TORONTO — A new report detailing COVID-19 outbreaks in mining facilities is accusing dozens of mining companies of prioritizing profit at the expense of the health of workers and local communities by continuing to operate during the pandemic.
The report released Tuesday by advocacy group MiningWatch Canada aggregates data from more than 18 countries. Kirsten Francescone, the group’s Latin America program co-ordinator, told CTVNews.ca that it suggests that many mining companies are also using the pandemic as a chance to push deregulation of environmental checks and balances, and avoid community oversight, all while endangering their own workers and those living nearby.
“Mining operations from the beginning were sort of given … special status to continue operating,” she said Monday in a phone interview.
Within Canada, many provinces listed mining operations as “essential” in March when shutting down workplaces and businesses in order to cut down on large gatherings in accordance with COVID-19 health precautions.
Since the pandemic began, Francescone said, mining operations across the world have become “hotspots for transmission of the virus.”
The report analyzed nearly 500 media reports, field reports, company and civil society statements to create a “snapshot report” of the situation, describing some of the events that have taken place across the globe over the past few months.
Francescone described the report as “an attempt to synthesize … the big trends of the industry profiting from the pandemic, and also creating a state of greater risk for communities that live close to mine sites, and mine workers themselves.”
The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) said in a statement to CTVNews.ca that “like many sectors across the Canadian economy, [the mining industry] has been heavily impacted by COVID-19,” but said this new study “maligned and mischaracterized” their industry by claiming it is putting profit above all else.
THE COVID-19 COST
According to MiningWatch Canada, almost 4,000 positive cases of COVID-19 were identified within the 61 mines and one mining convention covered in the report, and 247 additional cases of COVID-19 could be attributed to community spread from workers in the mines.
Canadian companies own more than one-third of these mining facilities. Out of the 61 operations included in the report, 24 were owned or partially-owned by Canadian companies.
While many of the mining operations in the report had only one or two recorded cases of COVID-19, when an outbreak did get big enough to turn fatal, it was often connected to a Canadian-owned operation.
Seven of the 10 COVID-19-related worker deaths covered in the report are connected to outbreaks in Canadian-owned or partially Canadian-owned mining operations in Canada, Ecuador, Panama and Peru.