Frontline communities affected by mining projects call for international solidarity against transnational corporations

Community representatives and activists from Colombia, Brazil and Chile have been in London this week to share their experiences and call for international solidarity with mining-affected communities against the power of transnational corporations. The group of community and environmental defenders were invited to the UK as part of London Mining Network and War on Want’s #UnmaskingBHP week of action. These events and mobilisations coincided with the AGM of the world’s largest mining company, BHP. This included a demonstration outside the annual shareholders’ meeting last Tuesday where UK activists, NGOs and trade unionists stood in solidarity with frontline human rights defenders against BHP’s extractivist model and attempts at greenwashing.

Activists stand in solidarity with frontline communities outside of the AGM of world’s largest mining company BHP

The need for a just transition to a post-extractivist society

Alvaro Ipuana (indigenous community leader from Nuevo Espinal, Colombia) and Catalina Caro (from CENSAT – Friends of the Earth Colombia) spoke with London Mining Network on 15 October to highlight the ongoing threat to the human rights of the La Guajira community from the Carbones del Cerrejón coal operation. Carbones del Cerrejón is jointly owned by BHP, Anglo American and Glencore. Its coal mine in La Guajira, as Alvaro told us, has severely impacted the health of local communities, contaminating water sources and causing high rates of cancer among children. During a recent expansion of the mine, Carbones del Cerrejon have diverted the local Bruno river, an illegal act which has damaged the ecosystems and communities of La Guajira in the process.

Communities in and around La Guajira are intensely concerned about the long-term impact that mining projects will have on the health and mental health of their families. They are also concerned about the economic impact of the mine which, Alvaro argued, suppresses the local economy and makes a transition to non-extractive models more difficult.

Whilst organisations such as CENSAT, trade unions and indigenous communities are mobilising in support of a just transition to a post-extractivist society, Colombia’s national and regional governments have supported an expansion in mining since 2015. CENSAT has been involved in an ongoing consultation process to devise a solution to the needs of the local economy without resorting to resource extraction. However, as Catalina highlighted, Colombia’s zonas protegidas (“protected zones”) are increasingly militarised, dangerous spaces for environmental defenders and community leaders like Alvaro.

Communities affected by the Cerrejón coal operation have produced a series of demands which will be presented to BHP this week, including the need to:

  • End the diversion of the Bruno river
  • Develop an adequate plan for a just transition in consultation with those who will be most directly affected by it, including workers. This transition plan would need to include the closure of the mine and alternative livelihood plans for those who are no longer able to live by agriculture because of mine expansion
  • Reduce the effects of the mine’s operations on human health and the local environment
  • Improve the standard of resettlements
  • Protect community leaders and local activists

You can support these demands by signing the petition in protest against the diversion of the Bruno river on the War on Want website.

Communities in La Guajira are working with CENSAT to demand a just transition to a post-extraction society

Tackling corporate impunity

On 21 October, Brazilian activist Tchenna Maso spoke at Global Justice Now about her involvement with the Movimiento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB – Movement for People Affected by Dams) and the ongoing impact of the Samarco Dam collapse on the health and human rights of local communities in Mariana district. MAB is aiming to draw greater international attention to the Samarco case in the run up to the fourth anniversary this November, and to put pressure on the mining corporation Vale to support the reconstruction of houses in Mariana. MAB also hopes to demonstrate the severe impact of the collapse on the health, mental health, and local water sources of the local community, whilst also campaigning for technical assistance to enable communities to fully understand the long-term impacts of the disaster.

In January this year, another dam operated by Vale collapsed in Brumadinho, killing almost 250 people. Vale has agreed to pay compensation to the victims of the dam collapse but is still undergoing a criminal investigation for allegedly covering up structural weaknesses in the dam. There are currently 17 dams in the state of Minas Gerais alone which are in a “state of alert”. As Tchenna told us, this means that the communities who live near these dams are in a permanent state of alert themselves with a severely detrimental effect on their mental health.

In response to the current situation in Brazil, MAB are calling for:

  • The right of communities to independent technical environmental and socio-economic assessments of the impacts of the Samarco disaster on their livelihoods and territories
  • Affected communities to be allowed to participate fully in the established mechanisms for the reparations process 
  • Transparency from mining companies about their tailings dams (toxic waste dumps for mines) like in Sarmarco and Brumadinho
  • A fully-funded programme for risk-reduction and eventual elimination of existing tailings dams

In order to limit the excessive power and impunity with which transnational corporations (TNCs) like Vale act, Tchenna is also supporting the UN process for the negotiation of a Binding Treaty on TNCs. Last week, trade unionists, environmental NGOs and civil society groups organised a week of mobilisation in Geneva to encourage state negotiators to support the process and prevent the watering down of the final text.

How to show solidarity and take action

As the visit by community defenders and activists has shown this week, there is an urgent need for individuals and organisations in the UK to show international solidarity with communities affected by mining and those on the frontline of climate crisis.

To show solidarity with frontline communities facing the worst effects of climate change you can join our Climate Justice Network or affiliate your local group / organisation to our Internationalist Network.

To learn more about communities most affected by mining projects listed on the London Stock Exchange and how you can help to challenge the actions of TNCs, visit the London Mining Network website.

To remove corporate courts from trade and investment deals to ensure that transnational corporations can’t sue governments who are taking action against climate change for loss of profits, sign our petition.


Photos from #UnmaskingBHP protest organised by War on Want and London Mining Network. Credit: Mark Kerrison

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