‘Our Resistance, Our Hope’: A global unity forged to resist devastation of global mining liberalization

IMG_0138By Ashok Shrimali*

After  three days of extensive discussions, shared stories, and strategic planning, a global unity was forged by more than 140 representatives of mining-affected communities, people’s organizations and other concerned groups and individuals from over 29 countries and six continents, who had come together in the International People’s Conference on Mining 2015 (IPCM) held from July 30 to August 1, 2015 in Quezon City, Philippines.

In a unity statement released on the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of the Philex mine spill, one of the historically largest mine spill disasters in the world that occurred in the province of Benguet in the Philippines, the participants of the IPCM expressed their growing collective awareness of the crisis in the global mining industry, and witnessed its victimization of the people and the environment.

The statement said, “We are conscious of mining projects and their collaborators increasingly aggravating mining liberalization, inequitable tax regimes, and investor-state agreements, seeking massive profits and becoming more reckless in their production processes, neglecting with impunity the safety of their workers, affected communities, and the environment.”

The statement underlined, “This convergence of various experiences of resistance and struggle, gaining lessons from victories as well as defeats, has brought us inspiration and hope, and has given us steadfast resolve to stop the further onslaught of imperialist mining plunder and greed against the people and the environment.”

“Towards this end, we thus commit ourselves to engage in people’s campaigns and researches on destructive mining vis-à-vis climate change, human rights violations, ecological and health impacts, national mining policies, corporate and financial aspects of mining activities, and the engagement of emerging economies in international mining”, it pointed out.

Vowing to coordinate and strengthen legal actions and policy advocacies towards the repeal of mining liberalization laws, and the development and enforcement of positive laws that promote and protect the rights of the people, the statement said, “Towards this end, we support the initiative towards the creation of an international center for legal research on destructive mining.”

It added, “We aim to strengthen science-based tools and methods that can be adapted to empower local communities to monitor the environmental and health impacts of mining, towards strengthening support networks by scientists to mine-affected communities.”

Underlining the need to “unite to forge solidarity among various social movements and sectors towards strengthening and expanding networks”, the statement said, there was a need to build “capacities especially among mining-affected communities, towards the establishment of a global coordinating mechanism that can serve as a point of confluence for various networks and initiatives across the globe.”

“We hope that in working separately in our own contexts and countries, and together through coordinated international actions and solidarity to heighten our collective resistance for the defense of rights, environment and a common future, will bring forth triumph for people over profit, nature over neoliberal mining policies, and for social justice to prevail over death and destruction”, it concluded.

Discussions at the meet

During the international meet, speakers extensively discussed the bearing of the current economic crisis experienced by the global mining industry. Host country Philippines served as a microcosm of the global mining crisis, as it grapples with 20 years of mining liberalization under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that was imposed through structural adjustment programs of international financing institutions World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“Under the auspices of mining liberalization, large-scale mining in the Philippines skyrocketed from 17 operations in 1997 to 46 at present and has generated PHP1.31 trillion worth of minerals in terms of total production value in the same time. Such industry growth, enjoyed only by a handful of mining transnational corporations (TNCs), comes at the cost of people’s lives, livelihood and environment,” explained Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the PH-based Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, one of the lead organizers of the IPCM.

With mineral prices generally in a down trend and with a sharp decrease in net profit, productivity and market value since 2011, large-scale mines have resorted to utilizing cheaper mining technologies such as open-pit and mountaintop removal mining, and drastically cutting costs in terms of environmental safety and workers welfare.

“The recent tragedy in the Philippines’ Semirara coal mine is the latest in a worsening global trend of mining disasters brought about by the clear criminal negligence by mining TNCs. Just last year, more than 300 of my countrymen perished in one of the world’s largest mining disasters in the Soma coal mine, and justice presently remains elusive. Now more than ever do we need a united people’s struggle worldwide to defend the people’s rights and environment,” said Atty Selçuk Kozağaçlı, chairperson of the Progressive Lawyers Association (CHD-Turkey) and legal counsel of the victims’ families in the Soma underground mine fire in Turkey.

Representatives from North America, Latin America, Africa, West Pacific, and Asia affirmed the trends of crisis in their sharing of their respective regional mining situationers.

Spectre of Chinese mining

IPCM participants also noted the spread of Chinese mining across the globe. Consuming more than 25 percent of the world’s metal supplies and accounting for as much as 40-50 percent of global mineral commodity demand, China is expected to affect the entire mining industry as it currently faces an unprecedented economic slowdown.

“China’s growing aggression is not only in the shoals of the South China Sea, but in the expansion of Chinese mining interests across the world as well. There are said to be more than 24 Chinese mining companies in the Philippines ranging from black sand to gold and copper. Both the oil-and-gas-driven maritime aggression and the mineral plunder are perceived to be linked to China’s attempt to bolster its industrial production, especially in its burgeoning military industrial complex,” Bautista noted.

According to Ki Bagus Hadi Kusuma, campaigner of the Indonesia-based JATAM Mining Advocacy Network, “Chinese mining corporations in the Indonesia have earned a bad reputation for their lack of due diligence over environmental concerns. Hongkong-based iron mining company has been illegally operating in Bangka Island in Northern Sulawesi, which is a known diverse and rich marine ecosystem that is part of the famed Coral Triangle.”

The Coral Triangle is a roughly triangular marine corridor spanning the countries of Indonesia, Magalaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste that contains at least 500 coral species in each ecoregion. Large-scale mining threats abound in most of these littoral countries, such as Canadian mining company MRL-Egerton and Norwegian firm Intex Resources in the Philippines, and the controversial Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea.

Heightening people’s struggles

A running narrative in the IPCM talks and workshops, however, demonstrated a growing people’s resistance that is effectively opposing the adverse impacts to society and environment by large-scale mining.

“The backdrop of the IPCM is the heightening people’s struggles against mining liberalization and plunder, from the strong opposition to mining projects around the Verde Island Passage, the ‘center of the center’ of marine biodiversity in the world, to the pull-out of Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore amidst huge protests and people’s armed defense,” said Bautista.

In his keynote address at the first day of the IPCM, Atty Kozağaçlı said that “we should not forget the fact that it is the determined, relentless, pure greed of profit that we are up against,” highlighting the need to uphold people’s rights against mining liberalization interests.

“The rising trend of resource nationalism by governments, such as in the ban of certain mineral exports in Indonesia, is compelled by the sustained protest of people’s movements demanding that mining should benefit people and planet, not big business profits. The people’s actions are truly making the difference,” added  Kusuma.

*Ahmedabad-based activist with civil society group Mines, Minerals and People, Delhi, who participated at the international meet 

 

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