(UR) Brazil — Corporate giants Vale SA and BHP Billiton are being sued for $44 billion over the mining tragedy that killed 19 and left more than a thousand homeless last November. The dam collapse which led to the release of toxic waste covering an entire village and contamination of the Rio Doce river is said to have been the country’s worst environmental disaster ever.

The collapse was a result of the poor enforcement of safety legislature and serves as yet another example of corporations cutting corners and putting lives at risk.

Federal prosecutors brought the suit after six months of investigation, which deemed the previous $6 billion settlement by the Brazilian government insufficient. The figure seemed especially minimal when compared to the BP oil spill a few years ago, which killed 11 in the Gulf of Mexico, costing the multinational company more than $55 billion in damages.

While the disaster and the subsequent lawsuit have received much national and international attention, this is unlikely to have impact beyond the symbolic. If multi-billion dollar lawsuits in the past have taught us anything, it is that the prosecutors might have no choice but to back down and settle for a smaller payment in the end.

Yes, BHP shares have dropped a few per cent, and yes, environmental authorities have been pushed into announcing reforms in the country, but at best it will have little impact on the actual underlying safety conditions in the mining industry. And that is still a long way away from corporations being held fully accountable for the extensive damage they are causing — and for governments to enforce that accountability.

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