Over the last few years, the idea of ‘sustainable mining’ has, thanks to industry sponsorship, been working its way into the agenda of many international processes. There is now a push in many countries to invite in multinational mining companies with the idea that there is a ‘new, sustainable mining’ that is different from the old, bad practices of the past. Yet what has actually changed in the industry to match this shift in rhetoric? From the perspective of mine-affected communities, nothing seems to have changed. Their land is still being taken from them without giving their free, prior and informed consent, and they are suffering the same ill effects on their ways of life, health and environment. This paper will illustrate, using case studies from the Philippines and West Papua, how under this rhetoric, the mining industry ‘emperor’ has the same old naked ambitions. This paper intends to look at how ‘sustainable mining’ is perceived from the viewpoint of mines-affected communities and their supporters. Ideally a representative of such a community should be writing this, but as this was not possible, I am writing this as a member of the editorial board of Mines and Communities (MAC). (MAC is a network of organizations across the world seeking to empower mining-affected communities in their struggles against damaging proposals and projects. More information on Mines and Communities, including the members of its editorial board, can be viewed at http://www.minesandcommunities.org.) Many of the communities MAC works with are made up of indigenous (or first, aboriginal) peoples, who have been unfairly disadvantaged by mineral development on or near their land. The paper will therefore concentrate to some extent on the issues of indigenous communities.
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Sustainable Minerals Operations in the Developing World
The sustainable development of minerals, which are non-renewable resources, is a major challenge in today’s world. In this regard the true definition of sustainability’ is a debating point in itself: can such a concept exist with respect to non-renewable resources? Perhaps the ideal sustainability model is one that minimizes negative environmental impact and maximizes benefits to society, the economy and regional/national development. Developed and near-developed economies rely for commodity supplies on developing countries where major mining operations are often a mainstay of the domestic economy. Limited environmental regulation and low wages lead to charges of exploitation. Also, large numbers of people have no alternative to living by informal, often dangerous, ‘artisanal’ mining. This Special Publication gives examples from developing countries at all scales of mineral extraction. The volume reviews environmental, economic, health and social problems and highlights the need to solve these before sustainability can be achieved. The better solutions require mutual understanding, through full involvement of all stakeholders, education, training and investment so that small-scale ansd artisinal mines can grow into well-managed operations. At larger scales, most major interantional mining companies have now inoproved their practices and are monitoring their progress, although there is no room for complacency in this rapidly changing area.