The global mining industry plays a crucial role in the world economy as it contributes a massive amount of billions of dollars from around the world. In 2018 alone, the 40 top mining companies have reported a total revenue of 683 billion US dollars. The unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought the world economy to its knees with $8.8 billion worth of mining output currently at risk.
With border controls, lockdowns and restrictions on people’s mobility, the global economy has been clearly crippled by the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As of August 14, 2020, it has infected 20 million people with at least 749,000 deaths. Amid this “new normal”, how does global mining Industry fare?
Hannibal Rhoades, Regional Coordinator to Northern Europe of Yes to Life, No to Mining has cited the report “Voices from the Ground, How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic” to discuss the current state of the mining industry in a webinar organized by International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM), International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) Commission 19, Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED), Yes to Life No to Mining, and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) last June 5, 2020. Attended by over 150 people, the webinar fostered a common analysis of the current impact of the pandemic to the global mining industry and mining-affected communities.
New Normal, New Weapon
In the webinar, Mr. Rhoades delved in the desperate measures that mining companies implement to continue the profiteering amid the pandemic. In some cases, the mining companies have filed to governments for lockdown exemptions to continue its operations, making the industry a hotbed of the virus. These exemptions have put their workers and their communities in grave health and safety risk; these are far-flung areas with limited access to healthcare services.
For example, a Panama mine operated by Canada-owned First Quantum Minerals has secured government exemption from the lockdown to continue its operation. By March 24, several workers have contracted COVID-19 and by April 4, it has recorded one fatality. The following day, the Panama government ordered the mining company to halt its operations temporarily. By April 30, the virus has infected 106 workers while they quarantined 850 and 5 workers have reportedly died.
Mr. Rhoades further explained that “Mining companies are ignoring the actual threats of the pandemic and continuing to operate using any means available. Governments are taking extraordinary measures to shut down legitimate protests and promote the mining sector.” It has been noted that the industry has been weaponizing the pandemic as a tool to squash anti-large scale mining initiatives and movements in the guise of “health and social distancing protocols.” This is the case of anti-mining activists in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines against Australia’s mining giant Oceana Gold. It can be recalled that the police have violently dispersed the “people’s barricade” last 6th April 2020 despite peaceful assembly and while social distancing measures are in place.
Public Image Over Public Health
Mining companies are maximizing the pandemic as an opportunity for public relations as they rely heavily on positive public image. Mr. Rhoades has scored the hypocrisy of the mining industry for giving out millions of test kits, even if they compromise the health and safety of their workers.
He cited a case of a private Canadian company Dalradian Resources where the company has donated 50,000 GBP donation to cancer support charity Marie Curie for COVID-19 relief in Northern Ireland. Local activists have noted that the company is planning to mine the Sperrin Mountains where some of the highest concentrations of radon gas in the United Kingdom (UK) are located. Radon gas is a known carcinogen and may expose the community to cancer should the plan come into fruition.
He also added that In some African countries, Australian company Barick Gold has been contributing monies for COVID-19 response. It has donated 1.5 million USD in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for emergency COVID-19 funds, 1.3 million USD in Tanzania, and 1.3 million USD directly to the ministry of mines in the Ivory Coast. Reasons are unclear why these hefty amounts other than the pandemic itself. Meanwhile, mining companies have abandoned the long-term health that affects their workers and the mining communities.
Regressive Regulation Reforms
COVID-19 continues to infect millions of people around the world and the health, safety, and livelihood of real essential workers are in peril. Amid all of these, the mining industry had the audacity to call itself “essential” for economic recovery in the present and in the future. Mining companies and governments are using this justification to lobby for the deregulation of the already poorly regulated mining sector.
True enough, many countries have eased the measures resulting in a massive increase in application for exploration and extraction. Communities are struggling to find information; consultations are online, shrinking the spaces for democratic dialogues. Such is the case in Alberta, Canada where the local government suspended at least 19 requirements for the oil sands mining industry. The suspension came following the on-site air and water quality monitoring amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was done without the consultation of the Indigenous First nation.
Another example would be the controversial mining law that was passed in Indonesia. The mining law was frozen last year due to public protest, but with the lack of public spaces, it was successfully passed into law this year amid the pandemic. The law was heavily criticized for having zero protection against urgent issues concerning the environment and human rights abuses in mining communities; rather, it legalizes the “automatic contract renewal” of mining companies.
Mr. Rhoades has synthesized that the mining industry and some states are engaged in disaster capitalism. They are weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic as a tool to expand and strengthen the industry at the expense of people’s rights, community welfare, and the environment. Frontline communities who oppose the industry are threatened, while workers’ health and safety are seriously at risk.
The industry and state response should be seen in the light of larger energy, technological and industrial transitions underway globally. They are positioning themselves to benefit. COVID-19 is showing us that a “justice transition is a post-extractive transition”. He concluded by saying that “Our campaigns must address extractivism and its systemic drivers, not just individual mines or companies.”
 Garside, M. (2020, June 16). Leading mining companies total revenue 2019. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/208715/total-revenue-of-the-top-mining-companies/
 Covid-19 disrupts $8.8 billion of global mining output. (2020, July 16). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.mining.com/covid-19-disrupts-8-8-billion-of-global-mining-output/
 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. (2020). Voices from the Ground, How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://miningwatch.ca/publications/2020/6/2/voices-ground-how-global-mining-industry-profiting-covid-19-pandemic