MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining's "Pandemic Profiteering" - a new report

Published by MAC on 2020-06-18
Source: NGO report

Precedent setting global picture of a crisis

Sponsored and researched by several organisations, a fresh inventory has just been released, exposing various ways in which mining companies, joined by governments, are benefiting during the Corona Virus pandemic.

Their operations span countries where many people have already lost their lives and livelihoods from mining - including those in Brazil, the Philippines, Russia, Guatemala and elsewhere.

It's a precedent-setting report, helping establish a global picture of a crisis that's cost almost half a million deaths so far.

See other reports:

India wages war on millions under Covid-19 protection rules

Mass assaults strike Ethiopian communities


New Report Shows Global Mining Industry Profiting from Pandemic, Putting Communities and Workers at Risk from Disease, Repression, and Regulatory Rollbacks

Ottawa/London/Mexico City/Washington

2 June 2020

Since March, the mining industry has been declared ‘essential’ in many countries worldwide, enabling it to operate amid government lockdowns with devastating results, according to a new report

The analysis draws from field reports and a review of nearly 500 media, company and civil society statements, 180 of which are directly related to community and/or workers’ concerns.

As a result of the industry’s behaviour in the midst of the pandemic, the authors note, mining sites worldwide are emerging as hot spots of the disease, putting workers and nearby Indigenous and rural communities, many of whom already suffer mining-related health impacts, at grave risk.

Nearly 4000 mineworkers in 18 countries have reported outbreaks at their mines, leading to fear that the virus will spread among local populations with pre-existing mine-related illnesses that make them particularly vulnerable.

Massive outbreaks at the Cobre Panama (Panama), Olimpiada (Russia), Lac des Iles (Canada) and Antamina (Peru) mines went unrecognized as hundreds of workers tested positive. Nonetheless, the report reveals, companies continued to operate. Lack of testing in many places and limited oversight mean actual numbers could be far higher, the analysts said.

Under lockdown, land and water protectors are at heightened risk. Reports from the field suggest companies and governments are using the pandemic to stifle or repress long-standing community protests, such as in the Philippines, Honduras, Turkey, and Ecuador. Individual defenders also are being threatened and killed with greater intensity in countries such as Colombia and Mexico, according to sources on the ground. In some cases, new legislation is being implemented that could further criminalise social protest or enable greater repression.

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s government is using the pandemic to continue his attack on human rights and land defenders. In April, protesters at the peaceful encampments protesting Oceana Gold’s Didipio mine were violently evicted by police forces. Civil-society organizations there have also condemned the assasination of anti-mining activists and continued red-tagging, or labeling.

“Even under the COVID-19 Pandemic, extrajudicial killings and other forms of human rights violations persist under the despotic rule of President Rodrigo Duterte,” remarked Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment in a statement.

In Honduras, the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández has imposed a 24-hour curfew and suspended basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, using the military and police to enforce measures. Meanwhile, authorities opened an online window to make it even easier for companies to obtain environmental permits, all of which happens in secret.

“This is just like 1998, when the mining law was passed in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, one of the biggest disasters to hit Honduras that took the life of 20,000 people and left 3 million others homeless, with an economic impact that set us back 40 years. Today, in the midst of a global humanitarian emergency due to COVID-19, the illegitimate government of Juan Orlando Hernández is taking advantage of the crisis to put in place corrupt measures to favour mining,” stated Pedro Landa of the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team (ERIC/Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación), Honduras.

Elsewhere, companies are also securing regulatory changes to benefit them now and in the future, according to the analysis.

In Brazil, a video released by the country’s Supreme Court revealed the Environment Minister stating that the pandemic is an “opportunity to deregulate environmental policy.” In the last two months, the Bolsonaro government has fired top environmental enforcement officers for controlling
illegal mining in the Amazon, while dolling out hundreds of concessions rights and moving to approve legislation to further open up Indigenous territories to mining activities.

“Since Jair Bolsonaro took office, our indigenous lands are increasingly affected by predatory economic activities that threaten the integrity of our ancestral territories and the natural resources essential for our survival. With the COVID-19 crisis, the illegal activities of miners, loggers, missionaries, drug traffickers, and other invaders, pose an even greater threat, because they can bring the virus to our territories and communities. For this reason, we demand that any economic activity in our territories be stopped immediately, to guarantee the protection of our children, women, men, youth, wise elders, and relatives in voluntary isolation,” commented Nara Baré, coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations from the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB).

In this context, mining company donations to communities and governments is seen as covering up their tarnished reputations, especially as they place communities, workers and the environment at further risk.

“COVID-19 isn’t the only health crisis we’re facing. For a decade, communities surrounding the Escobal mine have fought to protect their health from mining activities. Guatemalan courts ordered Pan American Silver to suspend its operations during the consultation and this includes community outreach, which gives rise to tension and conflict. Pan American Silver should tell its employees to stay home and stop trying to buy support for the mine during this significant health crisis,” said Luis Fernando García Monroy on behalf of the Xinka Parliament.

Overall, the stories captured in this report reveal that mining-affected people face multiple pandemics – health, economic, violence, militarization, and corporate capture – which are all getting worse as the Covid-19 pandemic intersects with the predatory mining industry, which they continue to battle to defend their land, water, health and livelihoods.

“Envisioning a way forward that will ensure good food, clean air and water, healthy communities and planetary survival cannot rely on mining corporations and their backers, who are driven by their ruthless pursuit of profits. However, the health-centred struggles and collective approaches of
mining-affected communities and Indigenous peoples can help us to refocus on what is truly essential toward a healthier future for all,” said Kirsten
Francescone, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada.

The report, “Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic”,  was jointly produced by Earthworks (USA), Institute for Policy Studies - Global Economy Program (UK), MiningWatch Canada, Terra Justa. War on Want (UK), London Mining Network, and Yes to Life No to Mining (Gaia Foundation), with support from many other organizations.

The report was written in support of a global statement condemning the mining industry for pandemic profiteering, released today and signed by over 300 organizations from around the world.

For more information, please contact:

- Kirsten Francescone, MiningWatch Canada,
- Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello, Earthworks,
- Thomas Mc Donagh, Terra Justa,
- Jen Moore, IPS - Global Economy Project,
- Hal Rhoades, Yes to Life No to Mining,
- Richard Solly, London Mining Network,

Among the findings of the report:

A. Mining companies are ignoring the pandemic and continuing to operate, using any means available. Mines flaunting Covid-19 safety restrictions include:

- The Kearl Lake oil sands mine project in Northern Alberta, Canada, where operations continue even after 45 workers have tested positive. The outbreak triggered outbreaks in four provinces, and is linked to the deaths of two Indigenous Dene elders in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.

- The Antamina copper mine in Peru, where operations were not shut  down until April 30, after one worker was reported dead and another 210 infected.

- First Quantum’s Cobre Panamá mine in Panama, where operations continued at full capacity, despite multiple infections and the death of one contract worker, until April 7 when it was ordered to shut down by  government authorities.

- The Olimpiada gold mine in Siberia, where over 866 workers have tested positive, and where the military has been called in to ensure miners continue to work as the mine runs at full capacity.

B. Mining companies and governments are using the crisis to secure regulatory changes that favor the industry at the expense of people and theplanet:

- Ecuador, where the government of president Lenin Moreno told local authorities to lift restrictions on mineral transport to reinvigorate the economy battered by the pandemic.

- Indonesia, where a contested mining law, stalled due to protest, was passed without public participation.

- Colombia, where protests by Indigenous groups led the government to  move public environmental licence hearings and public consultation processes online, to “avoid the spread of COVID-19”.

Honduras, where secretive environmental permitting moved online and certain responsibilities for mine approvals were shifted to the Secretary for Economic Development.

C. Governments around the world are shutting down legitimate protests and promoting the mining sector. These include:

- Turkey and the Philippines, where protests against OceanaGold’s Didipio mine in the Philippines and Alamos Gold’s Kirazlı mine in Çanakkale, Turkey, were violently evicted from their encampments by authorities, citing COVID-19 sanitary measures.

- Ecuador, where three public officials from Morona Santiago (Ecuadorian Amazon) were arrested by police for stopping company trucks travelling to Lundin Mining’s Fruta del Norte Mine over fears the traffic could provoke an outbreak.

- Mexico, where during the first two months of stay-at-home measures,two journalists and four human rights defenders have been murdered, three of whom were involved in land and environment defence.

- Colombia, where serious concerns have been raised with respect to a new set of risks that the COVID-19 pandemic presents for social leaders, defenders and at-risk communities under threat of violence. Thirty-six human rights defenders have been murdered since the first case of the virus was identified.

D. Mining companies are using the pandemic as an opportunity to whitewash their dirty track records and present themselves as public-minded saviours:

- Barrick Gold, known for egregious human rights violations, made sizable cash donations to several African governments for COVID-19 relief, causing concern about oversight and corruption.

- Mining giant Vale, known for two catastrophic tailings disasters which caused irreparable damage to people and the planet, purchased millions of test kits for its operations.

- Newcrest Mining donated millions to vaccine research and to a community support fund across its operations, but stands accused of gravely affecting the health and well-being of communities in Ecuador, the Ivory Coast, and Papua New Guinea.

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