A new report released by London Mining Network and partners on June 2 2020, has exposed how the global mining industry is profiteering from conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, putting workers at risk of contracting the virus – many of whom already suffer from mining-related diseases.
Since March, many countries have declared mining an essential industry, allowing it to operate during government lockdowns with devastating results, according to the new report: Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The analysis draws from field reports and a review of nearly 500 press, company and civil society statements, 180 of which are directly related to community and/or workers’ concerns.
Key findings include:
- Mining companies are ignoring the real threats of the pandemic and continuing to operate, using any means available
- Governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures to shut down legitimate protests and promote the mining sector
- Mining companies are using the pandemic as an opportunity to hide their dirty track records and present themselves as public-minded saviours
- Mining companies and governments are using the crisis to secure regulatory change that favours the industry at the expense of people and planet
As a result of the industry’s behaviour in the midst of the pandemic, mining sites worldwide are emerging as hot spots of the disease, putting workers and nearby Indigenous and rural communities at risk, many of whom already suffer mining-related health impacts which make them particularly vulnerable
More than 3,000 mine workers in 18 different countries have reported outbreaks at their mines. Large outbreaks at the Cobre Panama (Panama), Olimpiada (Russia), Lac des Iles (Canada) and Antamina (Peru) mines went unrecognised as hundreds of workers tested positive. The report reveals that companies continued to operate, despite the outbreaks. A lack of testing in many places and limited oversight mean actual numbers could be far higher than reported, 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 organisations there have also condemned the assassination of anti-mining activists and continued red-tagging.
“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 press statement.
In Honduras, a 24-hour curfew has been imposed by the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández, suspending basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, using the military and police to enforce measures. Meanwhile, the authorities opened an online window to make it even easier for companies to obtain environmental permits, all of which happens in secret.
Pedro Landa from the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team (ERIC/Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación), Honduras said:
“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.”
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.
Nara Baré, coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations from the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), said:
“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.”
In this context, mining company donations to communities and governments is seen as whitewash, especially as they place communities, workers and the environment at further risk.
Luis Fernando García Monroy, on behalf of the Xinka Parliament, said:
“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.”
Overall, the stories captured in this report reveal that mining-affected people face multiple pandemics – health, economic, violence, militarisation, 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.
Kirsten Francescone, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada said:
“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.”
*Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic report was created together with contributions from Earthworks (USA), Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Program (USA), London Mining Network (UK), MiningWatch Canada, Terra Justa, War on Want (UK) and Yes to Life No to Mining with support from many other organisations.
You can download it here.
Header image: March Against Mining in Esquel, Argentina, 4 May 2020. Taken by Nicolas Palacios.