MAC/20: Mines and Communities

An industry dedicated to deception - presentation to World Social Forum

Published by MAC on 2004-01-17

An industry dedicated to deception

[This is the text of an address, which was delivered in an abridged form, given by Roger Moody of MAC to the World Social Forum held in Mumbai, India, on 17th January 2004]

It's a sobering fact that, when Agricola in 1556 wrote the first damning critique of mining (in his twelve volume De Res Natura) he described the draconian consequences of industry practice in terms still familiar today: the rivers and creeks rendered dead of all life by acidic drainage; the denuded forests stripped of timber for kilns and pit props; the ever-present sulphurous fumes; the particularly damaging effects on women.

Of course this doesn't mean that all contemporary mines are equally destructive nor that all metals processing bears the equal toxic burdens.

One cannot compare the attrition of the Norilsk mining complex in Russia ("hell on earth" as a British journalist called it just last year); or the dumping of 220,000 tonnes a day of copper-contaminated wastes into the Ajikwa river system in West Papua - with the comparatively benign "footprint" of a small-scale gold panning without the use of mercury in some areas of the Philippines.

Nonetheless, we can assert that there is no mining enterprise anywhere, whose impacts are negligible to the surrounding community, and that there is no mine which, to date, has achieved true post-closure rehabilitation.

How do we know this? Well the industry itself has told us - if only by default. In the early 1990s, following huge opposition to the Flambeau copper mine, the Wisconsin state assembly passed legislation banning any sulphide-based new project unless its proponent could satisfy two conditions. It had to have operated a mine for at least ten years, then sustained it closure for a similar period, without violating environmental regulations.

Over a decade, no company has been able to meet these surely reasonable criteria.

When you mention such realities to industry defenders, you're likely to be dubbed as "anti mining" and therefore "anti progress". It may be grudgingly admitted that much mining is still dirty and dangerous and all the solutions aren't yet in to deal with basic problems. But we're being inveigled into accepting "trade offs" (between the improved quality of life which mined products bring to all of us and the temporary harms that mining creates). Meanwhile "environmentalists" are increasingly set against the workforce, as if the former will always threaten to rob the latter of their daily bread.

These are illusory propositions.

I for one don't know of any serous mine critic or mining affected community which wants to damn the entire industry by closing it down at a single stroke

Precisely as the internal logic of mining capital exerts unprecedented downward pressure on jobs and traditional structures of employment, so alliances between unions and human rights and Indigenous groups have actually increased (for example, the alliance on Rio Tinto, formed in 1997 and revived last year, between the ICEM union and Mines and Communities) Indeed, in a real sense we corporate dissidents are the "pro-miners" since we go against the inexorable trend, in trying to maintain viable jobs, while demanding "just transition" to alternative livelihoods, where employment - as in the asbestos industry - is clearly too hazardous.

Nor - by and large - is it the communities opposed to industrial-scale mining which threaten the incomes of artisanal and small-scale miners`.

After all a large proportion of these estimated 15 million workers (on whom a further estimated 100 million family members may depend) actually belong to those very communities.

Rather, it is the mining multinationals who want to force them off their prospects - sometimes with fatal consequences. Just last week on the island of Halmahera in Indonesia, Newcrest was complicit in the killing of a community miner on a lease it tried to scourge of local protestors.

There are two even more fundamental flaws in the industry argument seeking to conflate mining with inevitable human benefits and damn opponents as "anti development". The largest tranches of exploration funding and new investment over the past decade have gone towards locating gold, and more recently diamonds: products whose utilitarian value is extremely limited

But more important may be the growing perception that the World Bank has been falsifying claims that developmental growth in poorer mineral-dependent states equates to minerals extraction. On the contrary, if we use the Human Development Index (HDI) instead of the cruder Gross Development Product, a majority of these economies may actually have become worse off as a result.

If the so-called "minerals curse" were confirmed (and I concede more work needs to be done) it will prove even more unforgivable, the Bank's vast exercise in corporate mining promotion which it embarked upon under Structural Adjustment programmes from the eighties onwards and which peaked in the early nineties. The imposition of mineral investment codes has so far robbed 100 nations of their former rights to impose (inter alia) fair taxes on mining companies, limit the length and scope of their land acquisition, and stem the flow of profits overseas.

It has been accompanied by the enforced - or at least induced - privatisation of dozens of state owned companies. Vital national assets have been sold off at bottom drawer prices, while some companies have been subdivided and rendered redundant

Mining related employment has been drastically reduced and state benefits put at jeopardy. Investment that might have gone towards increasing downstream value in host countries, has rendered many states mere cheapened digging grounds for minerals then exported for value-adding to richer countries.

Just last month here, in India, you had a graphic example of the logical result of the Foreign Investment liberalisation and privatisation regime introduced by the central government in 1993-94. The notorious robber baron behind Sterlite reconstituted his outfit as Vedanta on the London Stock Exchange. Vedanta has now raised around a billion pounds in new capital, primarily to boost the export of India's bauxite-alumina which is pilfered from Adivasi lands in Orissa. The profits from this will end up principally in the pockets of British and US funds. Meanwhile the CEO of Vedanta, last year's highest rewarded corporate executive, has said how happy he is employing an Indian workforce because its wages are so low

Even before the Vedanta scam, Sterlite had been allowed to screw its home country to a stunning extent. In the first quarter of 2003, the company's export turnover grew threefold (by 201%) while its domestic turnover fell by nearly a quarter. Sterlite's tax provision tumbled by 84%, to a large extent because the increase in exports enabled it benefit from tax breaks on export profits.

After such dirty manoeuvring as this, (and not a all untypical) it seems all the more unforgivable that the mining industry recently embarked on a high powered and multimillion dollar funded exercise designed to pass off mineral extraction as the engine house of sustainable development rather than its antithesis. This is the Global Mining Initiative launched in 1998 which spawned the two year Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development exercise) led by three most powerful global mining companies (BHPBillton, Rio Tinto and AngloAmerican).

The success of their ploy may be partly measured by the fact that, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development last year, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development delegation was headed by Mark Moody Stuart (the chair of Anglo-American) and Lord Richard Holmes of Rio Tinto, as they mingled with officials and northern NGOs peddling the value of Type Two partnerships between industry, NGOs and government.

These leading companies set out in the late nineties to redefine themselves in terms of endearment to civil society. The miners were first to sign on to Kofi Annan's Global Compact and the British and US governments' Extractive Industries initiative (as well as the British government's EITI). They have led the 'way in hijacking the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (But what a misnomer this is anyway - as if a corporate can have a social conscience rather than being bound by strict laws of corporate accountability)

And then there's so-called "multi stakeholder engagement" (a term I believe was coined originally by Rio Tinto). If ever a construct were designed to force communities into negotiating a project they may vehemently reject - or to permanently lock them out of it should they refuse to buckle down to industry - then this is surely it!

There are several NGO bodies - CARE, WWF, Birdlife International, and the governing council of IUCN - who are now colluding with the industry in promoting the fraudulent premise that mining brings prosperity and does so without the sacrifice of irreplaceable national patrimony.

If these organisations actually knew the industry from the inside, and took their mandate only from those most directly affected by it - both traditional communities and workers - they may not be so ready to be co-opted. But they don't. In any case, most of them have been reaping hefty bucks from their collusion.

In early 2001, groups representing workers and mining impacted communities from eight countries met in London - the mining investment capital of the world - to confront the dangerous twin threats of an industry which seems able to hoodwink a large number of institutions, and those non-governmental organisations which have been so ready to be led by the nose.

Out of this meeting came "The London Declaration" which has already been quoted widely around the world. It is open for signatures from any civil society groups within this Forum. You are also warmly invited to attend the workshops organised by mmP India over the next three days. Issues, which I' ve only been able to briefly mention here, will be discussed at greater length, informed by Indian mining activists and others

I leave you with the demands of the London Declaration:

We demand

1) A moratorium on new large-scale mining projects in greenfield areas

2) Companies must clean up the terrible damage caused by their past and current mines, without drawing on public funds, and be held morally, legally and financially responsible for their misdeeds;

3) The World Bank/IMF cease funding of industry-initiated mining codes which are imposed on the governments of Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America;

4) Mandatory higher standards in all mining;

5) That surface and subsurface rights of indigenous peoples and all mining-affected communities be unequivocally respected and enforced, as well as their right to veto unacceptable projects.

Finally,

We seek solidarity from civil society and specifically from development and environment NGOs, in response to the global outcry from communities affected by mining.

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