Contesting Big Mining from Canada to Mozambique

19 January 2015

How have mining transnational companies and the extractive industry become so powerful in every country, no matter the political shade. Marshall shows how the ‘promiscuously intimate’
relationship between governments and companies developed and how we might resist.

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During a visit to Mozambique in September 2014, I witnessed a protest against Brazilian mining giant, Vale. Villagers from Bagamoyo, adjacent to Vale’s coal mine, were fighting construction of a chain metal fence through their community. Vale claimed it was fencing off “unoccupied land” leased from the Mozambican government. If a “trespasser” had an accident, Vale would be liable!

Chatting with community members as they made their protest signs, it became abundantly clear that this “unoccupied” land was, in fact, the village “commons”. While their houses were within the village, they and generations before them had lived off land on the village outskirts and even used part of the land as a cemetery. The Mozambican government had included this land in the leasehold with Vale for its mining operations without informing the Bagamoyo community members. Their farms and their mango trees were on this land. They raised their goats and cattle there. This land was a source of firewood and charcoal for cooking, thatch for roofing and sticks for drying racks for cassava roots, and clay for building blocks. Vale had already bulldozed some of their kilns built next to the clay deposits.

What has given big mining companies the power to grab land already under traditional communal usage all around the globe? Why do governments of every stripe – dictatorial, liberal, socialist – baptise these extractive sector companies as ‘development partners’ and abdicate any stewardship role over their country’s natural resources and the rights and well-being of their own citizens?

This essay explores the sources of power of the big mining companies through the historical shifts in the roles of the state and private corporations in economic development strategies, and the new – and promiscuous – intimacy between governments and mining companies. It uncovers instruments used to exercise power, from free trade agreements to investment protection agreements to land grabs. It explores the ideological offensive of big mining through corporate-funded think tanks and grants to universities tied to mining-friendly programmes of study and the revolving doors between government and corporate appointments. It examines corporate branding instruments from membership in the UN Global Compact to high profile philanthropy to local community pacifiers such as a clinic or a school baptised as ‘corporate social responsibility’. It also looks at how mining companies exercise power illegally through bribery, spying and infiltration of popular movements. Finally, the essay looks at some of the innovative ways communities and workers are resisting the power and logic of big mining, all of it drawing on my trade union experiences over the past 20 years in building global solidarity.

This essay was published in the State of Power 2015.

Pages: 14