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Finance for destructive mining

Banks injected $37.7 billion into mining companies tied to forest destruction and human rights violations
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Metal structure in the Xingu River, near the Belo Monte dam

Metal structure in the Xingu River, near the Belo Monte dam. © Cícero Pedrosa Neto/Amazônia Real

Since 2016, banks have provided $37.7 billion in credit to 24 small to large mining companies at risk of causing forest destruction, water contamination and human rights violations across three tropical regions.

The top five financiers are Citigroup, BNP Paribas, SMBC Group, MUFG and Standard Chartered.

Of all credit provided in this period, 43% ($16.1 billion) went to companies in Southeast Asia, while Central & West Africa and Latin America both received $10.8 billion.

Complicity in Destruction

The findings are pat of a new dataset launched by the international coalition Forests & Finance, the Indonesian NGO Walhi and the Brazilian Movement of Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM). 

The new dataset follows the launch of a recent report by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and Forests & Finance Coalition member Amazon Watch, ‘Complicity in Destruction IV Report’, which exposed how mining companies and international investors are driving Indigenous rights violations and threatening the future of the Amazon ecosystem.

Over 6,000 Indigenous peoples have participated in the Free Land Camp, Brazil’s largest Indigenous mobilisation protesting Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous political agenda, including Bill 191/2020 which intends to legalise mining on their territories.

‘A compilation of data of this size only reinforces the purpose of our daily struggle in the territories. It is necessary for society to know who is behind the onslaught of mineral capital in our country. Above all, society must have access to investment data, to understand who finances this activity, taking it to an uncontrollable level and generating ‘ore-dependency’.

‘It is an enclave economy that distorts territories, destroys regional economies, and forcibly imposes new environmental legislation, corrupting the Brazilian Parliament and generating a climate and environmental crisis.

‘It is a free-for-all, carried out by the mining sector, in favour of shareholders and against nature.’

National Board of the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mineração, MAM

Mining impacts

As of the end of January 2022, investors held $61 billion in shares and bonds issued by the 24 mining companies. More than half of this amount (55%) was invested in operations in Latin America, 26% in Southeast Asia and 19% in Central and West Africa. The top five largest investors are Capital Group, BlackRock, Vanguard, Previ, and Bradesco.

Industrial mining activities cause major socio-environmental impacts globally. The sector is a significant driver of deforestation in tropical regions, it contaminates rivers and often leaves a trail of disasters and human rights violations in its wake.

As an example, Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world, is headquartered in Brazil, where it accumulates conflicts with Indigenous peoples and traditional communities in the Amazon and across the country. It has been involved in two of Brazil’s largest mining accidents: the rupture of the dams of Mariana and Brumadinho, which killed hundreds, flooded a village and contaminated the rivers Rio Doce and Paraopeba.

‘There must be a general understanding that rainforest areas should not be available for mineral exploration because of their importance in combating climate change and guaranteeing life on the planet. The same goes for Indigenous lands, traditional territories and conservation units. This understanding must come from the government, but also from the companies and from the financial corporations that invest in them.’

Brazil programme director at Amazon Watch

Holding investors to account

Freeport McMoRan operates one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines in Papua, Indonesia, where it has caused widespread contamination of natural water systems.

The company has also been criticised for fuelling armed conflicts in the Mimika Regency, resulting in large-scale environmental degradation and multiple human rights violations.

‘Freeport is a picture of wounds for Papuans. Freeport’s operations in Papua not only caused economic losses, but have also destroyed sources of life and the environment, and eliminated the values of life and culture that have been highly respected both by Papuans and Indonesians’, said Hadi Jatmiko, head of the campaign division of Walhi.

In the DRC, Glencore operates the largest cobalt-producing mine in the world. Recent reports reveal poor working conditions at the mine and highlight a history of polluting the surrounding air and the soil.

Its due diligence processes on human rights and the environment were found to be incomplete.

‘We are publishing this dataset to increase the transparency about which financial institutions are supporting mining companies that can cause social and environmental impacts. It’s a tool for civil society to hold financiers and investors accountable for the impacts they finance.’

Coordinator of the Forests & Finance Coalition

The open-source and searchable dataset is available on the Forests & Finance website, which already contains a comprehensive dataset about financial flows to forest-risk soft commodity companies, with operations in tropical forest regions.

Forests & Finance is an initiative by a coalition of campaign and research organizations including Rainforest Action Network, TuK Indonesia, Profundo, Amazon Watch, Repórter Brasil, BankTrack, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, and Friends of the Earth US.

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