- Canadian companies are abusing the pandemic to profit and promote their activities at the expense of community and worker health.
- Major outbreaks occurred in Canada and at Canadian-owned mines around the world
- First Nations and Indigenous communities in Canada and abroad hit hard by mine-related spread
A new report from MiningWatch Canada and a consortium of international organisations reveals how, in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the mining industry has been declared ‘essential’ in many countries worldwide and allowed to operate amid government lockdowns, with devastating results for communities and mineworkers. The analysis draws from field reports and a review of nearly 500 media, company, and civil society statements, 180 of which are directly related to community and/or workers’ concerns.
The authors note that mine sites worldwide are emerging as hot spots of the disease, putting workers and nearby Indigenous and rural communities, many of whom already suffer mining-related health impacts, as well as other risk factors, at grave risk. Over 4,000 workers in 18 countries have tested positive since the pandemic was declared. This is a relatively small sample of operating mines. Lack of testing, coupled with limited public reporting and oversight, means these numbers are likely severely underreported.
The report reveals that companies continued to operate as serious outbreaks hit mine sites in Canada and at Canadian-owned mines around the world. In Panama, the report notes, several workers tested positive and one worker died before First Quantum Minerals suspended operations at the Cobre Panama mine. Over a hundred workers there have now tested positive, more than 850 have been placed in quarantine, and five workers have died.
“Many governments seem to be reluctant to limit mining operations even in the face of grave risks to communities and workers,” commented Kirsten Francescone, MiningWatch Canada researcher and one of the authors of the report. “Keeping people on the job, despite the danger, not only helps mining companies keep their cash flow going, but it also means governments don’t have to provide support for furloughed workers.”
These cases are not isolated. Canadian mining companies appear to dominate the database from which the report was drawn. Over a third of the outbreaks reported from 61 mines around the world were at Canadian-operated mines, with over 500 workers reported positive and 175 people affected by transmission of the virus. Over 60% of COVID-19 deaths were at Canadian-operated mines, and 100% of reported community transmission resulting in death, were connected to Canadian-operated mines.
Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by the virus, where 100% of worker to community transmission from Canadian operated mines included Indigenous peoples, and 100% of the mine-related COVID-19 community deaths were in Indigenous communities.
In Ecuador, ten members of the Indigenous Shuar Arutam communities are believed to have contracted the virus from community members’ participation in Canadian company Solaris Copper’s delegation to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC), “coronavirus convention” in Toronto at the beginning of March, and two have died so far from apparent COVID-19 infection.
In Ontario, the report highlights the concern of the Gull Bay First Nation when an outbreak hit South African-owned Impala Canada’s nearby Lac des Iles mine, as members of the community became infected from a worker from the mine. Eventually, at least 25 workers and eight Gull Bay First Nation members were infected, and one worker died, all victims of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s “mining-as-essential-service” policy. The First Nation has also expressed concerns with the company’s recent announcement that it would resume operations.
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, and Canadian companies are no exception.
In Turkey, people camping out in protest against Alamos Gold’s Kirazli mine were violently evicted by the authorities who cited COVID-19 as the reason for their forced removal. The activists were subsequently fined over US$7,000, with the authorities citing disobedience of COVID-19 sanitary measures. Mine development had been suspended since October 2019 in the face of the protest.
In Mexico, labour activist Oscar Ontiveros Martínez was reported to have been murdered on May 12 by community police linked to organized crime, that operate around Torex Gold’s mine in Guerrero. Ontiveros Martínez’ assassination has been connected with his involvement in a 2017 strike involving about 600 workers who sought to change unions, a struggle that has led to at least three murders and one disappearance to date.
In Ecuador, three members of the public service (a firefighter, a police officer and a municipal councillor) were arrested when protesters were gassed while attempting to block workers from Lundin Mining’s Fruta del Norte mine, for fear of COVID-19 spreading to Indigenous Amazonian communities. The Mayor, who attended the protest, was quoted saying, “First comes health, then comes gold”.
The report also highlights how companies are using the pandemic as a public relations opportunity, to position themselves as saviours to the public health crisis. Canadian company Teck Resources pledged $20 million globally to protect public health and well-being, but did not suspend its operations. As a result, a major outbreak occurred at Teck’s partly-owned Antamina mine, where over 200 workers tested positive and one worker has died. Teck has been accused of failing to protect workers in Canada and in Chile, and of putting communities already facing health challenges at grave risk of infection.
The company also misled the public in an April 9 letter to The Globe and Mail in response to alleged lack of care towards its workforce, stating that “no positive cases existed at its operations,” when in fact the Antamina outbreak had already begun.
Pan American Silver is highlighted for collecting signatures while handing out foodstuffs to communities affected by the suspended Escobal mine, actions that were condemned by the Xinka Parliament as being in bad faith with respect to an ongoing consultation process that has already been condemned as discriminatory.
Donations that Barrick Gold made to several national governments in Africa were also flagged in the report as in need of public oversight, and potentially pressuring those countries to not take measures to restrict mining operations during the pandemic.
Finally, the authors note that companies are using the pandemic to push regulatory change that benefits the industry. In Canada, provincial governments in both Alberta and Ontario have moved to waive environmental reporting and enforcement. “We are constantly being told how responsible these companies are, yet apparently even minimal environmental protection is too onerous for them when times are tough,” said Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “At a time when people are looking for better health protection, allowing more pollution and environmental degradation is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
The report, “Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was jointly produced by 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 organizations.
The report was written in support of a global statement condemning the mining industry for pandemic profiteering, released today and signed by over 300 organizations around the world.
For more information, contact:
- Kirsten Francescone, MiningWatch Canada, [email protected], +1 (437) 345-9881
The report is available here.