There has been a huge amount in the mining press recently about the impacts of COVID-19 on the mining industry. In some places, mines are being closed; in others, miners are being isolated on mine sites so that mines can keep operating. Some mining companies, like Rio Tinto and Glencore, are donating money to the communities they have devastated by their mining projects, as part of a COVID-19 relief effort. In some countries, environmental and health and safety regulations are being relaxed to encourage mining to continue, and mining is being touted as the solution to the economic collapse that the COVID-19 crisis is creating.
LMN is working with other organisations around the world to monitor what is happening and assess the extent to which mining multinationals are trying to use the current situation to their advantage. We have learnt from colleagues in the Philippines, for instance, that protesters against illegal mining are being arrested for violating the government’s lockdown while mining companies are allowed to continue operating. Government offices are closed but new mining licences are being granted anyway. Women activists are being particularly badly affected because they are being expected to play a greater role during the crisis as providers of food and care while continuing to lead many of the community struggles against destructive mining projects.
Our friends at MiningWatch Canada have issued a preliminary analysis of how the mining industry is responding to the crisis.
In Britain, many companies – including mining companies – are holding their Annual General Meetings (AGMs) with the minimum quorum (in some cases, as few as two people) and shutting out shareholders, thus avoiding scrutiny. Rio Tinto at least arranged a phone conference for shareholders after its AGM on 8 April. Anglo American (5 May) and Antofagasta (20 May) are offering shareholders the opportunity to submit written questions in advance of the meeting, and these are to be published along with the answers – but there will be no opportunity for debate if (as expected) the companies’ answers are inadequate or misleading.
Our friends at ShareAction are calling on all FTSE100 companies to hold a virtual AGM in 2020, allowing for real-time questioning followed by voting to be replicated online, and ensuring that all types of shareholders can attend the meeting. They are also calling for physical meetings to return to being part of the proceedings, whenever it is safe to do so again, using so-called hybrid AGMs, which also have a virtual element.
In London, the LMN office is shut and we are all working from our homes, meeting frequently online. We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well during the current coronavirus crisis. We know, however, that some of you are not: those of you who have lost work and income, or who are prevented from leaving your homes to obtain the food necessary to remain alive, or who are being threatened with death for your work of holding mining companies to account for their activities.
Many mining-affected communities are organising to keep safe, to provide for emergency needs and to assert their rights. Here are a few examples from the communities and organisations with which LMN and our member groups work.
Amadiba Crisis Committee, South Africa
Last month in Xolobeni, on the Wild Coast of South Africa, the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) held information meetings in different villages in Xolobeni about how to stop the spread of COVID-19, including demonstrating correct handwashing and giving out hand sanitisers. ‘We learned from the past that HIV and AIDS affected the rural areas a lot, because of a lack of information. That is why we as ACC this time have decided not to repeat history.’
On 25 March the Committee asked tourists to leave the area, and urged all other communities on the Wild Coast to organise and protect lives by stopping tourism during lockdown. There is no clinic on the Amadiba coast and no ambulance to transport the sick. The only clinic in Amadiba is at least one hour away from coastal villages and it is under-resourced.
The ACC are demanding the following from the South African government: the distribution of sanitiser and safety equipment to their community and other rural communities; a mobile clinic for ACC members to travel in coastal and inland Amadiba; for all unemployed nurses and doctors who have finished their studies and training to be allowed to work; for at least one ambulance in Amadiba, which is free for people to use, with full protection for ambulance staff; sanitary and other safety equipment for taxi drivers who are taking sick people to hospital.
Get in touch with the ACC via their facebook page for information about how you can support them.
Communities affected by the Cerrejon Coal mine, Colombia
The huge opencast Cerrejon mine in the province of La Guajira is owned by London-listed multinationals Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. Many communities have lost lands and livelihoods as the mine has expanded. Now they are being hit hard by the measures being taken to tackle COVID-19. Many make a living in the informal economy, and if they cannot be out trading on the street they cannot earn the money to buy food. Travel restrictions mean that people often do not have enough time, on days they are allowed to travel, to buy the food they need. So communities are organising to provide food and hygiene products during the crisis.
Some of LMN’s member groups have launched crowdfunders to assist these efforts. LMN member groups Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Terra Justa are working with others to support indigenous and African-descent communities close to the mine.
LMN member group Coal Action Network is working with colleagues in the USA and Nacion Wayuu in Colombia to support indigenous communities close to the railway line taking coal from the mine to the coal export port at Puerto Bolivar, 150 kilometres from the mine.
Our friends at indigenous women’s organisation Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu are raising money to support communities that they are working with in various parts of the province.
The reason for multiple fundraisers is that the communities are spread out over a large area, often with little contact between them: the different fundraisers will assist different communities.
Oceana Gold in the Philippines
The ongoing lockdown in the Philippines due to the pandemic has failed to defuse a standoff between a local community and the Canadian-Australian mining company Oceana Gold over a controversial gold and copper mine in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Since July last year, local communities have blocked the entry of fuel tankers and service vehicles to the Didipio gold and copper site.
But President Rodrigo Duterte’s office issued a letter authorizing OceanaGold Philippines Inc (OGPI), the company that handles the mining operation, to be allowed to truck in 63,000 liters (16,600 gallons) of fuel for generators to run water pumps in the underground mines. A hundred police personnel assisted the entry of the vehicles to the mining site on April 6, even as the region remains locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic, with all domestic land, sea and air travel banned. They dispersed the community’s “people barricade,” composed of 29 community leaders and members of peasant groups.
Organisations in the Philippines have issued a statement of solidarity and condemnation of the violent dispersal of the indigenous community barricade of the mine site and are inviting worldwide support.