During the COVID-19 pandemic in North America, there has been a significant deepening of the racist and colonial power asymmetry between mining companies and communities. Companies have seized upon the pandemic moment to circumvent mandatory consultation processes and violate the rights of Indigenous communities, including by pushing ahead with controversial Environmental Impact Assessments and rolling back agreed-upon and legislated environmental protections, all during a period when community monitoring capacity has been stretched. Governments have exacerbated this imbalance, spending billions of dollars directly and indirectly in subsidizing controversial mining projects, even in the face of community opposition.
Moreover, we find that states and companies have worked together to make sure mining continues throughout the pandemic, creating significant and unnecessary health risks for workers and communities alike. Even in the face of serious community concerns, governments in Canada and the United States were quick to designate mining as an “essential service” during the pandemic. (Quebec was an initial exception, although it also ended up granting the “essential” designation to mining companies a month after other Canadian jurisdictions had done so.) Several major COVID-19 outbreaks, affecting thousands of people, have been traced to mine sites in Canada. Many mines in the region employ a fly-in, fly-out workforce, adding to the risk of COVID-19 transmission to and from population centres in the South.
We also highlight how the pandemic has provided a window of opportunity for companies and governments to further entrench the mining sector in public consciousness by arguing that the sector is key to post-pandemic economic recovery. These arguments are frequently built on the tenuous claim that mined minerals will contribute to the “green energy transition”, even as mining projects continue to unleash considerable environmental damage.
Finally, it is also important to highlight how community resistance has secured significant wins. In Nunavut (Canada), workers were sent home with pay for multiple months after members of one mining- affected community blocked the mine’s access road to demand better health and safety protections in the early days of the pandemic state of emergency. Land defenders continue to adapt and care for one another and the planet, despite the challenges of the times.
The Coalition Against the Mining Pandemic is a group of environmental justice organizations, networks and initiatives from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America working in global solidarity with communities, Indigenous peoples and workers to respond to mining abuses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report forms part of a global research collaboration, which includes case studies developed in partnership with communities and grassroots groups in 23 countries. The Coalition has published reports based on parallel analyses in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America.