Mining firm Glencore accused of child mine labor and dumping raw acid into a river

By John Sweeney / The Guardian

Glencore, the commodity and mining firm worth £27bn, stands accused in the Democratic Republic of Congo of dumping raw acid and profiting from children working 150ft underground.

The revelations come as the notoriously secretive Swiss-based company, which floated on the London Stock Exchange last year, seeks to merge with mining firm Xstrata in a £50bn-plus deal. When Glencore floated in London, five of its partners became billionaires, but the biggest winner was Glencore’s chief executive, Ivan Glasenberg, whose stake is worth £4bn. The company was founded in 1974 by Marc Rich, once one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted fugitives, but now pardoned and outside Glencore.

In his first television interview, Glasenberg said that Glencore took corporate responsibility seriously, saying: “We care about the environment. We care about the local communities.”

But an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama has found Glencore dumping acid into a river and it discovered children as young as 10 working in the Tilwezembe mine, which was officially closed by Glencore in 2008. International law prohibits anyone under 18 working in a mine. Undercover researchers at Tilwezembe found under-18s who climbed down hand-dug mineshafts 150ft deep without safety or breathing equipment to dig copper and cobalt.

Glencore’s flotation prospectus says it stopped operating at the mine in 2008 because of a fall in the price of copper. The metal has since bounced back to record highs. In the meantime, the mine has been taken over by a local firm that pays artisanal or freelance miners, including under-18s, fixed prices for copper-ore nuggets. Glencore still owns the concession and plans to restart mining.

The number of accidents at Tilwezembe is extraordinarily high: Panorama was told that 60 miners died there last year, making the mine one of the most dangerous in the world.

Glasenberg said: “We definitely do not profit from child labour in any part of the world. This is adhered to strictly.” The child miners were part of a group of artisanal miners whom Glasenberg said “raided our land in 2010 against all of our authorisation. We are pleading with the government to remove the artisanal miners from our concession”.

But there is strong evidence that Glencore receives copper indirectly from the child labour mine. Panorama tracked a lorry laden with copper from Tilwezembe for 27 hours to a plant run by a major Glencore partner in Congo, Groupe Bazano. Copper from the Bazano plant has then been sent to Glencore’s smelter in Zambia, according to documents obtained by the programme.

Glencore denies buying the metal from Bazano. On the issue of whether copper from Tilwezembe goes to the Bazano plant, Glasenberg said: “I don’t know what the Bazano plant does. We don’t buy copper from Groupe Bazano.”

Asked if Glencore had taken copper in the past from Groupe Bazano, Glasenberg replied: “No, we don’t buy copper from Groupe Bazano.” Told by Panorama there was documentary evidence to the contrary, he said: “It cannot be.” Glasenberg said the company operated a strict policy whereby all copper was mined correctly, placed in bags with numbered seals and then sent to the smelter.

For its part, Groupe Bazano said it did not profit from child labour and had not taken copper ore from Tilwezembe since the mine was closed by Glencore.

Glencore is also facing criticism for damaging the environment in Congo. For three years it has run a large copper refinery at Luilu in Katanga province. Ore containing minerals is burnt with acid to free up the copper but the heavily polluted waste has been pumped straight into the Luilu river.

Glencore’s acid waterfall stank of toxic fumes when I visited it a few weeks ago. Upstream, the river used by local people to wash and fish was clear; downstream of the Glencore pipe, there was brown sludge. One local complained: “Fish can’t survive the acid. Glencore lacks any respect for people. No one would do that to another human being. It’s shocking.”

A Swiss NGO tested the acidity of the wastewater and found a pH value of 1.9, where 1 is pure acid and 7 neutral.

Read more from The Guardian:

In Climate-related Flooding, a Ugandan River Turns Poisonous

In Climate-related Flooding, a Ugandan River Turns Poisonous

Editor’s note: Mining poisons the earth, not only right now, but for future generations: even if the mine is closed and all workers have left, the chemicals and metals that they have used and mined will stay hidden in the soil. But it can’t be hidden forever. When the earth moves due to flooding so do the chemicals. They then poison the land and water and damage the ecosystems.

Uganda’s Nyamwamba river, in the Rwenzori Mountains, has begun to flood catastrophically in recent years, partly due to climate change. Along the river are copper tailings pools from an old Canadian mining operation, which are becoming increasingly eroded by the flooding. According to a series of studies, these tailings have been washing into the water supply and soil of the Nyamwamba River Basin, contaminating human tissue, food and water with deadly heavy metals. Cancer rates are higher than normal near the tailings pools, and scientists fear that as the flooding continues to worsen, so will the health crisis.

By Terna Gyuse/Mongabay

KASESE, Uganda — Right as the Nyamwamba River emerges from the foothills of western Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains and begins its final descent onto the savanna, it passes by a curious sight. On the far bank from the road, past piles of sun-bleached stones on the now-dry riverbed, the earth has been disturbed. Towering walls stand naked and exposed amid the surrounding hills, as if a mighty hand has taken a scoop from the very landscape itself. Sheer cliffs emerge abruptly from the green scrub above, crashing downward into a flat, brownish pit of sand and rocks.

This is a copper tailings pool. Along with its siblings, it’s poisoning this part of Uganda.

The pools were built to hold waste from a mine once operated by Falconbridge, a Canadian company that ruled over the Rwenzori foothills from the 1950s to late ’70s. In its heyday, Falconbridge’s copper mine, based just up the road in the small town of Kilembe, was the churning engine of Uganda’s economy. The mine once employed more than 6,000 people and accounted for nearly a third of the country’s GDP.

Falconbridge was chased out of Uganda by Idi Amin in 1977, who nationalized the mine in the final years of his rule, convinced that his government could run it as well as the Canadians and keep more of the copper’s value at home. By 1982, it was shuttered.

In Kilembe, Falconbridge’s ghostly remains are ubiquitous. Decaying company housing is still occupied by former employees and their descendants. Rickety mining infrastructure dots the hillside. The tailings pools stand as monuments to what was once taken from here and sent northward to feed the booming engines of Western capitalism’s golden age.

A toxic legacy is now seeping from these pools and into water, soil and bodies in this region, as the Nyamwamba bursts its banks with flooding increasing frequency. Global warming has disturbed the climate above the mountains on high — during the rainy season, floods have become more common. As the Nyamwamba’s floodwaters rage past the tailings pools like this one every year, toxic heavy metals are being washed downriver toward the district capital of Kasese and its 100,000 residents.

In Kilembe, the toll is already evident. Cancer rates have skyrocketed. Spurred along by the burning of fossil fuels in faraway locales, the wounds of extraction in this area have begun to fester and become gangrenous.

“When we were starting our study in the Kilembe mine area, [this] whole tailing dump was not touched by water,” said Abraham Mwesigye, an environmental scientist at Kampala’s Makerere University. “But because of over flooding, we’ve lost tons and tons of tailing waste into River Nyamwamba … and that has only happened in the last four years when the effects of climate change increased in the Rwenzori Mountains.”

Pools of menace

In all, there are 15 million metric tons of copper tailings in the area around Kilembe. A decade ago, Mwesigye and his colleagues began to investigate their impact on health and the environment. In the period since, study after study have shown startling results.

Copper, cobalt, arsenic, nickel, zinc and lead is everywhere. There’s nickel in the cassava and beans grown along the Nyamwamba’s banks. Copper concentrations are several times higher than average in people’s toenails. In more than half of the samples taken of drinking water near Kilembe and downstream in 2017, there were unsafe levels of cobalt. The soil is contaminated, dust found inside of people’s homes is toxic, and even the grasses that livestock and wild animals graze on show elevated traces of heavy metals.

The concentrations are particularly high, often dangerously so, near Kilembe. But they can also be found further downriver, near the more populous town of Kasese.

“Over times these wastes have been eroded into farms and the River Nyamwamba, which is a main water source for locals,” Mwesigye said in a phone interview with Mongabay. “The danger is that they contain heavy metals, including those which are very toxic. We’re looking at copper, cobalt, zinc, arsenic, manganese and iron. We tested and found more than 42 elements in those wastes, and they are ending up in drinking water supplies and agriculture.”

Some of the elements washing into the Nyamwamba are carcinogenic. Cobalt, for example, was recently escalated by the European Commission as a Class 1B risk, meaning excessive exposure to it is almost certain to cause cancer. Samples of yams grown near Kilembe in 2019 showed levels of cobalt that exceeded the safe limit for children in particular.


“Cobalt is the second most abundant contaminant within Kilembe after copper,” Mwesigye said.

These toxins are causing a silent but growing health crisis in Kilembe, he added.

“We surveyed the Kilembe hospitals and health facilities, and we found that there are high rates of cancer and gastrointestinal diseases, both of which are associated with exposure.”

There have been no definitive studies linking the prevalence of heavy metals in Kilembe and Kasese with elevated cancer rates — yet. But media reports suggest these rates are higher than average compared with other parts of Uganda. Municipal officials in Kasese say they suspect the tailing pools are to blame, with toxins showing up in the produce people eat.

“We are afraid that the increase in cancer in the area might partly be caused by the water [used to grow food],” said Chance Kahindo, Kasese’s mayor.

Mwesigye’s findings have been backed up by other researchers. In a 2020 study published in the Octa Journal of Environmental Research, samples taken from the Nyamwamba near Kilembe were shown to have levels of copper and cobalt that exceeded safe limits set by the World Health Organization. Tissue samples taken from the river’s fish, a crucial source of local food, were also recorded as having accumulated unsafe amounts of cobalt, lead and zinc.

Environmental advocates say it’s almost certain that the metals are also affecting wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a sprawling nature reserve that the Nyamwamba cuts through on its way into Lake George. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home to lions, buffalo, leopards, hippos and African savanna elephants.

“These copper tailings end up journeying into the water,” said Edwin Mumbere, director of a Kasese-based environmental group. “So there’s heavy metal pollution that isn’t only affecting us as a community, it’s affecting animals [in the park].”

As far back as 2003, a study showed higher-than-normal concentrations of copper and zinc in Lake George, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) downstream of Kilembe, including in the fish that feed tens of thousands of people in the region. The levels detected in their flesh were considered safe for human consumption — but that was before the Nyamwamba’s floods started getting worse and more frequent.

In 2022, a researcher with the Uganda Cancer Institute told a journalist that cancer cases from Kasese “seem to be increasing,” but the link between health problems in the region and the prevalence of heavy metals hasn’t been thoroughly studied. According to unpublished data shared with Mongabay by the Kampala-based Uganda Cancer Institute, a recent study did not show higher-than-average rates of cancer in Kasese district as a whole. But the figures covered the district’s full 800,000-strong population, and hadn’t been disaggregated to evaluate rates among those living in the city of Kasese or other settlements between Kilembe and Lake George.

“Foods that are grown in Kilembe are sold all over Kasese town,” Mwesigye said. “So there’s a likelihood that residents of Kasese are consuming contaminated foods … and when there’s flooding, you’ll find the tailings there, because the River Nyamwamba busts its banks and spreads waste all over.”

For people in the region who do contract cancer, wherever it comes from, a painful ordeal often awaits. If they don’t have the money to pay for treatment in one of Kampala’s specialized private wards, there’s little they can do besides wait for the disease to consume them. Media reports speak of stricken patients slowly dying at home without receiving proper care.

Old scars reopened by new wounds

The toxins coursing through the life systems of Kilembe have produced a catastrophe that’s both urgent and, at least for now, part of the fabric of life. There’s no choice: even as the waters rise and the poisons soak deeper into it every year, people who call the Nyamwamba’s banks home must adjust. It isn’t a unique situation. As ecologies change and the bill for the 20th century comes due, people closest to that debt often don’t have any option other than to try and work around it.

Across the African continent, as well as in other places whose forests and mines fed the engine of global growth, there are wounds, infected and seeping even when the hands that opened them are long gone.

“We’re still in the extractive phase in countries in Latin America and Africa, but the problem will be in a century when they will have the legacies,” said Flaviano Bianchini, director of Source International, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of mining-affected communities. “The cost of cleaning the pollution caused by a mine is huge, enormous. Millions and millions and millions [of dollars].”

In Africa, these legacies are already festering. In Uganda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a copper mine owned by the Swiss multinational Glencore in Lualaba province has rendered farmland unusable and poisoned local waterways. In 2022, the company agreed to pay $180 million to the country after admitting that it spent more than a decade bribing senior officials there.

Further south, in Zambia, children born in the town of Kabwe, which hosted a lead mine operated by the British giant Anglo-American between 1925 and 1974, can have blood lead levels as high as 20 times the safe limit. Kilembe isn’t an outlier — it’s the norm.

Some public interest lawyers are trying to turn the tide and hold companies accountable. But they face an uphill battle. In December, a South African court threw out a case that the U.K.-based firm Leigh Day brought against Anglo-American over the damage it left behind in Kabwe.

The court said that by trying to force Anglo-American to pay for the mess, the plaintiffs wanted to “advance an untenable claim that would set a grave precedent.”

While Leigh Day is currently working towards appealing the ruling, it symbolized the difficulties that communities face in African courts when they take on mining giants or governments. Impunity has taken a toll.

“When it comes to the harm that has been suffered by workers and communities, the lack of access to justice locally has meant a lack of deterrence and an insufficient incentive on companies to behave better,” said Richard Meeran, the lead attorney from Leigh Day on the Kabwe case.

When companies pack up and leave, whether because a mine has been depleted, the operation has become financially unviable, or over a dispute with the government, it’s the people who live nearby — those with the least resources — who are left holding with the bill.

“Legal systems must evolve to hold companies accountable,” Marcos Orellana, the U.N. special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, said in an email to Mongabay. “And courts must be open and willing to hold past polluters accountable for the harm they have caused to communities and the environment.”

It won’t do much good for anyone living in Kilembe or Kasese to knock on Falconbridge’s door. In 2006, it was acquired by the Swiss-Anglo firm Xstrata, in a $22.5 billion deal that was one of the biggest in Canadian history at the time. A few years later, Xstrata was taken over by Glencore, the world’s largest commodities trader. According to company data, in 2022 Glencore posted a record profit of $17.3 billion, paying more than $7 billion to its shareholders.

In an email to Mongabay, Glencore declined to comment on Falconbridge’s legacy in Uganda.

Despite its noxious aftermath, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has spent the better part of a decade trying to restart copper mining in Kilembe. After an embarrassing episode in which a Chinese company took control of the mine only to lose its contract due to inactivity and unpaid fees, the Ugandan government has found new suitors. Late last year, Kilembe hosted a delegation to showcase the infrastructure Falconbridge left behind. Media reports suggest a new deal may be approaching.

If a new owner is found, it’s unclear what, if anything, they will do about the tailings pools and their grim legacy.

In the meantime, the people who live along the Nyamwamba River are caught between two ecological crises at once, separate yet linked. From above, a warming atmosphere robs them of the sacred sites and steals their homes in rushing flooding waters. At the same time, poisons from the scarred earth seep deeper into their food, water and bodies. From both directions the consequences of extraction, and in neither any relief in sight.

That environmental wounds from a fast-approaching future are dovetailing with those of western Uganda’s unresolved past carries an ominous message. The climate crisis is not set to arrive on its own. It will have company.

Photo by Darilon/pixabay, reinout_dujardin1/pixabay

Poisonous Coal In Australia

Poisonous Coal In Australia

Editor’s note: In order to fill the void of fossil fuel supplies caused by the Russia-Ukraine War, countries are opening their land for coal extraction. We recently covered the resistance in Lützerath, Germany. A similar story seems to be unraveling in Australia. The following piece, originally published in Public Eye, follows the tragic Aboriginal land grabbing by corporations spanning two continents. Despite local resistance and vigil for over 400 days, the mines have not yet been stopped.

By Adrià Budry Carbó / Public Eye

With the war in Ukraine forcing Europe to seek alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, Australia is opening dozens of coal mines – and sacrificing its natural and cultural heritage in the process. Local authorities are invoking the consequences of the European war to get projects approved, despite the fact that behind the scenes it is the interests of Glencore and Adani – both based in Switzerland – that are ultimately at play.

In remote areas of Queensland, Aboriginal people and environmentalists are organising resistance to the shovel-and-dynamite lobby, but are coming under increasing pressure from mining groups.

Ochre earth gets everywhere, as gritty as those who walk on it, omnipresent in the semi-desert landscape. A pale-yellow column of smoke – up to 50 metres high – stands out against the horizon. With no high ground to cause an echo, the blast from the deep scar of the Carmichael mine rings out with a sharp bang. The mine is located in the geological basin of Galilee, in the heart of Queensland in north-eastern Australia.

Coedie MacAvoy has witnessed this scene often. Born and raised in the region, the son of an Elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (a guardian of wisdom), the 30-year-old introduces himself with pride. He relates the number of days he has spent occupying the small plot of land situated just in front of the Adani Group’s concession, which the company wants to transform into one of the largest coal mines in the world. On this October afternoon, the count is at 406 days – the same number of days as the camp of the Waddananggu (meaning “discussion” in the Wirdi language) has existed.

This vigil was not enough to prevent the start of production last December, but it’s a big thorn in the side of the ambitious multinational. The company is controlled by the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who became the third richest man in the world (net worth USD 142.4 billion) thanks to booming coal prices (see below). In April 2020, he set up a commercial branch in Geneva with the aim of offloading its coal, and registered with a local fiduciary. According to Public Eye’s sources, Adani benefitted from the support of Credit Suisse, which enabled it to raise USD 27 million in bonds in 2020. After Coal India, Adani has the largest number of planned new coal mines (60) according to the specialist platform Global Coal Mine Tracker. Glencore occupies sixth position in this ranking with 37 planned.

Gautam Adani controls one third of India’s coal imports. As reported by The New Yorker in November 2022, the billionaire is well known in his own country too – for bulldozing villages and forests to dig gigantic coal mines.

In Waddananggu, the ceremonial flames of those known here as “traditional owners” have been burning since 26 August 2021. They are accompanied by various people who come and go; young climate and pro-Aboriginal activists, sometimes together with their children – around 15 people in total. Those who emerge from the tents and barricades to observe the thick column of smoke that is dispersing into the distance are told: “Don’t breathe that shit in!”.

The Austral protestors, the war and the billionaire

With sunburned shoulders, a feather in her felt hat covering her blond hair, Sunny films the cloud of dust moving away to the north-west, towards the surrounding crops and scattered cattle. Sunny denounces the destruction of Aboriginal artefacts that are as old as the hills, and is documenting all the blasts from this mine which – after around 15 years of legal wrangling – is expanding at top speed.

After two years of pandemic, coal mines are producing at full throttle to capitalise on historically high prices. Following the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February last year, Australian coal (the most suitable substitute for Russian coal in terms of quality) is selling at three times the average price of the past decade. Countries highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, like Poland, have been begging Australia to increase its exports of thermal coal. In Queensland, the authorities even took advantage of the situation to support particularly unpopular projects, such as Adani’s.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, 3.3 million tonnes of Australian coal have been exported to Europe, according to data provided to Public Eye by the specialist agency Argus Media. Close to half of these exports (1.4 million tonnes) was dispatched on 11 bulk carriers from the Abbot Point terminal, which opens onto the Coral Sea in the north-east of the country, and is also controlled by Adani.

Sunny is indignant: “They shouldn’t detonate when the wind is like this”, she says. “They shouldn’t do it at all – but even less so today!”

For Adani, the objective is to reach 10 million tonnes’ production until the end of 2022. If the group seems to be in a tearing hurry, it’s because its project was initially aiming to produce 60 million tonnes per year, transported 300 kilometres via a dual railway line to Abbot Point. This port is only a few dozen kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef: designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, it is considered to be “endangered”, according to a report by UN experts published at the end of November 2022. From here, coal is loaded onto bulk carriers to be burned – primarily in Indian, Chinese and Korean power-plants – nearly 10,000 kilometres from there.

For Grant Howard, a former miner from the region of Mackay who spent 30 years working in the industry, the mine is an environmental and logistical aberration: “Carmichael only makes commercial sense because Adani owns all the infrastructure and makes the Indian population pay too much for energy”.

Grant became an environmentalist and withdrew to the “bush” to be closer to nature. He denounces this “anachronistic” project that is threatening to act as a Trojan Horse for other mega mining projects in the Galilee Basin, which had not been exploited until Gautam Adani’s teams arrived.

“People who continue to extract thermal coal don’t have a moral compass”, he laments.

Australia has the third-largest coal reserves in the world, enough to continue production for four centuries.

When contacted, Credit Suisse claims to be fulfilling its responsibilities in relation to climate change. “We recognise that financial flows should also be aligned with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement”, its media service states, providing assurances that, in 2021, the bank reduced its financial exposure to coal by 39 percent.

On the other hand, the spokesperson did not specify whether a client like Adani, which makes most of its revenues from coal and is planning to open new thermal coal mines, would be excluded from financing in the future. “The position of Credit Suisse in terms of sustainability is based on supporting our clients through the transition towards low-carbon business models that are resilient to climate change”, they explain.

The country’s bloody history 

For Coedie MacAvoy, this is very much a personal affair. In support of the fight of his “old man” – his father Adrian Burragubba went bankrupt in legal proceedings against the multinational – he occupied the Carmichael site on his own in 2019 in order to “reclaim pieces of property” on his ancestral lands. In doing so he created a blockade against Adani’s construction teams. He survived two weeks of siege before the private security services completely cut off his supply lines.

The same man has led the rebellion since August 2021, but he is no longer alone. “I am contesting the basic right of the government to undertake a compulsory acquisition of a mining lease”, declares Coedie. With piercing green eyes, a rapper’s flow, and his totem tattooed on his torso, the rebel-looking, young man – who has an air of fight the power – is happy to continue the lineage of activists occupying the trees. “I’m not a greenie from inner Melbourne”, asserts the Aborigine.

The local Queensland government finally abolished native people’s land rights in 2019 in order to give them to the mining company, which has treated them like intruders ever since. However, following harsh opposition from Coedie and his father, they were vindicated by the courts, who gave them the right to occupy their land “to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage” provided that they don’t interfere with mining activity.

It’s a loophole in the law linked to this region’s bloody history, and to the conditions under which the land was acquired from the Aborigines. Coedie MacAvoy explains: “You know, the whites arrived in Clermont in 1860 at the time of my great-grand father. They basically shot all fighting-age males.” Aboriginal people were only included in the Australian population census in 1967. The Australian (federal) Constitution still doesn’t afford them specific rights. “We learned to wield the sword and use it to the best of our abilities. We opened Pandora’s Box”, Coedie MacAvoy maintains proudly. He kept the Irish name “borrowed” by his grandfather. Very much at ease like a tribal leader, he teaches the youngest generation Wirdi and dreams of creating an Esperanto of Aboriginal dialects, because “everything I say or do is recognised as a cultural act”. This enrages the Adani Group, which is determined to hold on to its mining concession, and frequently calls the police, though based nearly 180 kilometres away.

Public Eye witnessed how aggressive the multinational can be towards people who take an interest in its activities. During our investigation in the field, a private security services’ SUV followed us along the public road that leads to the mine, and filmed us getting out of the vehicle in front of the Waddananggu camp. Several hours later, a letter arrived by mail at Public Eye’s headquarters with an order to leave the area – “leave immediately and do not return” – and banning us from broadcasting the images filmed on site. The letter concluded by citing that a complaint had been filed with the local police and leaving no doubt as to the threat of legal proceedings.

Public Eye sent a detailed list of questions to Adani. The company did not wish to divulge any plans for its branch in Geneva or its ambitions for the development of the Carmichael mine, nor did it wish to discuss its attitude towards its critics. On the other hand, the multinational “completely” rejected our questions implying that its activities or businesses have acted in an irresponsible manner or contrary to applicable laws and regulations. “It is disappointing that Public Eye is using its privileged position as an organisation based in an extremely wealthy and developed country to seek to deprive the poorest people in the world from accessing the same reliable and affordable energy that advanced economies have been benefitting from for decades” concludes their response, sent by a spokesperson from the Australian branch of the company.

Yet, the data available to Public Eye shows that a substantial part of Adani’s coal production has been redirected towards ports in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the UK. Thus, not really the “poorest people in the world”.

Photo by Albert Hyseni via Unsplash

Big money – and heroes in hard hats

The fight led by the Coedie family against the multinational may seem unbalanced. Both the federal and Queensland governments have rolled out the red carpet for mining companies, who given the historically high prices of coal must be bringing in AUD 120 billion (CHF 76 billion) in export revenues for 400 million tonnes of thermal coal (destined for electricity production) and metallurgical coal (for industrial use).

The Zug-based multinational Glencore is the largest mining company in the country with 15 mines (representing two-thirds of its production). With its Australian, Chinese and Japanese competitors, and the aforementioned Adani, it forms a powerful network of influence that has its own friends in the media and political circles. In Queensland, the coal lobby claims to contribute AUD 58.8 billion (over CHF 37 billion) to the local economy, along with 292,000 jobs, of which 35,000 are direct.

In June 2015, the former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott described the Adani project as a “poverty-busting miracle that would put Australia on the path to becoming an energy superpower”. The Indian group obtained a tax break and an opaque years-long moratorium on its royalties. Under pressure, the authorities finally refrained from awarding a loan to the multinational to enable it to develop its railway line. In 2019, a report by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis – a think tank examining questions linked to energy markets and policies – estimated the value of these “gifts” at over CHF 2.7 billion, a sum large enough to actually make the project viable.

In 2017, the journalist and tour operator Lindsay Simpson went to the homeland of Gautam Adani in the Indian state of Gujarat with a group of Australian activists. Their mission was to disrupt the company’s General Assembly and to intercept the Prime Minister of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was there on an official visit. Simpson told her:

“You will go to the grave with the death of the Great Barrier Reef on your hands.”

The first meeting between Lindsay Simpson and the Adani Group dates back to 2013. Having acquired the Abbot Point terminal two years earlier, the Indian company wanted to increase its capacity through spectacular works undertaken directly in the Coral Sea. To do this, it sought to persuade the tourism sector to back a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredged sediments directly in the sea. At the time, the former crime journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald had already switched to offering sailing cruises and refused to approve a related document, produced by Adani and endorsed by the Central Tourism Association, as she held the document to be made “against compensation”.

Today, Lindsay Simpson describes herself as an author of fiction and of 11 detective novels based on real crimes, “including that of Adani”: Adani, Following Its Dirty Footsteps (2018). In the book, she relates the kowtowing of local politicians to the Australian mining industry. Drawing a parallel between the colonialisation of Australia and its history of mining, she attacks the ongoing and hypocritical “tributes” paid to these “male working-class heroes in hard hats”.

Queensland’s first coal deposits were discovered in 1825, to the west of Brisbane, at a time when the region served as a penal colony for the British Crown. The large-scale exploitation of sedimentary rock that resulted, when the region became a free territory two decades later, fuelled the steamboats despatching the first colonisers.

In the “countries”, those rural areas located in the interior of Australia, the population continues to depend on these jobs, which constitute an almost exclusive source of income, along with agriculture. In the villages of Collinsville, Clermont or Emerald – where several of Glencore’s mines are located – the obstructionism of environmentalists and of defenders of Aboriginal rights is more readily criticised than the impact of extractivism. The arrival of journalists is rarely viewed positively and few agree to speak with a media outlet “whose agenda they don’t share”.

Making a living for the kids

Luke Holmes is an exception. However, bumping into him while he was watching his herd on his quadbike, he insists on the need to create jobs: “The kids need to be able to continue to work. You won’t become a doctor here.” He spits out his chewing tobacco; his two dogs panting in the background. Luke himself spent some 15 years working for a mining company, which enabled him to put aside the funds needed to purchase enough land to live off. Entry-level salaries are easily as much as AUD 45 an hour (CHF 29), nearly double that for highly qualified workers. Food and accommodation are also provided. Even though he remains grateful to Big Coal, the farmer admits that “regulation is far more flexible for coal mines than for farmers.”

It’s indeed the Coal King who reigns in this region, barely tolerating cohabitation. According to official figures, in Australia there are currently 68 projects in the pipeline to expand or open new mines, half of which are in Queensland. Faced with the rise of coal mining, some farming families have become resigned to experiencing their second expropriation with stifled sobs. To compensate, the mining companies negotiate case-by-case compensation arrangement that are accompanied by sensational announcements highlighting the benefits for local communities and the number of jobs created. Adani had promised 1,500 jobs during the construction phase and 6,750 indirect jobs. These figures have since been revised significantly downwards.

Associate Professor in environmental engineering, Matthew Currell is concerned about the impact of the coal mines over the water resources in these semi-arid regions: “The government of Queensland awarded Adani a license to pump as much subterranean water as its wants”. Impact studies were not properly conducted, denounces the author of the column: “Australia listened to the science on coronavirus. Imagine if we did the same for coal mining”. For this researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), there is a clear risk of contamination or drying out of the ecosystem of water sources of Doongmabulla, which is home to communities of rare vegetation that are sacred for the Aborigines. This danger has been ignored in the face of economic and electoral interests.

The dealer and his metaphors

There is a more worrying problem at the global level – that of fossil-fuel emissions. For a long time, the debate was focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by the combustion of coal. A criticism to which lobbyists have often responded by shifting the problem to the countries where the coal is consumed.

“It’s the defence of the dealer – I’m simply selling heroine, I’m not responsible for the consumers”, maintains Peter MacCallum.

In late September, the local government also announced in a fanfare that it wanted to phase out thermal coal from domestic energy consumption by 2035. No mention was made of exporting it, however. An announcement that moved Peter MacCallum to comment ironically: “This will bring us in line with Switzerland – our hands will be clean!”

Logically, environmental opposition focuses increasingly on the problem of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is released at the point of extraction of fossil fuels. Eighty-two times more powerful than CO2, for a century it has been responsible for the increase of 0.5 degrees in global temperatures, according to one of the IPCC’s latest reports. In Australia – the industrialised country most vulnerable to climate disasters, as evidenced by the rise in sea levels or forest fires – the heart of environmental concern is shifting from burning coal to its extraction and processing. In this scenario, the “dealer-as-producer-country” metaphor evoked above ceases to apply.

New satellite imaging from NASA enabled the research agency Ember to produce a report in June 2022 analysing the methane leaks from all the coal mines in Australia. This was made possible by images produced by a satellite belonging to the US space agency Nasa. They found that these mines produce nearly double the amount of pollution caused by motorised traffic. This situation is set to worsen with the mining projects in the Galilee Basin, such as that of Adani, which have a life of several decades.

Among the most polluting open-cast mines is Hail Creek: in 2018, Glencore bought a majority shareholding and its approximately 7 million tonnes of production. Satellite images show that the mine leaks over 10 times the quantity of methane declared by Glencore to the regulatory authorities. Contacted several weeks in advance, the Zug-based group refused to let us visit the mine, citing “annual budget reviews” as the reason. Nonetheless, at the site entrance from the public road that leads solely to the mine and its checkpoint there is a sign that cites openness and responsibility as among Glencore’s values. When questioned, the company sent us an information sheet on the question of methane emissions. It describes the phenomenon as being linked to open-cast mines, vaunts their efforts to reduce leaks (by burning the gas or capturing it to convert it into electricity) and raises doubts as to the use of satellite imagery “of a discontinuous nature” when compared against their annual emissions declarations.

In Queensland, it’s nevertheless becoming hard to ignore climate change. The Great Barrier Reef, which is the region’s pride and joy and extends over 2000 kilometres, is being ravaged by increasingly violent cyclones and an acceleration of the phenomenon of coral-bleaching. According to a government report, in May 2022 a prolonged heatwave affected 91 percent of the reef. This was the fourth heatwave since 2016. The tourism industry is usually tight lipped on the subject, to avoid discouraging budding divers and sailors. However, tongues are starting to wag.

Born in California, Tony Fontes arrived on the shores of Airlie Beach in 1979 “to live his dream of diving on the reef”. He has never left. However, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered so much that today the experience is not the same as it used to be. “It’s an omerta. Instead of uniting to counter the interests of mining companies that harm tourism, operators prefer to deny the consequences of climate change out of fear that the tourists won’t come back anymore”, he denounces. For her part, Lindsay Simpson has observed the arrival of a new phenomenon that she calls disaster tourism; namely, visitors rushing to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s too late.

The industry’s halcyon days

Yet the coal industry still has a big future. In April 2020, between the areas of Capella and Emerald, Glencore submitted permit applications for the construction of what could become the largest mine in Australia – six coal shafts producing 20 million tonnes a year. Codename: Valeria Project. Start of work in 2024, with a duration of 30 months – with the accompanying rail and electricity infrastructure. The contract is valid for 37 years, or until well after 2050, the date at which the Zug-based group committed to becoming “net zero” in terms of its greenhouse-gas emissions.

In February 2019, under pressure from its investors, the multinational – then managed by Ivan Glasenberg – committed to limiting its coal production to 150 million tonnes per year. In 2021, a year still impacted by the pandemic, it produced 103.3 million tonnes. Since then, Glencore has not hesitated to acquire its competitors’ shares in the Colombian Cerrejón mine, which will add 14 million tonnes to its own production.

Within the approximately 10,000 hectares that Valeria will occupy in the area, Glencore has already largely marked out its territory. Nine families have already been evicted and the site, on which there are two state forests, has been almost entirely fenced off. The only remaining inhabitant is a helicopter pilot living in a small house, who is waiting for his lease to expire in January 2023.

In the newsagent in Capella, which also serves as an information centre, the shop assistant hands visitors a brochure produced by Glencore, dated May 2022. It summarises the timetable of operations. “It has been going for many years. It does not come as a surprise”, she relates with an air of resignation. “We have many mines around. We know what this is about.”

One farmer, who did not wish to be named, is not pleased to be sitting “in the dust of Glencore”. In Australia, mines are emptying the countryside. Largely because the group does not have a terrific record in terms of relations with its neighbours, according to the farmer. His property shares a border of many kilometres with the future Valeria mine. Even though he has no desire to leave “this land that gave us so much and is part of us”, the inconvenience resulting from the extraction of coal will force him to.”

“People in Switzerland should realise just how invasive the mining industry is”, he says gravely.

On Aboriginal land 

Scott Franks is in total agreement with this. When he opposed Glencore’s expansion project at its Glendell mine, located on the lands of his Wonnarua ancestors, the Aborigine found himself named and targeted (along with another activist) in a full page published in a local media outlet. It presented him as “seeking to stop the project” and any industrial activity over a surface area of 156km2 in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, putting 3000 jobs at stake. “The strategy is to turn the mining community against Aboriginal people – the ‘black folk’. We supported all the mines up to now, but we only have 3 percent of our land left”, says Scott bitterly.

The Glendell expansion project would impact the historic site of a massacre at an Aboriginal camp (36 deaths) perpetrated in 1826 by the Mounted Police. In its announcement, Glencore – who wanted to relocate a farm – asserts that in reality the massacre took place 20 kilometres away from the site in question, and contests the land rights of the two opponents, as well as their legitimacy in representing the Wonnarua people. In late October, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) refused to grant Glencore a permit to expand its Glendell mine. When contacted, the mining company said that it was considering appealing against the decision given that “the 1826 massacre occurred on properties outside of the Ravensworth estate” and “the current homestead was built after the 1826 massacre”. In its response, the multinational also cited its programmes to rehabilitate mine sites and its support for young Aborigines. “We recognise the unique relationship of Indigenous peoples with the environment”, states Glencore. “We engage in good faith negotiation, seeking relationships based on respect, meaningful engagement, trust and mutual benefit.” Scott Franks’ critical response is:

“Glencore only deals with the communities it can buy off”.

In fact, Glencore appears to be increasingly concerned about its image, following the wave of court proceedings brought against it in recent years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland. In Switzerland, as in Australia, the coal giant seeks to position itself as a major actor in energy transition, highlighting its role in mining copper and cobalt, which are essential for the production of electric batteries. In Australia, its campaign entitled Advancing Everyday Life earned it a complaint for “misleading or deceptive conduct” from the consumer protection body and investors. The Swiss Coalition for responsible multinationals, of which Public Eye is a member, also attacked Glencore for “greenwashing” due to its campaign of posters in public transport and train stations in Switzerland. However, this will not easily undermine the multinational, which asserts that the three accusations were rejected. Nor will it prevent Glencore from opening new mines, just as its competitor Adani is doing.

Humour and a torch

However, at Waddananggu, Coedie MacAvoy doubtlessly has skin as thick as his father’s. He also has humour as gritty as the earth when it gets into the engines of 4x4s. At the camp entrance, he has placed numerous signs warning against non-authorised entry, at the risk of standing trial before tribal justice: “Have you seen my sign? It looks just like any other sign, and in a world full of signs nobody can tell the difference any more”. Last year, he organized his own “Carmichael Tour”, the longest leg of a ride that brought together over a hundred cyclists within the perimeter of Adani’s concession. “We have the moral ground: we are living, so we are winning.” assures the thirty-year-old.

Coedie MacAvoy was living in the regional capital, Brisbane, when the mining project was launched. He openly admits: “I don’t think that my family would have come back to this region, the place that my grandfather left at gunpoint, if it had not been for Adani”. Does Coedie, who grew up listening to his father’s words, not want to rebel against his familial destiny to do something else? Does he not feel that he has inherited a never-ending conflict? “I don’t think that my father’s generation could have been the deciding factor. They still harbour too much trauma and anger.”

On the horizon, the sun is setting over Carmichael. The cloud of dust has dissipated, and the mine is now shrouded in silence. Coedie MacAvoy takes advantage of these peaceful moments to plant a palm tree that he hopes will bear fruit in a few years’ time.

Gautam Adani – a fortune on steroids

Billionaires often evoke their modest beginnings. The son of a textile trader from Gujarat (in western India), one of eight siblings, Gautam Adani is no exception to the rule. After humble beginnings as a trader, the Adani Group, founded in 1988, swiftly diversified into port and airport infrastructure, power plants, coal mines, real estate and – more recently – media.

The rapid rise of the Adani empire was achieved thanks to a perfusion of finance and the largesse of numerous international banks. The most heavily indebted group in India has some USD 8 billion in bonds denominated in other currencies in circulation, according to Bloomberg data. The conglomerate is divided into a network of multiple companies, of which seven are publicly listed.

The energy market crisis that followed the war in Ukraine was a boon for this auto-proclaimed “self-made man”. Backed by high coal and gas prices, both his companies and personal fortune made him the world’s third richest man. In May 2022, the Swiss cement company Holcim sold him its assets in India for USD 10.5 billion.

However, in India, the close relations between Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been criticized. Modi also comes from Gujarat, and was Chief Minister for the state when the businessman benefitted from new laws setting up free trade zones (which benefit from tax benefits to attract investors) where he was planning to set up some of his infrastructure. When campaigning to become Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had the use of a plane made available by the Adani Group to take him home every evening.

Gautam Adani has little appreciation for the interest in his links to the Prime Minister. This is the interpretation of his offensive in the Indian media landscape last August to take control of NDTV, one of the channels that remains critical of the Indian government. He is nevertheless well known for not appreciating questions. “Adani has a long history of intimidation of journalists and activists that he won’t hesitate to bring charges against”, states Stephen Lang, an investigative journalist for the Australian public channel ABC. In Gujarat in 2017, the local police forced his team of reporters to leave the region. His journalists were investigating the group’s tax evasion activities and attempting to speak to fishermen displaced by one of Adani’s port terminals.


Featured Image: Maules Creek coal mine by Leard State Forest via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Editor’s note: The shock doctrine is a concept proposed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and is outlined in her book, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published in 2007. Its central proposition is that the capitalist markets take advantage of moments of tragedy or disaster, such as the pandemic, to propose or impose policies that benefit them. People’s inability to react at these times favors this strategy.

But the shock doctrine is part of a continuum. Civilization has been doing the same thing now that it has been doing for 10,000 years. Civilization traumatizes individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. Modern capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community unless they have first been broken as a human being and built up again as a citizen. The shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches its inevitable suicidal endgame.

By Jen Moore/Counterpunch.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Arundhati Roy, April 2020

Just over two years ago when lockdowns were being declared like dominoes around the world, there was a brief moment when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to hold the potential for much-needed reflection. Could it lead to a reversal away from the profit-driven ecological and socio-economic dead end we’ve been propelling toward?

Arundhati Roy’s call to critical reflection was published in early April 2020. At the time, she was observing the early evidence, on one hand, of the devastating toll of the pandemic as a result of extraordinary inequality, the privatized health care system, and the rule of big business in the U.S., which continued to play out along lines of class and race.

She was also writing with horror at how the Modi government in India was enacting an untenable lockdown on a population of over a billion people without notice or planning, in a context of overlapping economic and political crises. While the rich and middle class could safely retreat to work from home, millions of migrant workers were forced out of work into a brutal, repressive, and even fatal long march back to their villages. And that was just the beginning.

The jarring “rupture” with normality that Roy wrote about two years ago has reinforced many “prevailing prejudices”, as she anticipated. Whether we’re talking about Amazon, the pharmaceutical industry, or mining companies, big business managed to have itself declared “essential” and profit handsomely. Meanwhile, poor and racialized people have paid the highest costs and experienced the greatest losses in the U.S., India, and many other countries around the world.

But we have also seen how people have fought back hard showing tremendous resilience in the face of greater adversity.

This is very much the case in mining-affected communities around the world, many of whom were already in David and Goliath battles before the pandemic to protect their land and water from the harms of mineral extraction. They have found no reprieve since the pandemic began.

While taking measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, these movements have refused to let their guard down as governments and corporations have taken advantage of greater social constraints to advance the mining industry.

A Pandemic Made to Fit the Mining Industry

Land defenders block mine-related traffic in Casillas, Guatemala, 2019. (Photo: NISGUA, via EarthWorks Flickr)

Since April 2020, the Institute for Policy Studies(IPS) Global Economy Project has been participating in the Coalition Against the Mining Pandemic, which came together to help document what was happening in the mining sector during the pandemic. The coalition is made up of environmental justice organizations, networks, and initiatives from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that work in solidarity with mining-affected communities.

The group observed early evidence that mining companies would be among the worst pandemic profiteers. In the past, after all, these corporations have sought to benefit from floods, coups, dictatorships, and other disasters to rewrite laws and push projects through while local populations are busy dealing with catastrophe and living under the gun.

In addition, the coalition especially wanted to understand what the pandemic meant for the struggles of Indigenous peoples and other mining-affected communities on the frontlines with whom we work in solidarity.

This collaborative research effort has involved local partners in 23 countries to document what it’s been like trying to protect community health from the ravages of the pandemic — while also fighting against the threat of losing their water and territory from the long-term impacts of gold, iron-ore, copper, nickel, coal, and lithium mining.

The 23 countries where we looked at cases have recorded 29 percent of the world’s known COVID cases, 43 percent of recorded COVID-related deaths, and include two of the top ten countries for the highest mortality rates (calculated by dividing the number of recorded COVID cases by the number of COVID related deaths). In order, these are Peru and Mexico. (Ecuador, where we looked at another case study, now ranks 11th.)

As expected, our recently released Latin America report No Reprieve demonstrates how COVID-19 restrictions seem to have been made to fit the mining industry. As Price Waterhouse Cooper observed in its 2021 Great Expectations report on the global mining industry, “by any important measure, mining is one of the few industries that emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape.”

Precious metal prices rose in the context of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, leading to historic profits for some companies despite lower production in 2020. Prices for base metals, such as copper, soon followed as markets opened up. This was much earlier than the lifting of social constraints, putting affected communities at an even greater disadvantage than before the pandemic in their struggles for water, land, and survival.

No Reprieve for Mining Affected Communities

The lengthy lockdowns and other public health measures that were put in place not only spelled greater socio-economic crisis than before for these communities. They also meant greater difficulty or outright bans on meeting together to discuss concerns about environmental contamination, hardship, mining projects, and the greater difficulty of dealing with government offices responsible for permitting and inspections.

Online meetings were often inadequate or unavailable. When there was no other option but to get together to protest, the risks were greater than ever.

In Brazil, as in many other countries in Latin America, mining has continued pretty much without interruption since the start of the pandemic. For over a year, the community of Aurizona in the state of Maranhão has been living without an adequate supply of drinking water since the rupture of a tailings dam at the Aurizona gold mine owned by Mineração Aurizona S.A. (MASA), a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Equinox Gold.

On March 25, 2021, at the height of the pandemic in this part of northwestern Brazil, the Lagoa do Pirocaua tailings dam overflowed, contaminating the water supplies of this community of 4,000 people. Despite company promises, the community continues to lack adequate water supplies. Meanwhile, the company obtained a legal ruling that prohibits street blockades and filed a lawsuit against five movement leaders to try to deter their organizing.

In Colombia, Indigenous Wayúu and Afro-descendant communities in the La Guajira region experienced heightened risks from the continued operation of the Cerrejón mining complex, the largest open-pit thermal coal mine in Latin America. This mine is now owned exclusively by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, which consolidated its control over the mine in January 2022 when it purchased the shareholdings of Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

This mine has already operated for over three decades and displaced dozens of communities. In September 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, asked the Colombian government to at least temporarily suspend Cerrejón’s operations, pointing out that the contamination, health impacts, and lack of water the communities already faced increased the risk of death from COVID-19.

Instead, the mine continued and even accelerated operations, while communities suffered serious physical and emotional impacts from greater social confinement and loss of subsistence economic activities. The company donated food and safety equipment to improve its image, but this generated divisions and disagreements among communities that were difficult to resolve given the restrictions on meetings.

Making this situation worse, the government and companies have refused to respect a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that recognized violations of community rights to water, food, sovereignty, and health in authorizing the diversion of the Bruno Creek’s natural course to expand coal extraction. Instead, since mid 2021, Glencore and Anglo American have been suing the Colombian government under the terms of bilateral international investment agreements with Switzerland and the United Kingdom for not letting them expand the mine.

Militarized Mining

Not only did the spaces for community organizing shrink, disappear, or just get a lot harder, violence got worse in many places. In many cases, there was heavy-handed repression, heightened militarization, and ongoing legal persecution of land and environment defenders.

In Honduras, the Tocoa Municipal Committee for the Defense of the Natural and Public Commons spent nearly the entire first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic fighting for the freedom of eight water defenders who were arbitrarily detained for their peaceful opposition to an iron ore project owned by the Honduran company Los Pinares Investments.

They were only freed in February 2022, after the narcodictatorship of former President Juan Orlando Hernández lost power to the country’s first female president, Xiomara Castro. Meanwhile the company, which has ties to U.S. steel company Nucor, managed to start operations in mid 2021 without obtaining the required environmental permit, immediately putting in danger the future of the San Pedro river on which downstream communities depend.

In Mexico, a special group of public armed forces called the Mining Police was inaugurated in 2020, aimed at protecting mining facilities from mineral theft. The recruitment of troops was announced for the first time in July of that year, during an online event entitled “The reactivation of mining in the face of the new normality.” By the end of September 2020, the first 118 federal officers with military training had graduated and were deployed to guard the La Herradura gold mine owned by the Mexican company Fresnillo plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and owned by Industrias Peñoles.

In contrast, no measures have been taken to lower the levels of subjugation, extortion, forced displacement, and violence against the communities that inhabit these same areas — such as the community of El Bajío, which neighbors the La Herradura mine, where the Penmont company from the same business group operated illegally until 2013.

Members of the community of El Bajío have faced violence since this time, despite receiving 67 favorable rulings declaring the land occupation agreements of the community members affected by the Mexican company Penmont (a subsidiary of Fresnillo plc) null and void. These rulings have yet to be executed and the risks for the community have intensified.

Two members of this community were brutally assassinated in April 2021. Beside their bodies a piece of cardboard was found on which 13 names of other community members involved in the resistance to the mine were written, a clear threat. The state has not provided any protection to family members either — although there are constant patrols by state police, the National Guard, and the army to intimidate the population.

Mining for Supposed Economic Recovery

At the same time, administrative processes for companies to get new permits got easier and projects moved forward. The justification was that mineral extraction would supposedly contribute to post-pandemic economic reactivation, but it’s well known that mining tends to divert attention from more sustainable economic sectors at a national level and impoverish local communities.

In Panama and Ecuador —  both countries with few industrial mines in operation due to widespread rejection by the affected populations — there have also been attempts to accelerate mining expansion in the name of economic reactivation.

In Ecuador, there is widespread opposition to mining in the country due to its impacts on water, the country’s exceptional biodiversity, and the well-being of small farmer and Indigenous communities.

During his election campaign, current President Guillermo Lasso promoted “human rights and the rights of nature… and the protection of the environment with a sustainable agenda.” However, once he took office in May 2021, he showed his willingness to serve transnational mining interests.

On August 5, he issued Executive Decree No. 151, an “Action Plan for the Ecuadorian Mining Sector,” which seeks to accelerate mining in fragile ecosystems such as the Amazon and high-altitude wetlands (páramos). It gives legal certainty to mining companies by providing a favorable environment for investors, indicating explicit respect for international agreements that favor corporate interests. It likewise proposes the acceleration of environmental permits for mining projects without taking into account the socio-environmental impacts.

Similarly, on May 19, 2021, the Panamanian government presented its strategic plan to base its post-pandemic economic recovery on mining. Given the prevalence of corruption and the constant violations of environmental regulations and the Constitution by mining companies in Panama, citizens see this mining stimulus plan as the government aiming to enrich itself and its cronies.

Faced with the fallacy of national economic recovery through mining, a national campaign platform arose called the Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement (MPVMSM). This broad based movement of environmental organizations, teachers, workers, youth, small farmers, and Indigenous communities opposes mining and the renegotiation of the contract over the only operating mine in Panama, Cobre Panama owned by First Quantum Minerals, which they consider unconstitutional and argue should be canceled.

Despite evidence that upwards of 60 percent of Panamanians support this movement’s aims, the government insists on continuing to promote initiatives aimed at making way for mining expansion in the country.

Truly Essential Resilience and Resistance 

Despite the conditions for peoples’ struggles having gotten harder over the last two years, the resilience and resistance of people fighting from the margins for their land, their water and their community health has persisted, often with women, Indigenous peoples, and small-scale farmers at the forefront.

From Mexico to Argentina, the communities and organizations who shared their experiences for this report have found ways to continue fighting for respect for their self-determination, community health, and their own visions of their future. While some projects moved ahead, others have not been able to overcome tireless community resistance.

Whether communities are fighting to address mining harms or standing in the way of these unwanted projects, their struggles are potent examples of the sort of reimagining and digging in for fundamental change that Arundhati Roy urged at the start of this pandemic.

Through their resistance, mutual care, traditional knowledge, and efforts toward greater food sovereignty and collective wellbeing, these communities and movements demonstrate the urgent need to shift away from a destructive model of economic development that has been forced on people around the world, based on endless extraction to serve international markets with primary materials that are turned into products for mass consumption.

They point out the vital need for a serious reckoning to address the harms that have taken place and to pull back the reins on such militarized mass destruction in order to prioritize peoples’ self-determination and more sustainable ways of living. This is what is truly essential if we hope to ensure collective health and wellbeing now and for future generations.


Jen Moore is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Photo by shahin khalaji on Unsplash

Thousands March Against Killings of Indigenous Peoples in Philippine “Mining Capital”

Thousands March Against Killings of Indigenous Peoples in Philippine “Mining Capital”

By  / Intercontinental Cry

Last week, a 3,000 person-strong people’s caravan, or Lakbayan, formed on the island of Mindanao to protest the criminalization and murder of Indigenous Peoples and environmental defenders in the Philippines.

Uniting Indigenous Peoples, peasants, workers, faith groups, teachers and youth, the caravan marched for three days and over a hundred kilometers from Davao del Sur to Koronadal City under the banner ‘Resist imperialist plunder! Stop Lumad killings!’

Though the numbers reported vary, the organizers of the caravan say 144 indigenous people, environmental defenders and human rights activists have been the victims of extrajudicial killings during the reign of incumbent President Benigno Aquino.

In a statement released before the Lakbayan, the groups connected these killings and rights abuses to the increasing presence of the extractive industries in Mindanao and the Philippines.

“These human rights abuses glaringly persist in the ancestral domains where the big and foreign mining companies and agri-plantations operate,” they said.

These killings form part of a wider pattern. According to research by UK-based think tank Global Witness, two environmental defenders are killed every week as they work to protect their lands from being appropriated and exploited by mining companies and other industrial interests.

In recent years, the Philippines has become a hot spot for these killings. But, as is the case around the world, very few of those responsible for the murders of environmental defenders ever see a court of law. Around the world between 2002-2013, perpetrators of such killings were brought to justice in less than one percent of cases.


On Sept. 1, 2015 educator Emerito Samarca and two Lumad leaders, Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, who opposed large scale mining, were brutally murdered in Lianga, Mindanao. According to local reports, the men were killed in the heart of the community by members of the Maghat/Bagani paramilitary group, attached to the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Speaking at COP21 in Paris, Clemente Bautista, National Coordinator for Kalikasan PNE, described how the Armed Forces of the Philippines and affiliated paramilitaries are implicated in the terrorization of Indigenous and peasant peoples.

“The government is using militarization to protect corporate mining in the Philippines. They use the state military forces including paramilitaries to secure mining projects, quell the people’s resistance, and sow fear among the people, particularly those in mining-affected communities. Mining corporations, military and paramilitary groups employ violence such as harassment, illegal arrest and assassination, targeting anti-mining leaders,” he said.

The killings of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo are the latest in a spate of murders that has seen 56 Lumad leaders assassinated for protecting their lands and communities.

The “Lianga Massacre,” as it has become known, sparked international outrage and a day of solidarity and action that called on the Philippine Government to Stop Lumad killings. But the more diffuse consequences of the terror these kinds of killings are designed to produce have been underreported outside of the Philippines.

The relentless persecution of the Lumad People is creating a climate of terror in Mindanao that is profoundly impacting the freedom of the Lumads to live their lives freely.

In their statement before the three-day Lakbayan, organizing group Soscskargends Agenda revealed how the rising tide of violence in Mindanao has contributed to the internal displacement of up to 40,000 Lumads. The Lianga Massacre alone forced over 3,000 local Lumads to flee their isolated villages in Surigao del Sur to nearby towns, fearing for their lives.

The constant threat of violence in Mindanao and the panic migrations that result are having a particularly negative impact on Indigenous children. According to Soscskargends Agenda, at present 9 out of 10 Lumad children have no access to formal education and 87 Lumad schools are suffering from “various forms of military violence”.

“The 36th IB Philippine Army-Magahat/Bagani rampage at the ALCADEV School shows that the Aquino government has dropped all pretenses of adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments,” say the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

The Lakbayan gave the groups involved an opportunity to elevate these underrepresented issues and create a platform for several urgent demands.

The groups are calling upon the Philippine government, first and foremost, to stop the killing of Lumad people, protect indigenous and peasant schools in Mindanao, and pull the plug on the large scale multinational mining projects that they say are helping fuel poverty and violence in the Philippines.


Mindanao has become known as the “mining capital” of the Philippines. The island is peppered with 500,000 hectares of mining concessions, an area almost eight times larger than Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines. These concessions have overwhelmingly been granted to multinational corporations, many of which are registered in Global North nations such as Canada.

Other islands in the Philippines, estimated to be the sixth richest nation in the world in terms of mineral and metals, have experienced a similar expansion of large scale mining since the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942). The Act liberalized the country’s mining sector, promising economic growth and development through the exploitation of the country’s natural resources with the help of multinational corporations.

However, many Filipino civil society and indigenous groups argue that the liberalization of the mining sector has led to rising poverty, not prosperity, for Filipinos.

In a recent report,* Philippine people’s network Kalikasan PNE write that, based on data from the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue, between 1997 to 2013 less than 10% of mining revenues generated in the Philippines stayed in the country’s economy. According to their research, mining contributes only 0.7 percent to Philippine GDP and provides just 0.7% of employment.

The significance of these figures is emphasized when the costs mining corporations inflict on ecosystems and local communities are considered. The presence of multinational mining corporations in the Philippines has unleashed a tidal wave of environmental destruction on local indigenous and rural communities, costing thousands of livelihoods, devastating ecosystems and sustainable local economies.

The Marcopper disaster at a mine the owned by Canadian multinational Placer Dome on the island of Marinduque provides a good example.

On March 24, 1996 a sealed mine tunnel connected to a pit containing 23 million metric tons of mine waste fractured, leaking between 2-3 million tons of the waste into the Boac River. Residents of twenty local villages were forced to leave their homes, some of which were totally inundated by the flash flood of mine waste.

Agricultural fields were also flooded and the rapid destruction of all aquatic life in the Boac, a key source of livelihoods for local fishing communities, led the Philippine government to declare the river dead. Local peoples had already suffered decades of chronic environmental pollution, loss of livelihoods and ill health as the result of mining.

Dozens of other mining disasters have occurred in the period since the Mining Act of 1995 was passed. “Simply put,” write the authors of Kalikasan’s report, “we have experienced two decades of mining plunder.”


The two decades since Mining Act of 1995 was signed into existence have also been characterized by escalating resistance efforts from Indigenous Peoples, peasants and their supporters at the local, national and international levels.

Indigenous Peoples in particular have taken a stand to defend their territories, even taking up arms to protect their lands. In some cases this sustained resistance has been successful in preventing mining projects going ahead.

In June 2015, the Indigenous B’laan people and Philippine environmental groups celebrated mining giant Glencore Xstrata’s decision to pull out of the highly contested Tampakan copper-gold mining project. The company had been attempting to get mining under way since taking ownership of the project in 2001, but met powerful resistance from the B’laan.

The Philippine government’s response to such strong, sustained and well organized resistance has been to increasingly militarize areas where multinationals are operating, as seen in the case of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo.

The organizers of the recent Lakbayan say the current Aquino government’s “vicious internal security doctrine,” Oplan Bayanihan, is being used as a cover to to attack the schools, communities and leaders of those who actively resist mining.

The stated aim of Oplan Bayanihan, a government counter insurgency program, is to squash the New People’s Army (NPA), a communist guerrilla group that has been warring with the Philippine government for over two decades. However, the powers contained in the plan are also used to criminalize anti-mining activists who threaten the interests of multinationals in regions like Mindanao.

These activists are frequently accused, by the government, military and paramilitaries, of being connected with the NPA. Branded as anti-government rebels their intimidation, incarceration and/or murder is effectively excused.

But even this systematic state repression is not stopping people standing up for their rights, says Bautista.

“We say more oppression breeds stronger resistance. Surely the government and corporations will continue to trample the rights of the indigenous people and other sectors. This will make Indigenous Peoples and ordinary people more united and their collective struggle stronger.”

Holding cultural events, forums and symbolic actions along the way, the recent Lakbayan paid testimony to this theory, as people voted with their feet and raised their voices for justice.

*The report, Kalibutan: Stories and lessons from the Filipino people’s struggle for the environment, is not yet available online. Visit Kalikasan PNE’s website to make inquiries and find out more.