Mining companies join environmentalists in opposing opening indigenous land to mining

Mar 25, 2022

An aerial view of a deforested area of the Amazon rainforest caused by illegal mining activities in Brazil.

There is a new and particularly notable opponent to the Brazilian government’s plans to allow mining on indigenous lands — the mining industry itself.

Proposed rules backed by President Jair Bolsonaro are considered too lax by large miners. In a statement Tuesday, iron ore giant ​Vale SA called for free, prior and informed consent by local communities. The company said that it will not participate in the “invasion of native lands” and requires a full consultation with native peoples before it begins exploration work that affect their interests.

Other companies are joining environmental groups and members of the public in opposing the fast-tracked bill, which is expected to be put to a vote in congress next month. It follows criticism of a decree to support artisanal miners, known as garimpos, whose operations often lack permits and damage forests, as part of Bolsonaro’s efforts to open up new areas to development.

A spokeman for Vale said that informal miners have caused great harm to the environment in South America, particularly in the Amazon regions of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. “Mining activity must be care regulated by governments, which means requiring proper permits for all projects,” he said.

Taking the side of indigenous groups underscores mining’s increased focus on environmental, social and governance issues amid rising scrutiny among investors and customers. Introducing loose regulations risks undermining efforts to rebuild Brazil’s sustainability credentials after two tailings dam disasters in recent years. Last year, Vale relinquished all of its mining processes on indigenous lands in Brazil.

To be sure, opposition to the bill doesn’t mean large mining companies are against tapping deposits on indigenous lands per se. They just want it done with rules that are in line with international standards.

The government-backed bill would pit informal miners with little consideration for ESG matters against the formal industry that depends on ESG-savvy investors, said Marcio Santilli, founding partner of NGO Instituto Socioambiental.
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Credit: Mining News

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