The Secretariat, Steering Committee and stakeholders of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) would like to offer their deepest condolences to the families of the Brazilians who lost their lives after the collapse of a tailings dam holding back mine waste of the Vale Mining Company. The collapsed dam at Vale’s Corrego do Feijao Mine buried mining facilities and nearby homes in the town of Brumadinho, killing dozens and leaving the community in shock. According to Vale’s website, the waste is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a U.N. report found that the waste from a similar disaster in 2015 “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.”
We want to point out that Vale’s gross negligence is driven by outright greed and disregard for human lives in general and for the lives of its workers in particular; not to mention the environment. Witnesses indicate that no alarm, or sirens were sounded before the breech occurred. This disaster follows hot on the heels of a disaster in Ghana, where 16 mineworkers died in a gold mine in the Talensi area of the Upper East region early on Wednesday 24 January 2019 near a site operated by China’s Shaanxi Mining Company Limited. These tragic, but entirely avoidable, events not only give credence to the continued existence of the AMI but also reasons for strengthening the work of the platform and all those that subscribe to it. We also cannot ignore the scale of intimidation and assassinations of community, environmental and social activists especially in Central and South America.
This scale of disaster should have never happened if mining companies were generally concerned about the triple bottom line, namely the environment, communities and profit. The industry continues to drive profitability at the expense of communities and the environment, ruthlessly taking the lives of innocent poor people whose lives and livelihood have already been disrupted by mining activity. This demonstrates a lack of care and caution by mining companies and often criminal collusion by authorities who do not effectively legislate, regulate and inspect the adherence of mines to health, safety and environmental standards. Perhaps the time of voluntary self-regulation should be replaced by effective government control of mine health and safety and environmental adherence.
It is even more disappointing to note that this is not the first such environmental mining disaster involving Vale in Brazil and leading to a massive loss of life, displacement of the survivors and irreversible environmental damage. We demand that Vale be closed down and the senior managers be charged with ecocide and be criminally responsible for the loss of lives. We also demand that Vale account for all the voluntary protocols mechanisms that the company is signatory to, and if necessary that Vale be expelled from those protocols.
We note with sadness and disbelief that the recently elected far-right leader of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, campaigned on promises of deregulating mining and other industries, among other outright neo-liberal, tone-deaf, regressive policies that will isolate, further marginalise and exacerbate the misery of the poor and lead to environmental destruction and climate change in Brazil, and set a bad precedent for Latin American countries. We call for the President of Brazil to relinquish his responsibility as head of the country following this disastrous negligence.
We know for a fact that this latest spill underscores a deliberate weakening of health, safety and environmental regulations in mining in Brazil and indeed in most countries in the Third World where such disasters have become common-place. We have no doubt, as confirmed by our Comrades in Brazil, that this latest spill is a sad consequence of the lessons not learned by the Brazilian government and the mining companies responsible for an earlier tragedy when a dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.
We offer Solidarity greetings and commiserate with our Brazilian colleagues affected and impacted by mining and indeed in other countries across the globe where greed has overtaken the need to protect the poor and vulnerable communities, workers as well as the fragile non-renewable environment in favour of mega profit.
We demand all governments to suspend and revoke mining licenses with immediate effect of mining companies that fail to adhere to global best practice, international and national laws and regulations and protocols environmental, health and safety regulations which have resulted in avoidable loss of irreplaceable lives.
Viva Mining-Affected and Impacted Mining Communities around the World!
Down with greed and impunity by multi-national companies and insensitive governments!