Mining in the time of COVID-19

Hello friends, 

We hope you’re doing as well as possible during these times of both incredible difficulty and powerful global uprising. Many of you, like us, may be spending a lot of time figuring out what effective activism looks like in the new terrain of a pandemic that asks many to stay home while others risk their lives in workplaces that have been deemed “essential.” 

Amidst all the headlines about COVID-19 you may have noticed a few stories squeak by about the ways in which extractive industries are profiteering in these times of crisis. Many of you saw back in March that while many small businesses and some entire industries questioned whether they would have a future, mining projects were put on the list of essential services in Ontario. But that’s not all that’s been happening. 

On June 2nd, our allies at MiningWatch Canada released a report alongside a number of other organizations around the world that detailed four key mining industry trends during the COVID-19 pandemic that pose an immediate threat to mining-impacted communities. Like many others, we are deeply troubled by the mining industry’s despicable practices in a time when people are trying to keep their communities alive and safe from COVID-19. 

While the world is dealing with the public health emergency of COVID-19, mining companies around the world continue their exploitative extraction of resources, putting local and Indigenous communities at further risk. Companies have been linked to numerous virus outbreaks and have often refused to stop activities to investigate or to protect their workers. A few recent examples of mining companies’ COVID-19 outbreaks and inaction include:

  • In Peru, at the huge Antamina copper mine that Teck co-owns with Glencore and BHP, the company denied there was an outbreak when workers complained that many of them were suffering symptoms, and refused to shut down the mine. A little more than two weeks later, one worker was reported dead and another 210 infected
  • At Hudbay’s Constancia mine in Peru, at least 21 workers mine have tested positive for COVID-19, putting the Indigenous communities living in the area at serious risk.  
  • Solaris Resources has been linked to a possible outbreak in the Shuar Arutam People community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, putting the local Indigenous population at grave risk. 

There are many compounding risks to mining during a pandemic. We know that mines are often located in remote areas where communities have little access to hospitals and emergency equipment, leaving them without the health supports they need during this crisis. We also know that mine workers work in confined spaces and in close proximity, encouraging the virus to spread at high speed. An outbreak could be catastrophic for populations already suffering from respiratory conditions and air pollution from mining activities and from limited access to water, taken from them by mines that consume water in large quantities. 

While the entire world was glued to watching virus transmission rates soar, many mining companies have been operating as though we are not in a pandemic at all, expecting Indigenous communities to continue with all permitting processes despite all of their resources going towards keeping safe from the COVID-19 virus. For example, Chief Chris Moonias from Neskantaga First Nation in the so-called Ring of Fire has spoken publicly about how he has been pulled between pandemic preparation and participating in consultation processes, for fear that the consultation would stop altogether. In early June, nine faculty members at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School sent a letter to Minister Greg Rickford, imploring the provincial government to press pause on mineral staking and permitting processes on Indigenous territory during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MISN supports all communities resisting mining extraction and struggling to protect themselves from the irresponsible and dangerous actions of mining companies during the pandemic. We continue to  demand the immediate cessation of all mining activities to protect communities around the world from the virus. 

We also support the demands articulated in the global solidarity letter, including the following:

  • We call on national governments to respect and support the autonomous organizing and self-determining processes of mining-affected communities and Indigenous peoples. Their efforts are vital to protecting community health and the environment, informed by their own knowledge and traditions, as well as to the food sovereignty of rural and urban populations through small-scale agriculture and other productive activities. Economic “reactivation” must not promote more mining, but should, instead, acknowledge and bolster community-based initiatives. 
  • We call on international human rights bodies to pay close attention and actively condemn human rights violations committed by governments and mining corporations during the pandemic and the recovery period to follow. We stand in solidarity with the frontline communities, Indigenous peoples and workers most affected by the COVID-19 crisis and the mining industry’s response. We call on others to support them in their vital campaigns for collective wellbeing and justice.

 

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