for the dam collapse that caused the disaster, a divergence in public relations tactics has left Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore miner, taking the brunt of social media outrage and street protests over the tragedy, which killed 17 and left hundreds homeless.

The Brazilian company regularly denies responsibility for the accident in interviews and press conferences, putting the blame solely on Samarco, the joint venture with BHP Billiton which ran the iron ore mine where it occurred.

In contrast, Australia-based BHP tends to avoid discussing the subject, focusing instead on offering condolences and explaining the facts.

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