©Pablo Rojas Madariaga / Danwatch

Lithium exploitation is drying out the world’s driest desert

Aäron De Fruyt | Chile, Chile, Chile, Mining, Mining, Mining, Publications, Publications, Publications

Lithium exploitation is drying out the world’s driest desert 

*This article is a summary of a longer investigation project from Danwatch, published in collaboration with CATAPA and SETEM. More information at the end of the article.

The Acatama Desert in Chile, the world’s driest desert, is gradually losing its last water resources. Indigenous communities have been sounding the alarm for several years and are now being strengthened by scientific research and environmental organisations. Cause of this dehydration? Lithium mining.

Lithium is essential for the batteries in our phones, our computers and the explosive increase in the number of electric vehicles that are often seen as the key to a green energy transition. Chile, which has half of the world’s lithium reserves, has been declared the ‘Saudi Arabia of Lithium’ and almost all of its exports are currently extracted from the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world. But extracting Atacama’s lithium means pumping up huge amounts of scarce water resources. Water resources that have enabled indigenous peoples and animals to survive in the desert for thousands of years. 

According to researchers, extraction is already causing lasting damage to the area’s fragile ecosystems. In the Atacama and elsewhere in Chile, indigenous communities are now protesting against current and future plans for lithium extraction. Many communities claim that they were never consulted before the mining projects, although the Chilean authorities are obliged to do so under international treaties ratified by the Chilean state. The Danish research centre Danwatch can document that companies like Samsung, Panasonic, Apple, Tesla and BMW get batteries from companies that use Chilean lithium.

With the country’s incomparable lithium reserves and the increasing importance of the metal for the energy sector, Chile has occasionally been awarded the label ‘Saudi Arabia of Lithium’. Nearly 40 percent of the global supply comes from Chile over the past 20 years and, as Danwatch can reveal, it ends up in some of the most popular electronics and electric cars. The metal is one of the most popular products of the Chilean energy sector. 

However, the Atacama’s indigenous communities were caught up in speed. Chile has signed ILO Convention 169, which obliges governments to consult indigenous people when major projects are carried out in their area. However, according to the people of Pai-Ote, they were not consulted before the lithium projects were presented in the media. “We found out from the press that an agreement had been made that allowed SQM to start lithium mining here. Nobody asked the Colla people if they wanted the mining on their territory,” says Ariel Leon, representative of the Colla community.

Chilean lithium can be extracted at low cost: miners pump lithium brine from a massive reservoir under the Atacama salt plain to huge puddles on the surface of the desert. The highest solar radiation in the world causes the water in the brine to evaporate quickly, causing the lithium to be scooped up together with other salts and minerals.

During this process, 95% of the extracted brine evaporates into the air. This accelerates the water scarcity in the Atacama, says Ingrid Garces, a professor of technology at the Chilean University of Antofagasta, who conducts research into salt pans. “In Chile, lithium mining is considered to be a normal form of mining, as if you were mining a hard rock. But this is not regular mining – it’s water extraction,” she says.

The two companies behind lithium mining in the Atacama, the Chilean Soc. Química & Minera de Chile (SQM) and the American Albemarle Corp. have permits to extract almost 2,000 litres of brine per second. In addition to the brine, lithium miners also extract significant amounts of fresh water along with the nearby copper mines. “The result is an impact on biodiversity in general. And that effect is already visible – the wetlands are drying out,” says Ingrid Garces.

Atacama’s indigenous communities have been sounding the alarm about water scarcity for years. According to the Atacama People’s Council, which represents 18 indigenous communities, rivers, lagoons and meadows have all declined in water over the past decade. However, the Chilean authorities have largely relied on the environmental impact assessments of the mining companies themselves. And, in general, these studies have not found any significant impact on water levels or the surrounding nature.

“For the locals, the change is very clear. They notice that there is less water for their animals, and they see how the rivers dry out. This anecdotal knowledge is not taken seriously by the companies or the state,” says Cristina Dorador, biologist and associate professor at the Chilean University of Antofagasta, who studies the microbial life in the Atacama.

In August 2019, an analysis of satellite images by the satellite analysis company SpaceKnow and the scientific journal Engineering & Technology came to a similar conclusion. Based on satellite images from the period 2015-2019, they saw a strong inverse relationship between the water level in the lithium ponds of SQM and the surrounding lagoons: “As the water level in the SQM ponds increased, the water level in the lagoons would drop”.

Ironically, the Atacama salt plain was once a large lake before it dried up thousands of years ago due to severe climate change. Scientists are studying the desert today as an example of what can happen to ecosystems elsewhere on the planet if global climate change becomes effective. But in an effort to mitigate rising temperatures with electric cars, industries are sucking away the little water left in the world’s driest desert with all the social and ecological impact as a consequence. 

Companies are often greenwashing. This greenwashing narrative is based on the claim that a substantial increase in metal mining is necessary to meet the material needs of renewable energy technologies and associated infrastructure. However, the renewable energy sector will under no circumstances consume the majority of the metals’ annual production. Nevertheless, this narrative let mining companies sacrificing new sites to explore

Danwatch, SETEM and CATAPA  did research to the impact of lithium exploitation in the framework of the European project: Make ICT Fair. This project wants to make the supply chain of electronics more visible and influence public buyers to ask their ICT suppliers, both mining companies and manufactures,  to improve environmental and labour condition. Lithium, as one of the most important metal in the transition to green economies, became the focus of this article.

Danwatch has been to Chile to investigate the country’s growing lithium extraction industry. In the process, they have interviewed numerous scientists, companies, politicians and the people who live closest to the extraction sites. They have reviewed the mining companies’ impact studies as well as the few independent research papers on the topic. They especially base the investigation on a 2019 study on lithium mining in Chile by researchers from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.
The investigation is supported by the EU-funded project Make ICT Fair and published in collaboration with SETEM and CATAPA.

DEVICES DRAINING THE DESERT 

Check all the articles from the investigation project below.

ARTICLE 1: Our demand for batteries is drying up the world’s most arid place.
ARTICLE 2: Much of the world’s lithium is being extracted from indigenous peoples’ territories against their will.
ARTICLE 3: Indigenous peoples face charges as they resist future lithium projects across Chile.

ARTICLE 4: There’s probably Chilean lithium behind the screen you’re reading this on.

ARTICLE 5: How much water is used to make the world’s batteries?

ARTICLE 6 / INTERVIEW: The mining companies only see water. But water is life for us.

Interview with 67-year old Clementino López, one of around 20,000 indigenous Likan Antai living in the Atacama Desert

ARTICLE 7 / VIDEO: Watch the surreal lithium extraction landscapes from above.

Watch the surreal lithium extraction landscapes from above

Written by Aäron De Fruyt and Charlotte Christiaens.
Photography: ©Pablo Rojas Madariaga / Danwatch

Art as a Form of Protest – Peru

Maxime Degroote | GECOs on the road, GECOs on the road, GECOs on the road, Mining, Mining, Mining, Peru, Peru, Peru, Publications, Publications, Publications

Art as a Form of Protest – Peru

As all neighboring countries of Peru are stuck or have been stuck in violent protests recently, Peru seems calm. Cajamarca, known for its huge protests to stop the mining project of Conga, seems calm.

Those protests happened only about 7 years ago, in 2011 and 2012, and still have a special taste in everyone’s mouth. Everyone in Cajamarca today has lived them profoundly. Everyone has somehow been part of the cruel protests. But looking at Cajamarca now, it seems like the idea of protesting has died. It seems like people have quietly accepted legal and illegal mining activity in the region. For example, there seems to be no reaction to the new mining project Michiquillay of the company Southern Copper, which they hope to start using in 2022. And there is very little reaction to the contamination of the Valle de Condebamba, where vegetables most Cajamarquinos eat get produced and are severely contaminated with toxic metals.

Why is that? Why do people stay calm? Is it because there are too many protests in Peru? Because they got tired? Because of the number of social conflicts that never get resolved? Because of the 279 people that died defending human rights until 2018 in Peru? Because of the horrible criminalization of protests in Peru in all its forms – both direct attacks as methods like states of emergency? Because of the memory of the horrible protests in 2012?

All very good reasons to not take to the streets anymore. But the truth is – the protests have never really stopped. They have just taken different forms.


Silent protests

Calm, silent protests are happening everywhere. Protesting doesn’t mean aggression. Protesting means showing how things can be different, making people think, for example through art, photo exhibitions, music, whatever you feel like. Protesting can be as silent or as violent as you want it to be. It’s your fight.

So yes, people in Cajamarca – or in Peru – might be tired of protest marches. It’s easy to see that the protest marches for women rights are smaller every year. The three climate change actions we’ve organized this year shrunk every time, and in June, when bull fights came back to Cajamarca after years, we were just a small group screaming outside of the arena holding up cardboards and getting laughed at.

But almost no one came to see the bull fights. The stadium was empty, which made the government cancel the second day of fights. And isn’t that a sign that Cajamarca doesn’t want bull fights anymore? Isn’t just not showing up a form of protest too? Isn’t silent protest, protest too?


Cross boundaries

Protest is what you want it to be. And using art as a form of protest isn’t something new. In fact, it represents the way of protesting in Peru. In the world. And all through history.

It’s said that art as a form of protest or activism was first seen with Dada, an anti-war movement which openly outed critiques to the First World War. Picasso protested with paintings based on for example the Spanish Civil War. The Vietnam War formed a base for many works of art in the sixties, and also gender issues, feminism, immigrant problems, and so on, got addressed through art. And then we haven’t even mentioned Banksy yet with all his work on all kinds of global issues, or the Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot that dealt with themes as feminism, freedom of speech, LGBT+ rights, etcetera, through their music.

Art is political, and art can be a powerful weapon. Art can make you think about things you hadn’t thought about before. Art can make a political statement, can be some sort of critique on a political or social situation. Art often looks up boundaries, or crosses them.


Art and activism

Also during the awful protests against mining project Conga in 2011 and 2012, art was used. The Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca changed into an art gallery, there were concerts, people were singing and dancing on the street. The Marcha del Agua towards Lima was beautiful with everyone singing together. And that has never stopped. That’s still part of Peru’s – or Cajamarca’s – culture. Art is protest.

As Carlos, founder of an environmental organization in Cajamarca says: “Art has a great impact on people. People get conscious about the environment, and on top of that about the beauty of the art and the people.” Art has an incredibly creative power to move people emotionally, while activism sets a goal, shows us the social or political change we need to see in the world. Art moves a feeling, while activism creates an effect. And in order to make that change, in order to get that effect, we need some sort of stimulation. We need to be moved. Emotionally. Art and activism combined, can lead to many, many things.

On top of that, art used as a form of protest, outside of actual protest marches or political spaces, gets you a surprise effect. It makes people think about serious, maybe political, issues, without them maybe realizing it. It gets in your mind, and slowly, gets you to that effect activism wants to reach.


Changing minds

Murals for example, big paintings on walls, are widely used as a form of protest or activism in Cajamarca and in Peru. In the province of Celendín the streets are full of colourful walls. And also in Cajamarca the city is covered in painted walls, leaving powerful messages. Something we could already see in the beginning of the 20th century in Mexico.

And I have to admit, while painting one of those murals, thinking about the load of work waiting for me on my desk, I did think to myself that I could use my time better. That I could actually do something useful to help the environment, instead of just paint. That I shouldn’t waste my time painting a wall with a message probably no one would read. But was I wrong. All the people passing by that day stopped to check out our message. To see what it was about. And still very often, as I walk passed that wall, I see people talking about the painting. Maybe the mural didn’t gain the change immediately. But it is changing people’s minds, slowly, daily, firmly.

The same happened when we used a beautiful Cajamarcan tradition as a form of activism. On Corpus Christi, the whole Plaza de Armas gets covered in alfombras, or flower carpets. We focused on animal rights and protested against the bull fights with our carpet, whereas some others used it to address gender inequality, for example. And in between the beautiful art works, those pieces of art showing some sort of social or political issue, were the alfombras where most people stood around, discussing what they saw. Not what was actually there, but what they saw, what it meant to them, what they understood the message was. It made people rethink their own actions.


Happiness in protest

And that’s not all. Ecological fairs keep popping out of the ground like mushrooms, focusing on economic alternatives to mining and environmental issues, and that way making passengers-by think about the impact of mining activity without them realizing that’s what it’s about. Wakes are organized to mourn the death of our environment, combined with a beautiful piano concert, to focus on environmental issues in a different way. Theatres are held all through town showing the effects of gender inequality or climate change. Movie nights focusing on social themes are a big thing.

The lyrics to the typical cheerful carnival music of Cajamarca get changed to songs defending human rights and are being sung whenever the opportunity shows.

A few weeks ago a protest action was held at Cerro Quilish. Only about 30 people showed up, hiking to the top of the mountain from where you could look out over Yanacocha. But those 30 people brought up their giant speaker, singing and dancing their way up. And after the talk on top of the mountain, the volume of that same speaker was turned up a bit more.

People opened their bags, uncovering bowls of food, giving everyone a spoonful of whatever they had brought. Sharing. Dancing. Singing. Turning a protest into a beautiful moment together, showing their strength, their traditions, their bond. Showing they are one. Unstoppable. Finding happiness in protest.


Beautiful protests

There’s loads of centers that open their doors for all kind of social movement or activity, for free, supporting artists. There’s a cultural magazine made entirely by volunteers that also hold events every few weeks addressing for example topics as cultural identity, traditions, history. There’s movies or poetry in Quechua to make people rethink their roots and history. There’s dozens of bands in Cajamarca singing about animal rights or human rights or violence against women or any topic you can think of.

Lots of youth organizations take charge and organize fun activities for all ages such as actions on recycling with quiz questions and prices to win. Photo exhibitions focus on what nature should look like and shows the work of different human and environmental right defenders.

Of course, protesting is hard in Peru. And it’s sad that there’s still so much to protest about. But at least we know it will always be here, in its own way. And protesting can be so, so beautiful.

There’s resistance. There’s hope. In all its forms. Don’t underestimate the power of art. And don’t underestimate Cajamarca.

Armenia: Amulsar, the Mountain where Water is more Precious than Gold

Laura Luciani | Armenia, Armenia, Armenia, Disaster, Disaster, Mining, Mining, Mining, Press, Press, Press, Publications, Publications, Publications, Disaster

On the 2nd of October, CATAPA had the honor of receiving Armenian activist Anna Shahnazaryan, from the Armenian Environmental Front. She is part of the Save Amulsar campaign, which for years has been opposing the Amulsar gold mine by Lydian International. The Amulsar mine is the second largest gold deposit in Armenia. Shahnazaryan travelled to Belgium to have conversations with EU lobby groups and managed to give a short presentation with CATAPA.

During this gathering, we also met Laura Luciani (author of this article), who is a PhD student at the Centre for EU Studies of Ghent University, where she researches human rights and civil society in the South Caucasus.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE in the East Journal in Italian, by Laura Luciani.

Armenia: Amulsar, the Mountain where Water is more Precious than Gold

In 1986, a group of 350 Armenian intellectuals wrote an open letter to Mikhail Gorbačëv to denounce the catastrophic consequences of pollution caused by heavy industries, whose repercussions had long been ignored by the Soviet authorities. Even though for over thirty years environmental protests have been taking place in an almost cyclical way in Armenia, and the damages caused by irresponsible industrial practices are constantly monitored, today citizens still have to take to the streets to prevent yet another ecological disaster.

For seven years, local communities and environmentalist groups have been opposing the construction of a gold mine in Amulsar – a mountainous area in the South of Armenia, located in the centre of the national water supply system. But in the last year, in the wake of the political changes that affected Armenia, this local protest has taken on a transnational dimension: now, the “post-Velvet-Revolution” government led by Nikol Pashinyan finds itself having to handle it with caution.

The project and its impact

Armenia is a country rich in mineral resources including copper, gold, but also lead, silver, zinc and other industrial minerals; these constitute more than half of the country’s exports. With a surface of less than 30,000 km2, Armenia counts today around 27 authorized mineral sites, of which 17 are active. However, the exploitation of these deposits has for decades been at the centre of controversies due to mismanagement and to these extractive projects’ extremely negative environmental effects.

In 2012, a mining company called Lydian Armenia (subsidiary of the offshore company Lydian International) signs a first deal with the Armenian government, at that time led by the Republican Party. In 2016, the company receives the final mine operation permit, even though the project is highly problematic. Amulsar, which is the 2nd largest gold deposit in Armenia, is in fact located only 6 km away from the spa town of Jermuk, famous for its thermal water: the inhabitants (who were not consulted about the project and its impact) fear that the proximity of the mine and the pollution resulting from it may discourage tourist flows to the town, thus affecting the community’s main source of income.

Scientists also indicate that the project could have ecological repercussions on a much larger scale: the Amulsar deposit is located within a seismic area, which increases the risk that acid drainage processes, accelerated by the excavations, leak in and contaminate the surrounding rivers (Arpa, Vorotan and Darb), with negative consequences for agriculture and livestock. Furthermore, contamination threatens to reach Lake Sevan – the largest freshwater reservoir of the country and an almost sacred place in Armenian popular culture. Last but not least, the project would alter the Amulsar ecosystem, which hosts different protected species including the Caucasian leopard (or Persian leopard) – of which only 10 specimen remain in Armenia.

A turning point 

After years of protest, in June 2018 the local communities decided to seize the window of opportunity opened by the “Velvet Revolution” that took place over one month earlier (thanks to an unprecedented wave of mass peaceful protests) to undertake direct action and block the streets leading to the mining site. The #SaveAmulsar campaign was born: for over a year and a half, local people supported by environmental activists have been supervising the entrance to the mine, doing shifts in checkpoints they built for this purpose, and managed to effectively stop the works in the construction site.

However, the citizens’ euphoria suffered a severe blow on 9 September this year: after opening an investigation and commissioning an independent assessment of the project’s environmental impact, prime minister Nikol Pashinyan unexpectedly gave the go-ahead for the digging in the Amulsar gold mine, asking protesters to clear the streets. As Anna Shahnazaryan, Armenian Environmental Front’s activist, explains in an interview for Kiosk (T.N. Italian radio programme), “the independent report, published in August, stated that Lydian’s estimations about the mine’s impact on water resources were incorrect, and that the project contained several evaluation errors – including intentional ones. Therefore, the environmental impact mitigation measures envisaged by Lydian were not adequate”.

Nevertheless, the Investigative Committee and the prime minister himself concluded that the company would be able to manage all the environmental risks. “For this reason, – Shahnazaryan continues – in the last two months the situation has become hectic: the prime minister took the side of Lydian and organized different meetings with the company’s representatives, while we activists took to the streets both in Amulsar and in Yerevan”.

“Post-revolutionary” Armenia and its problems

Experts suggest that Pashinyan is defending the private interests of Lydian Armenia and its investors (among which the USA, the United Kingdom and several international financial institutions) to prevent the company from having recourse to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This is an international mechanism which allows a foreign investor to request arbitration by a corporate court if the “host-state” violates its rights: this decision could cost Armenia around two billion dollars, that is two thirds of its state budget.

However, there are also people who believe that Pashinyan’s ambiguous position is symptomatic of some criticalities of Armenia’s post-revolutionary government: first, the lack of an ideology going beyond the mere overthrow of the corrupt political system, which for ten years had been in the hands of former president Serzh Sarghsyan. According to Anna Shahnazaryan, “the current government uses many slogans, but behind the slogans there is little action. And one of these slogans is ‘we will not follow the economic path traced by the previous government, which focused on the mining industry, but we will try to develop new sectors such as tourism and the IT sector’”.

In reality, the “economic revolution” that Pashinyan wants to bring about in Armenia seems to be based on the same neo-liberal approach of the previous government, aimed at “opening up the country” to multinationals and foreign investors (with the 400 million dollars destined for Amulsar, Lydian would be the largest single investor in the history of independent Armenia). An understanding of “development” which disregards ecological considerations, human rights and the citizens’ well-being.

Another problem, Shahnazaryan points out, is that “with the revolution in Armenia people developed a certain idolatry of the current prime minister, who is considered the leader of the revolution. Many former activists who participated in the revolution and were then elected to Parliament have now expressed ‘unconditional support’ to Pashinyan’s position on Amulsar”. According to Shahnazaryan, this raised many doubts, even among those who were not necessarily opposed to the project, “because it is something that undermines the democratic structure of the country: the legislative body should not be ‘unconditionally supporting’ the person that it is in charge of supervising”.

#SaveAmulsar continues 

Last year, the Armenian Environmental Front launched a petition requesting municipal councils in Jermuk and other towns in the region to ban all mining activities and declare Jermuk an ‘ecological area’. Although the petition has collected 12,000 signatures so far, the government has recently appealed against this initiative. Lydian Armenia is also putting pressure on protesters through legal channels.

Meanwhile, activists are trying to internationalize the movement, with the aim of exposing the responsibilities of international financial institutions (in this case, the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development) and other project funders (notably, the Swedish government which channelled money to Amulsar through state export-credit funds) in the global phenomenon of extractivism – namely non-sustainable development practices based on the extraction of mineral resources at the expense of local communities’ interests and the environment on which they depend.

Anna Shahnazaryan is convinced that the government cannot give a definitive authorization to Lydian “because the citizens are firmly opposed to the project, and if Pashinyan decides to use violent methods this will only turn against him”. The stakes in Amulsar seem to be very high: they do not “only” touch upon the protection of the environment and natural resources, but also the legitimacy of Nikol Pashinyan and the future of democracy in Armenia.

Mining in Azuay: a David vs. Goliath story

Kim Baert | Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador, Report, Mining, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining, News, News, News, Report, Report

Mining in Azuay: a David vs. Goliath story

Azuay, a province in the south of Ecuador with Cuenca as its historic and cultural provincial capital, has rapidly developed into an emblematic region in the fight against mining. 

In the canton of Girón, in the province of Azuay, a public consultation (Consulta Popular) was organized on the 24th of March 2019 about the large-scale mining project Loma Larga. An historic event, because it was the first local referendum in Ecuador on a mining activity. 

During the Consulta Popular in Girón, the inhabitants were asked whether they agreed with extracting gold in the Páramo of Kimsacocha, located in the Cajas National Park. A páramo is a fragile ecosystem in the Andes High Mountains that is vital for water supply in the region and in the country. 

The result of the referendum was convincing! 87% of the community preferred water to gold and said “si a la vida, no a la minería”. An important precedent in Ecuador, because after this victory, other provinces tried to follow suit. Imbabura and Carchi, two provinces in the north of Ecuador, recently submitted an application for a Consulta Popular, but unfortunately this has been rejected by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court. 

Also in terms of political leadership, the importance of the province of Azuay should not be underestimated. In May 2019 the inhabitants elected Yaku Pérez Guartambel as the new prefect. Since then, he has led the autonomous government of the province of Azuay. 

Yaku Pérez is known for his strong statements against the mining sector and his ambition to legally clear the province of Azuay from metal mining, in particular by organizing referendum. Yaku Pérez quickly became a symbolic figure in the country. 

Yaku Pérez at the demonstration in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

A constitutional problem 

Following the victory of the referendum in the canton of Girón, Yaku Pérez called for a general referendum on mining activities in the province of Azuay. This question was submitted to the Constitutional Court, but after a hearing on the 17th of September 2019, this request has been rejected. 

Pérez clearly expressed his dissatisfaction with the nature of the hearing. According to him, the President of the Court must hold a public hearing before taking a decision, as is customary in constitutional matters. “We want a public hearing so that we can look the judges in the eye and speak from the heart. To demonstrate in a factual and legal way the need for a public consultation,” according to Pérez.

Demonstration in front of Constitutional Court in Quito, 17 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Moreover, there is a conflict of interests within the Court. One of the constitutional judges, Dr. Ramiro Avila Santamaria, was not allowed to take part in the hearing because of earlier statements against extractivism. Other judges, who clearly have ties with the mining sector, were allowed to participate. Judge Carmen Corral is a lawyer at Solines Asociados, a law firm that provides advice and support to mining companies. Another judge, Hilda Nugues, is a member of the mediation committee of the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, which has spoken out against the referendum. 

There is clearly a lot of pressure from the national government and the large multinationals. There is great concern about what happened in Girón and fear about the outcome of such referendum at provincial and national level.

'SOMOS AGUA', demonstrators from Azuay in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Campaign against Yaku Pérez 

It was no coincidence that on the same day as the hearing, the pro-mining sector distributed a campaign on Twitter in which they attacked Yaku Pérez. 

They claimed that Pérez would have had mining concessions in the period 1999-2000 because his name was found in the mining register. 

Yaku Pérez disclaimed this argument. At the time, as a lawyer, he would have signed documents for the extraction of sand and stones for construction works in the province. This type of mining also is registered, but it doesn’t concern metal mining.

The battle continues 

Following the negative decision of the Constitutional Court, Pérez announced that he would step up the resistance and open a wider door by organizing a referendum at national level. 

The Ecuadorian Constitution recognizes the Consulta Popular as a legal citizens’ initiative. However, the mining industry and the Ecuadorian government argue that local consultations on mining cannot take place because the natural resources in the subsoil are a matter of national concern. 

'SOMOS AGUA', demonstrators from Azuay in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Moreover, the constitution states that the powers of various policy bodies are not exclusive, but competitive. “You may be the owner of what is in the subsoil, but you have to pass over the soil,” says lawyer Verónica Potes, expert in environmental law and human rights. 

“It’s a battle of David vs. Goliath”, says Yaku Pérez, “There aren’t many of us, but we have the truth, the reason and the legitimacy to our advantage. We continue the resistance and if necessary, we will denounce this issue before the international courts.” 

New report: A just(ice) transition is a post-extractive transition

Daniela Marques Branco | Mining, News, Publications, Report

War on Want and London Mining Network, supported by the Yes to Life, No to Mining network, have launched a new report: Post-Extractivist_Transition

A just(ice) transition is a post-extractive transition

Centering the extractive frontier in climate justice

While the global majority disproportionately suffer the impacts of the climate crisis and the extractivist model, the Global North’s legacy of colonialism, the excess of the world’s wealthiest, and the power of large corporations are responsible for these interrelated crises.

The climate change mitigation commitments thus far made by countries in the Global North are wholly insufficient; not only in terms of emissions reductions, but in their failure to address the root causes of the crisis – systemic and intersecting inequalities and injustices. This failure to take inequality and injustice seriously can be seen in even the most ambitious models of climate mitigation.

This report sets out to explore the social and ecological implications of those models with a focus on metal mining, in six sections:

  • Climate justice, just(ice) transition locates the report’s contributions within the broader struggle for climate and environmental justice, explains the reasoning for the report’s focus on mining and emphasizes the social dimension of energy transitions.
  • Extractivism in the decades to come discusses projections for total resource extraction over the next four decades and raises concerns about the interconnected ecological impacts of increased resource extraction.
  • The transition-mining nexus section places in perspective the significance of renewable energy technologies in driving demand, by examining the share of critical metal end-uses that renewable energy technologies account for relative to other end-uses.
  • Greenwashing, political will and investment trends expose how the mining industry is attracting investment and justifying new projects by citing projected critical metals demand and framing itself as a key actor in the transition.
  • Metal mining as a driver of socioenvironmental conflict offers a sense of the systemic and global nature of the social and ecological impacts of metal mining.
  • Moving beyond extractivism offers a sense of possibility in suggesting different ways forward, by addressing both the material and political challenges to a postextractivist transition.

 

This report finds that:

  • Current models project that as fossil fuels become less prominent in the generation of energy, metalintensive technologies will replace them. The assertion that economic growth can be decoupled, in absolute terms, from environmental and social impact is deeply flawed.
  • Central to these models is the unquestioned acceptance that economic growth in the Global North will continue unchanged, and as such, will perpetuate global and local inequalities and drive the demand for energy, metals, minerals and biomass further beyond the already breached capacity of the biosphere.
  • The assumption that economic growth is a valuable indicator of wellbeing must be challenged. Scarcity is the result of inequality, not a lack of productive capacity. Redistribution is the answer to both social and economic injustice and the threat that extractivism and climate breakdown pose.
  • Reducing fossil fuel energy dependence on its own is not a sufficient response to the intersecting socio-ecological crises, the extractivist model as a whole must be challenged.
  • There is a need to address the extractivist model because mineral, metal and biomass extraction threaten frontline communities and the interconnected ecologies that sustain life and wellbeing.
  • This need is particularly urgent because the mining industry is driving a new greenwashing narrative by claiming that vast quantities of metals will be needed to meet the material demands of renewable energy technologies.
  • This greenwashing narrative serves to obscure and justify the inherently harmful nature of extractivist mining. International financial institutions and sectors of civil society that have embraced these assumptions are complicit in the mining industry’s greenwashing efforts.
  • Increased investment and political will for large-scale mineral and metal extraction is not an inevitable consequence of the transition, it is one of the fundamental contradictions within a vision of climate change mitigation which fails to understand extractivism as a model fundamentally rooted in injustice.
  • Around the world, frontline communities are pushing back the expansion of extractivism and offering solutions to social and ecological injustice. But unfortunately, their voices, demands and visions are far too often absent in climate policy and campaigning spaces and agendas.
  • Justice and equity need to be understood as cross-cutting issues that touch every aspect of the transition. These principles are fully compatible with ecological wellbeing and mutually enhance one another. Increasing access to energy, food and public services goes hand-in-hand with reducing excess consumption through processes of redistribution. The solutions are fundamentally social; technical fixes and increases in efficiency do not bring about justice or ecological wellbeing on their own.

iPhone 11 Illegally Produced in China: Apple allows supplier factory Foxconn to violate labor laws

Laura Garcia | Report, News, News, News, Publications, Publications, Publications, Report, Report

iPhone 11 Illegally Produced in China
Apple allows supplier factory Foxconn to violate labor laws

“Over the years, China Labor Watch has monitored the working conditions at several Foxconn facilities and investigations have revealed a string of labor rights violations. In this year’s report, several investigators were employed at the Zhengzhou Foxconn factory, and one of the investigators worked there for over four years. Because of the long investigation period, this report reveals many details about the working and living conditions at the Foxconn factory.”

Among others, some of the labor rights violations registered at Zhengzhou Foxconn by NGO China Labor Watch are the following:

  • New workers have a probationary period of three months and if they wish to resign during this time, they must apply three days in advance.
  • During peak season, regular workers’ resignations won’t be approved.
  • After completing resignation procedures, factories will pay workers in around two weeks with no pay stub provided that month.
  • Some dispatch workers failed to receive their promised bonuses from the dispatch company.
  • The factory does not pay social insurance for the dispatched workers.
  • In 2018, dispatch workers made up 55% of the workforce. Chinese labor law stipulates that dispatch workers must not exceed 10% of the workforce. In August 2019, around 50% of the workforce were dispatch workers.
  • During peak production season, student workers must work overtime. However, according to regulations on student internships, students are not to work overtime or night shifts.
  • Chinese labor law mandates that workers must not work more than 36 overtime hours a month. However, during the peak production seasons, workers at Zhengzhou Foxconn put in at least 100 overtime hours a month. There have been periods where workers have one rest day for every 13 days worked or even have only one rest day for a month.
  • Workers have to receive approval not to work overtime. If workers do not receive approval and choose not to work overtime anyway, they will be admonished by the line manager and will not be working overtime in the future.
  • If work is not completed by the time the shift ends, workers must work overtime and workers are not paid for this. If there are abnormalities at work, they must work overtime until the issue has been addressed, and work done during this time is also unpaid.
  • Workers sometimes have to stay back for night meetings at work, and this time is unpaid.
  • The factory does not provide workers with adequate personal protective equipment and workers do not receive any occupational health and safety training.
  • The factory does not provide a single training class on fire safety and other relevant knowledge.
  • The chairman of the labor union is always appointed by the factory, not elected by the workers, and the chairman is always the department leader or manager.
  • The factory does not report work injuries.
  • Verbal abuse is common at the factory.
  • The factory recruits student workers through dispatch companies, as student workers sent by schools are subject to many restrictions.
  • The factory violates the “The Administrative Provisions on the Internships of Vocational School Students” which stipulates that student workers cannot be recruited by agencies or dispatch companies but only schools.

Read the full report here: Zhengzhou Foxconn

Living under risk – Copper, ICT and Human Rights in Chile

Charlotte Christiaens | Catapa in the spotlight, Chile, Chile, Chile, Chile, Report, Mining, Mining, Mining, Mining, Publications, Publications, Publications, Publications, Report, Report, Report

Living under risk

Copper, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Human Rights in Chile

Catapa published this report together with War on Want. You can read it here.

CHILE, COPPER & ICT

Chile is currently the largest copper producer in the world, holding 29% of the world reserves of the red metal. Copper represents a crucial portion of the Chilean economy and the copper industry -as will be shown in this report- is highly influential in national politics.

But the extent and intensity of copper extraction across Chile’s territory has precipitated negative impacts in the environment and on communities that resist extractivism.

Through the analysis of a case study, this report unveils the adverse socio-environmental impacts of copper extraction and discusses the role of the company, the national government and international actors in addressing the consequences brought by the copper mining industry.

Within this last group, this report highlights the role that ICTs –which represent 24% of the usage of copper (Comisión Chilena del Cobre, 2016a) – could play in the improvement of social, environmental and labour conditions at the local level.

 

The case study

Caimanes is a small agrarian town situated in northern Chile that has been at the centre of opposition to the Los Pelambres (hereinafter MLP or the Company) mining project, the fifth largest copper mine in the world. The community does not have political relations with national or local elites, and therefore, as will be seen, its opportunities for mobilisation have been mostly limited.

Yet, the local community reacted against the construction of El Mauro tailings dam –the largest in Latin America- identifying various negative socio-environmental impacts on issues of water, health and security. As will be detailed in this report, the capacity of the community to mobilise resources has varied across the 20 years of struggle. Through its history of resistance, the community has gone through different phases of mobilisation: from a period of direct action to a process of formalising its demands in a judicial lawsuit, which has marked the last 10 years of mobilisation.

This case also reveals a process of countermobilisation to the protest. Given the significant scale of the project, and its high
levels of associated investment, the mining project has been assiduously defended by the state and the Company, restricting the possibilities for social contention. As will be seen throughout the report, both the Company and the state have deployed direct techniques of repression such as forced displacement, the criminalisation of local leaders, and use of police forces to suppress protests. Additionally, the corporate-state nexus, has also used more sophisticated forms of counter-mobilisation such as using company-community interactions to divide the inhabitants of Caimanes, and diminishing their capacity to decide in formal spaces of community engagement.

By analysing the mechanisms that explain the rise of the Caimanes mobilisation and its main shifts, this report explores the
emergence of micro-dynamics of contention in territories that lack political opportunities and resources. Its insights allow us to understand episodes of protest in an unfavourable context for social contention; and how, despite this restrictive context, the community has been able to create opportunities, resources and solidarities at different stages of the conflict.

The report begins with a contextualisation of the political economy of copper in Chile, highlighting how it relates to consumption at a global scale, with a specific emphasis placed on the consumption of ICTs. It then generates a process-tracing analysis of the episodes of contention marked by two significant stages of protest: (i) a period during which the community aimed to, and were successful in receiving compensation from the company and (ii) a period during which the community sought to legally demonstrate the negative impacts of the project. This part of the report includes a discussion about the interlinked relationship of the community with a growing labour movement that has not yet been able to coordinate their demands with the socioenvironmental movement. The concluding section summarises these two periods of
protest highlighting the most important elements that have generated conflict in the last 20 years. It also shows how the global consumption of copper (especially from ICTs), the closed political opportunities at the national level, the process of countermobilisation by the Company and lack of networks have ended up dividing and isolating the community, diminishing its capacity to self-organise.