As of November, nine major mining companies considered key players in the extraction of rare metals for electric vehicle batteries had 225 active applications to expand operations into or near Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
U.S.-based financial institutions are among their top funders, according to a new report by Amazon Watch and the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous People, or APIB. In the past, those mining companies caused environmental damage that sickened Indigenous communities, stirred social discontent and contributed to the “trail of destruction” of the Amazon rainforest.
The report, fourth in a series called “Complicity in Destruction,” focuses on how the mining companies and their international investors violate the rights of Indigenous peoples and “threaten the future of the Amazon.” It examines the ties between mining companies and global financial institutions, based on research conducted by Profundo Research and Advice, a nonprofit research company based in the Netherlands.
The report examines nine mining companies, including Glencore and Anglo American. These nine companies have received approximately $54.1 billion in financing, through both credit (loans/underwriting) and investment (the purchase or stocks and bonds). The report contains allegations against Vale. The requests for comment were not immediately returned by the other companies.
The report names the top U.S. investors as Capital Group, BlackRock, and Vanguard. They collectively invested $14.8 million in the mining companies. Bank of America is the largest U.S.-based creditor. It provided $670m in loans and underwriting support to the companies. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were also listed as top creditors. These companies did no immediate respond to requests for comment.
These mining companies have all made so-called environmental, social and governance announcements about “how they will protect the Amazon and Indigenous rights, but our research shows that just isn’t true,” said Ana Paula Vargas, program director with Amazon Watch Brazil. “This report should put pressure on these financial institutions to help Indigenous communities—who are in danger when they speak out—denounce mining in and near their territories.”
Laying in Wait
The report looked at the mining companies’ applications pending with Brazil’s National Mining Agency, or ANM, to mine gold, copper, nickel and other metals and minerals in locations that overlap with or run adjacent to Indigenous territories. It is currently illegal to prospect for or mine materials on Indigenous territory in Brazil.
But, two bills pending with Brazil’s legislature could change that. Bill 191/2020 would open up Indigenous territories to mining and Bill 490/2007 would undermine Indigenous peoples’ rights to land, both policies for which Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, has expressed support. At least four requests have been made to the International Criminal Court for him to be prosecuted by the court for his policies toward Indigenous peoples and the environment. Advocates say these actions amount genocide or crimes against mankind. None of these cases have been decided by the court.
The report stated that the 225 applications in progress are awaiting approval of the bills. This will allow the companies to have priority access for mining within Indigenous territory. Anglo American had 65 applications, while Vale had 75.
After Amazon Watch and APIB called attention to the applications, several of the companies, including Vale, requested that the territories identified in their applications be redrawn in what is known as a “removal of interference” process. The redrawn territories are usually located adjacent to Indigenous land borders, sometimes within the 10-kilometer buffer zone.
“The removal of interference process is a trick,” Vargas said, adding that mining operations adjacent to Indigenous land still impacts Indigenous territories—pollution, noise and the effects of deforestation don’t respect human-drawn boundaries, she said.
Amazon Watch and APIB have urged mining companies and international financiers to oppose bills 191/2020, 490/2007. They are also asking these companies to refuse to mine or finance mining in Indigenous territories, even if the bills become laws.
“This government has proven itself to be the enemy of Indigenous peoples and the environment,” Vargas said. “Bolsonaro’s strategy is to make horrible things legal. Companies need to agree not to go into Indigenous land under any circumstance.”
Marcio Astrini, the executive director of Brazilian Climate Observatory, said just the prospect of the legislation, coupled with Bolsonaro’s support, has emboldened both mining companies and illegal mining activities.
“The bill is a land grab for Indigenous territories,” he said. “It’s incentivizing destructive activities like illegal mining which bring violence and harm to Indigenous communities.
A Mining Boom
The report is the fourth in a series that has focused on the links between the corporate drivers of deforestation in the Amazon and the financial institutions that enable those companies’ operations.
Earlier reports focused on the agricultural sector, but the Bolsonaro administration’s push to open mining on Indigenous land coupled with a global mining boom reoriented Amazon Watch and APIB’s efforts to the sector they say is one of the biggest threats to human rights and the environment in Brazil.
Price Waterhouse Cooper called 2020 a “banner year” for the mining sector, with the top companies expected to profit off the world’s energy transition—which is deeply dependent on materials like copper, lithium and nickel for manufacturing vehicle batteries. The industry has also been fuelled by pandemic-related consumer demand in industrialized countries. According to ANM, Brazil is home to iron, gold and copper as well as manganese, niobium and nickel.
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Some supporters of mining argue that the rapid transition to fossil fuels justifies reducing or modifying many environmental regulations related to mining practices. However, Indigenous activists argue that they bear very little or no responsibility for climate change and biodiversity loss. They are being targeted to solve these problems. Activists also called mining in the Amazon rainforest, the world’s biggest carbon sink and source of biodiversity, a false solution.
“Industrial mining cannot be considered an alternative for development or transition to clean energy if its consequence is destroying the Amazon forest and rivers, and violating Indigenous rights,” Vargas said.
Water Shortages, Forcible Evictions, and Collapsed Dam
The report highlights a series of case studies where the mining companies have been involved in conflict with Indigenous communities, including episodes of land invasion, violence, pollution and violations of communities’ rights to free prior and informed consent:
- Vale’s alleged responsibility for polluting the Cateté River with lead, mercury, manganese, aluminum and iron from its Onça Puma nickel mining project near Xikrin and Kayapó communities. The company denied responsibility. The report further alleges that Vale, a Brazilian company, played a role in determining the demarcation boundaries of those communities’ territories to ensure Vale had access to mineral deposits on what had once been those communities’ land. Separately, in 2019, Vale’s Brumadinho tailings dams, a deposit for toxic mining waste, burst killing 270 people downstream.
- Water shortages, polluted waterways and the destruction of springs attributed to London-based Anglo American’s Minas-Rio operations, which includes a 525-kilometer pipeline that uses large amounts of water to transport iron ore from Minas Gerais state to Rio de Janeiro.
- Belo Sun Mining, a Canadian company, is accused of harassing and forcing residents to leave areas where it plans to mine gold for its Volta Grande Project. The project has been the subject of legal challenges from prosecutors of all levels of government and the company has been accused of violating communities’ rights to free prior and informed consent.
- An agreement signed by Potássio do Brasil with the Chinese construction firm CITIC for a nearly $2 billion mining project in the municipality of Autazes, despite a prior written pledge with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office not to proceed with operations without court approval and consulting affected communities.
Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of APIB, called the push to mine in Indigenous territories a “project of death,” and said Indigenous communities cannot coexist with mining activities, which have killed the ecosystems they depend upon.
“We cannot go on living side by side with activities that force Indigenous peoples to mourn the daily murder of our relatives, or to witness the destruction of biomes which we guard, in order to give way to projects that generate no real development, but only destruction and profits for a handful of individuals,” she said.
Source: Inside Climate News