MAC: Mines and Communities

Big Mining Companies……and The Communities Resisting Them

Published by MAC on 2006-03-15
Source: Society of St Columban

Big Mining Companies……and the Communities Resisting Them


Communities living in the vicinity of a vast coal mine in Northern Colombia have been campaigning for years for relocation with compensation. El Cerrejon Norte coal mine has caused forced relocations of indigenous people, human rights violations, environmental destruction and other assorted injustices that one human rights group calls “a perfect example of globalisation gone horribly wrong”. One of the world’s largest open-pit mines - occupying an original area 31 miles long and five wide - El Cerrejon is constantly expanding and eating up villages in its path. It also borders on and partly covers reservation land of the indigenous Wayuu people, whose way of life has been completely disrupted. Farms are deserted and game animals appear to have left the area.

The mine is operated by a consortium owned by British-based multinationals Anglo American and BHPBilliton together with Swiss company Glencore. In 2001, the Afro-Colombian village of Tabaco was demolished by the mining company and the residents evicted. The nearby village of Tamaquitos is now under threat. The mining company has occupied 99 per cent of the farms around Tamaquitos and the population has been isolated There are no zones left to cultivate or to raise animals and a waste dump is less than two miles from the community. The surrounding vegetation is contaminated with coal dust and many children suffer from respiratory problems and malnutrition.

[Xstrata, registered on the London Stock Exchange, bought out Glencore's third share in the El Cerrejon mine in early March 2006]


BHP Billiton had to temporarily close its Tintaya copper mine in Southern Peru during June 2005 when local villagers stormed its offices. Protests by rural communities against mining are common in the mineral-rich country. Many rural Peruvians see mining as threatening their farmland and livelihoods and demand that companies invest more in the remote regions where they operate, many of which are still without electricity or clean drinking water.

Civic groups had hailed two separate agreements over the past three years between BHPBillliton and communities near Tintaya. These involved providing replacement land, supporting development projects emerging from the communities, and undertaking environmental and human rights monitoring. The agreements recognised local people’s right to determine their own rate of change, according to their visions, plans and decision-making processes. In recent times, however, the communities have expressed disappointment and concern about a new tailings disposal operation which is uphill from the path of a small river.

Christian Aid’s 2005 report on mining in Peru argues that the Tintaya mine has displaced communities that lived in the area for generations. Left without their land or with contaminated water, air and soil, many feel they are poorer today than 20 years ago, when the mine was built. Claims by the mining industry and international financial institutions that mining investment would contribute to sustainable development in Peru, have not been borne out.

[February 2006: BHPBilliton says it will sell Tintaya by mid-2006]


Xstrata is an Anglo-Swiss company and the fourth largest mining company registered on the London Stock Exchange - after BHPBillliton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American. It owns a 50 per cent share in and manages the Bajo La Alumbrera mine in northern Argentina. Alumbrera accounts for 40 per cent of all Argentina’s mining exports. With an annual production of just under two thirds of a million ounces of gold, it ranks 15th among gold producers. Recently it embarked on a major expansion programme.

Five Argentinian provinces suffer negative consequences from the presence of Alumbrera. Communities in its vicinity have condemned the mine’s pollution of local farmland and rivers. There have been many breaches in a pipeline, spilling toxic materials into the waters. In September 2004, concentrated minerals spilled into Catamarca’s Villa Vil river, which provides drinking and irrigation water to a large region, and there was considerable alarm within the community. The mine owners initially denied a leak, but local villagers presented a complaint to the local authorities. The spill was caused by the fissure of a 250 mile mineral pipeline, constructed to transport concentrated copper and gold from the mine to the treatment and filtration plant and railway terminal in Tucumán province.


Churches, communities and social movements on Mindoro Island in the Philippines have campaigned for more than a decade against a large-scale nickel mining project planned by Crew Development, a UK-registered company. A large nickel ore deposit of an estimated 200 million tonnes is located in an area of 60 square miles, which is home to indigenous Mangyan people.

Mindoro is considered as the third largest food producing province in the Philippines. The island’s watershed is critical for the irrigation of 70 per cent of the rice farms, fruit trees and drinking water sources. It is also one of the world’s top bio-diversity sites. A nickel processing plant is planned that would use high-pressure acid leach technology to recover nickel and cobalt from ore. Crew intends to dump its mine tailings into the surrounding sea. Thirty people have been killed in Mindoro since 2001 including leaders and members of organisations in the coalition opposing Crew’s project. Congress passed a law in 1995 giving generous incentives to investors in the mining industry, including 100% ownership in large-scale prospects, but the country’s Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 stipulates that mining companies must secure the approval of affected communities.

In March 2004, the bishop and clergy of Calapan Diocese joined those expressing indignation over government support for the Mindoro Nickel Project. The broadest coalition ever assembled in Mindoro’s history staged peaceful protests involving 40,000 people. Sixty-five thousand signatures rejecting the project were collected and the Mangyan Indigenous People’s organisation expressed their written opposition.


British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto controls two of the world’s most important uranium resources: the operating Ranger mine and the Jabiluka deposit, both in Australia’s Northern Territory. It is being challenged to abandon Jabiluka, which lies in a national park, after opposition from the Aboriginal landholders of the region. Rio Tinto says it will not go ahead without permission from the indigenous Mirrar people, but the door is left open for the company to “approach” the Mirrar again in 2010. This is just a year before Rio Tinto’s existing mine at Ranger is scheduled to close.

Kakadu National Park is one of the world’s most delicate wildlife havens. It is home to 2.5 million water birds, 900 plant species, 50 species of mammals and 100 species of amphibians and reptiles. Kakadu also has the greatest area of ancient Aboriginal rock art in Australia. If extraction goes ahead, it will generate 20 million tonnes of radioactive tailings, a by-product of uranium mining which will remain radioactive for 250,000 years. In 2000 there were protests against the mine in every major city in Australia. The Ranger mine is known to have had 120 breaches of operational guidelines, including leaks of radioactive material and contamination of water supplies. Despite generating millions in revenue, an inquiry found that the Mirrar people gained no net material benefit from the mine. A Mirrar leader addressed Rio Tinto’s London Annual General meeting in 2003 with an unequivocal message: “you’d better accept that we’ll never agree to mining”.


Copper is Zambia’s most important commodity and production is soaring. In 2003, UK-based Vedanta won the bid to “develop” Zambia’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). At a 2005 meeting of AIMES - the African Initiative on Mining, Environment and Society - Peter Sinkamba, secretary of the Campaign for a Better Environment, which works in the Copperbelt, issued a statement condemning the lack of environmental standards and worker protection at KCM’s complex. In particular, he pointed out that Vedanta’s tailings leach plant was polluting the stream that led directly into the Kabwe river, which was already so toxic that hippos had long quit the area and there were no fish for miles downstream.

The huge tailings dam encroaches on arable land, while expansion of the mine has prevented villagers from farming small plots. Pollution, especially from the Nchana smelter, is far above acceptable standards (including those of the World Bank). Promises have been made by the company to reduce emissions to “acceptable levels” by 2006, but little amelioration is experienced by dwellers in the township which surrounds the smelter and its slag heap. Safety at the mine too is being challenged due to the high accident rate. The current agreement between the government of Zambia and Vedanta is one originally made with Anglo American – the manager of KCM before Vedanta took over. It guarantees extraordinary tax concessions to the company and exemption from prosecution for infringement of environmental and working standards.

(Compiled by Ellen Teague, Frank Nally, Roger Moody, Andy Whitmore)

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