Natural resource mining companies, national and local governments, and conservation-based NGOs
(Note: This summary of readings was written in the second half of 2020 as part of a Mega development course)
The readings this week show the masked complicity that often exists between natural resource mining companies — international companies that are usually export based, and national and local governments. Oftentimes, conservation-based NGOs get roped in as they seek for operational funds.
M. Svampa (2019) makes a distinction between extractivism and neo-extractivism, characterizing the latter as being concerned with “promoting national investments,” and investing into the communities, “redistributive justice” and the former concerned with “exploitation.” I think the investments of neo-extractivism rarely compensate for the degradation of land, air and water, loss of livelihoods and historical and cultural elements that accompany these mining activities. This is compounded by the fact that these activities take place accompanied by a weakening of environmental regulatory agencies. Therefore, communities experience deepening poverty and widening social inequality. Also, communities lose their voice though the actions of non-representative gatekeepers. Gatekeepers whose only preoccupation seem to be ensuring continued “violent” and intensive extractive activities. There are also cases where future minerals have been sold through derivatives and futures markets, for example, in the Malartic gold mine, Abitibi, Northern Quebec region. Amber Huff et al (2018) show how some of the contradictions of neo-extractivism play out using the case of QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), a mining company 80 per cent owned by Rio Tinto, “a Canadian subsidiary of Rio Tinto (a UK based British-Australian multinational mining company, one of the largest mining companies in the world” and 20 per cent owned by the Government of Madagascar.
K. Lahiri-Dutt (2011) shows how gender plays out in mining communities through “feminization of the workforce and informalization and casualization of women’s work.” Men are involved in negotiations because they are the head of the family and receive payments because in these communities land belongs to the men. Although, women work on the mines, the narrative is that men are the ones working on the mines. This portrays women are weak — “unproductive and isolated, unable to resist domestic oppression; and staying at home caring and cleaning for husbands and sons who worked tough shifts and came home dirty.” In these mining communities, it is not uncommon to find women making a living as “sex-workers.” This has been defined by civil society groups as the “degradation of women.”
I think “the creation of new private conservation areas to compensate for or offset environmentally destructive activities under corporate social and environmental responsibility” are pseudo solutions and mere distractions. These mining companies should learn to mine sustainably and push a leash on their desire for mining. However, this is hard in a world where value is increasingly monetized, success is measured largely in financial terms, and gatekeepers can be bought. I think NGOs who receive funding from these mining companies are not being true to their values. Among others, this shows how challenging it is not to be a part of the system that leave lands barren and indigenous landowners desolate if you do not have adequate and independent sources of income and a strong core.