Environmental and Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) from the frontlines of mining struggles in the Philippines, Colombia and Uganda travelled to London to expose the true costs of the UK’s extensive ties to the global mining industry and oppose the Mines and Money Conference.
The annual Mines and Money brought together more than 2,000 mining company representatives and investors hoping to cut deals that expand one of the world’s deadliest, most polluting industries.
Keynote speeches were delivered by Arron Banks, the Brexit financier, and Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader.. They provided advice on how mining companies can most ably exploit the political and economic climate post-Brexit, especially with regards to extracting wealth from the global south.
The delegation of frontline defenders formed part of a week of creative action called Rise, Resist, Renew: Alternatives to Mines and Money. The action was designed to highlight London’s role in the expansion of global mining destruction, reminding UK citizens that deals struck here often mean displacement, destruction and death for communities living on mineral-rich lands around the world.
The express aim of Mines and Money, which took place last month, is to match-make big money with big mines, helping finance flow to new and undeveloped projects – it advertises itself as the event where ‘deals get done’.
The mines that result are getting bigger, deadlier and more prone to catastrophic disasters. Mining is currently the world’s most deadly industry for the people who stand in the way of mining projects, and for those who lose lands and livelihoods to its operations.
As a hub of global mining finance and power, London is a logical location for the conference. Many of the world’s biggest mining companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange and conduct their business through London. Still more companies are listed on the city’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM).
British high street and investment banks, pension funds and insurance companies invest hundreds of millions of pounds a year in mining projects across the globe, connecting working people’s earnings in Britain with the struggles of mining-affected communities around the world.
The mining industry also enjoys deep and longstanding connections with the UK government, which often gives UK-based mining companies diplomatic support overseas, even when their activities are opposed by local people.
Just 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources, according to a 2016 report from War on Want. They are enabled by the UK government’s power and influence.
The report highlights a pattern human rights abuses, forced migration and ecological destruction that is characteristic of neo-colonial extraction pervasive throughout the global south. This further demonstrates the UK’s role as a safe haven for the mining industry.
Around the world, the operations of UK-linked mining companies are facing staunch resistance from communities seeking to protect land, water and livelihoods from the impacts of mining. This resistance is rendered invisible at Mines and Money, which presides over panels on ‘responsible’, ‘sustainable’ mining without seeking contributions from affected communities.
Throughout the week of the conference, the delegation of EHRDs from Colombia, the Philippines and Uganda shared their experiences of the impacts of UK-linked mining projects in their territories, and of their resistance, with the UK public, NGOs and government officials.
Camila Mendez from youth collective COSAJUCA in Cajamarca, Colombia, shared her experience of Cajamarca’s recent popular consultation on mining, in which 98 percent of residents who turned out voted to ban AngloGold Ashanti’s planned La Colosa gold mine. Throughout the week, Camila called on the UK to support popular consultations, even as Colombia’s Central government seeks to restrict them.
“We are living in a mining dictatorship”, says Camila. “Our government needs to stop pushing mining and recognise the constitutional right of citizens to participate in popular consultations on the future of their territories. If Colombia is to have peace we must have environmental justice.”
Filipino human rights defender and Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, Enteng Bautista, shared the violence environmental defenders opposing mining operations face in the Philippines as a result of mining interests, including those of British companies.
“The real risks are for those in the communities themselves”, says Enteng. “In the province of Batangas, Canadian and British mining interests are aiming to open large open cast gold mine operations near the town of Lobo. The local community strongly opposes the mine, which threatens an environmental disaster for farmers and fishing communities. Since August this year three local anti-mining activists have been killed and five environmental defenders were illegally arrested in Batangas.”
The delegation of frontline defenders also took the opportunity while they were in London to share the alternatives to contested mining-based development, both in their territories and globally.
Alice Kazimura from the Buliisa Women’s Development Association, Uganda, joined campaigners via video link to share her community’s experiences of resisting the operations of Tullow Oil, an Anglo-Irish oil company registered on London’s Alternative Investment Market.
Alice’s community, Kakindo, is developing alternatives to the extractive mining-for-development model pushed by governments worldwide. “We are promoting alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, so that we reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the need to extract more oil and gas”, says Alice.
“We have also been having practical women’s exchanges and experience sharing on the methods used for agro-ecological farming. These are farming methodologies suitable for a small piece of land and we are doing economic activities like weaving, which bring women together…creating safe spaces for women to deliberate on their own issues and do women’s movement building.”
The delegation of frontline defenders and their UK allies repeatedly stressed that minerals and metals are finite, so a future beyond extractivism is inevitable.
Rather than looking to a future of increased extraction to satisfy the minority economic interests behind extractive projects and over consumption in economically richer countries, we need to challenge an economic growth model that drives needless resource speculation, inequality, injustice, forced migration and climate change.
This journey starts, in part, by bringing the nexus of extractive power to account in safe havens like London. “We are here (in London) and wherever the mining companies go, we will go, to tell them we are against extractivism”, says Camila Mendéz.
“Through this visit we sent a clear message to global mining industry: when people come together in defence of their land and environment, there is nothing that can stop them. We cannot have infinite economic growth on a finite planet, there are many alternatives to the current development model, and we must explore them and implement them now!”
Hannibal Rhoades is Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at The Gaia Foundation, a UK-based organisation working internationally to support indigenous and local communities to revive their knowledge, livelihoods and healthy ecosystems. Tatiana Garavito is a racial justice activist, an intersectional feminist and a co-founder of Organising for Change. Sebastian Ordoñez is the senior international programmes officer for War on Want.