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Covid-19: Support for Indigenous Peoples

10 June 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time, with governments and health services alike racing to slow the spread of the virus. But Covid-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stretching and stressing the capacity of each country it touches, Covid-19 has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will have lasting repercussions.

ICMM’s Mining Principles

Respect for human rights and the interests cultures, customs and values of employees and communities affected by mining and metals operations is fundamental. Through ICMM’s Mining Principles, ICMM company members commit to ‘respect the rights, interests, aspirations, culture and natural resource-based livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples in project design, development and operation; apply the mitigation hierarchy to address adverse impacts; and deliver sustainable benefits for Indigenous Peoples’.

It is particularly important that help and support is made available to Indigenous Peoples. In nearly all countries Indigenous Peoples fall into the most ‘vulnerable’ health category and have significantly higher rates of communicable and noncommunicable diseases than their non-indigenous counterparts, high mortality rates and lower life expectancies. Contributing factors that increase the potential for high mortality rates caused by Covid-19 in indigenous communities include mal- and undernutrition, poor access to sanitation, lack of clean water and inadequate medical services.

Mining-related activities often take place on or near indigenous land. ICMM members want to be good neighbours and good partners – and commit to building constructive relationships with Indigenous Peoples. Recognising the potential vulnerability of Indigenous Peoples to the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, ICMM company members have taken steps to protect the wellbeing of local indigenous communities.

Making a positive contribution

Building on the values of ICMM’s Mining Principles, company members have been pro-active in responding to the demands of Covid-19: moving fast and acting ethically to protect and care for employees and surrounding indigenous communities, as an over-riding priority.

  • BHP is supporting local indigenous organisations and services to assist people in returning to remote communities. BHP will continue to work with these communities and government to ensure that people have what they need to stay safe in their communities. BHP has also acted to protect the welfare of vulnerable indigenous mine workers over 50, by supporting measures including discretionary leave to minimise their risks of contracting Covid-19.
  • In North America, Freeport-McMoRan has donated thousands of medical items to hospitals, medical clinics and organisations in six tribal nations. Barrick has committed US$275,000 to support local communities in Nevada with food supplies and other necessities, particularly those most impacted by Covid-19, including vulnerable older people, people who are homeless and indigenous communities.
  • At MMG’s Las Bambas, the community radio station Radio Surphuy has been active in supporting communication throughout the province of Cotabambas. Providing regular updates, interviews with local and regional authorities and health personnel, call-in sessions and advice on hygiene and social distancing, the broadcasts are delivered in both Quechua, the local indigenous language, and Spanish.
  • Teck Resources’ Community Response Fund is a dedicated community investment fund for supporting local organisations affected by Covid-19 (such as healthcare and social services). A portion of this fund is specifically dedicated to supporting Indigenous communities. Teck Red Dog Operations has also donated 22 bolts of cotton fabric, thread, and elastic to communities in northwestern Alaska for face masks.
  • Vale has pledged BRL2.3million (US$429,000) to support the construction of several quarantine units for ethnic groups including a centre for the Awá, Guajajara and Ka’apor Indians. Vale is also donating cleaning kits to 475 Quilombola families, mariculturists and artisanal fishermen from Sepetiba Bay. In Canada, Vale has put its Voisey´s Bay operations into Care and Maintenance to help protect the health and well-being of Nunatsiavut and Innu indigenous communities due to the unique remoteness of the area.

In the context of Covid-19, it has never been more important that the mining and metals industry helps to build local and national resilience through its actions. As the global community responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, ICMM members will continue to support local and national services, both through significant donations to Covid-19 funds and in the delivery of practical support to those in need.