Saying Yes to Life, No to Mining during a global pandemic

Yes to Life, No to Mining (YLNM) is a global solidarity network of and for communities, organisations and networks who are standing up for their Right to Say No to mining and advancing life-sustaining, post-extractive alternatives- whether they be new or ancient. Our members hail from every inhabited continent. We are bound together in the shared belief that saying no to mining is not a selfish, negative or anti-development position, but an absolute necessity at this moment of social, economic and ecological crisis.

Pandemic profiteers

While fossil fuels, aviation and other dirty industries have found themselves in the spotlight during COVID-19, to-date the mining industry has received little scrutiny. But this doesn’t mean mining companies have not been seeking to profit from a crisis that affects us all. Far from it.

During the pandemic, YLNM and a global network of partners and allies, including Mining Watch Canada, London Mining Network, TerraJusta and others, have been tracking the mining industry’s behaviour.

In June, after several months of research, meetings and dialogue with partners, we released an open-statement alongside 300 other organisations condemning the ways that the mining industry and numerous governments are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to manufacture new mining opportunities and enhance their damaged reputations.

The statement, based on a global analysis of over 500 sources, identifies four major trends in how the mining industry has abused the pandemic to turn a profit and advance their interests, putting land and water protectors at greater risk of harm.

These trends are explored in-depth in a new report, entitled Voices from the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

They are:

  • Mining companies are ignoring the real threats of the pandemic and continuing to operate, using any means available
  • Governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures to shut down legitimate protests and promote the mining sector
  • Mining companies are using the pandemic as an opportunity to whitewash their dirty track records and present themselves as public-minded saviours
  • Mining companies and governments are using the crisis to secure regulatory change that favours the industry at the expense of people and planet.


Free of public oversight and scrutiny, governments have imposed restrictions on people’s freedom of association and movement to protect public health. But these severe and even militarised measures compromise people’s ability to defend their territories and their lives.

Land defenders face greater risk of targeted violence and some remain unjustly imprisoned, posing additional risks of infection. Governments have also deployed state forces (military and police) to repress legitimate, safe protests, especially in instances where there is long standing opposition to a company’s activities.

In early April, for example, long-standing peaceful protest encampments around OceanaGold’s Didipio mine in the Philippines were violently evicted by state police on grounds that they contravened the Covid-19 lockdown. While the Indigenous Ifugao protestors were practicing social distancing measures, the police's forceful dispersal of protestors led to physical contact.

Over two hundred local and international solidarity groups condemned the violent dispersal of the Didipio encampments and called on the Office of the President to definitively cancel OceanaGold’s permit renewal application.


Mining companies are lobbying to expedite administrative decisions and weaken the already-limited measures which do exist to address the social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of their activities. Impacts that are almost always borne by affected communities.

Whether explicitly, by suspending the little environmental oversight and enforcement there was, or implicitly, by making it more challenging for affected communities to get information and intervene in permitting processes, governments are making deep concessions to the mining industry – and companies are now lobbying governments to make such deregulation permanent.

In Indonesia, for example, a contested mining law was passed in the midst of the pandemic. This law had been slated for a parliamentary vote last year but was not passed due to mass public protest.


Some mining companies have set up assistance funds or made sizeable donations to state ministries. These direct cash ‘donations’ are not only far from commensurate with the real impacts of their activities. They also represent a corruption risk, which is already evident as we see governments willing to weaken emergency measures, fail to enforce those in place, or exclude the mining industry from them entirely.

For example, Canadian company, Barrick Gold- a company with a chequered human rights record to say the least- has made several large donations to African countries which the company says are intended to help combat the Covid-19 epidemic.

In Senegal, in the presence of the minister of mines, the company presented nearly a million dollars to the finance ministry. In the DRC, Barrick donated US$1.5 million dollars to an emergency Covid-19 fund set-up by the central government.

In Tanzania, amid allegations of severe human rights violations at its North Mara mine, the company donated US$1.3 million to various levels of government. Most worrisome is the sizeable donation of US$1.3 million made directly to the Ministry of Mines in Côte d’Ivoire.

It is curious that none of this money was given directly to the respective ministries of health, given its expressed purpose.

These donations raise concerns about who will ensure that this money is not used to bind countries' hands into keeping the mining industry open during the pandemic or providing it with certain privileges during the recovery period to follow.

A green recovery?

For observers of the mining industry’s behaviour in recent months, it has become clear that companies are jostling for position in what they hope will be a post-COVID mining bonanza.

Mining companies have long been framing themselves as vital to the delivery of the minerals and metals necessary for a global transition away from fossil fuels and the realisation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The COVID pandemic has given them an opportunity to accelerate this narrative, push to the front and offer their services to get us ‘back to normal’ or to deliver a ‘green recovery’, depending on the context.

But we should not go ‘back to normal’ when that ‘normal’ entails the expansion of extractivism, deepening social inequity and the path to irreversible climate change. Nor can a recovery via - or a transition to- renewable energies be considered achievable, sustainable or desirable if it relies on the massive expansion of industrial-scale mining.

Mineral and metal mining and processing is responsible for 26% of global carbon emissions according to the International Resources Panel, and mine impacts- on people and planet- are only growing as ore grades decline.

This is an industry predicated on harm, and which relies on inequalities of power to function. No crisis, whether it be the COVID-19 pandemic, or the climate emergency, will be solved by more mining.


Healthy communities, Indigenous peoples, workers, and social movements – not the profits of predatory mining corporations – are essential during the pandemic and must be at the centre of plans moving forward. We cannot look to the architects of the intersecting global health, economic, ecological and climate crises we are experiencing, for solutions.

Instead, as YLNM and in our ongoing research efforts with global allies, we are taking the lead of our members and the communities we support. From the tropical forests of Myanmar to Finland’s sub-arctic peatlands, we are working together to support, raise-up and learn from examples of emerging, community- led alternatives to the extractive development paradigm.

Restoration on the Jukajoki

In Finland, after a massive acidic leak from a peat mine killed thousands of fish in the Jukajoki River in 2011, the villagers of Selkie took action to protect the main source of their livelihoods and wellbeing.

A community-led campaign led to the closure of the mine, and since that time the people of Selkie have played a central role in re-wilding not only the former mine-site, but also their water systems throughout the Jukajoki catchment area.

Blending traditional knowledge and science in a pioneering form of ecological co-management, villagers have guided an ecological revival unparalleled anywhere in the Fennoscandian boreal. The former mine site, previously a barren strip-mine, is now visited by more than 195 bird species, including thousands of geese on their migration routes. Waters that, due to mining, had PH similar to battery acid and were loaded with heavy metals, are now running clear and clean again. Fish are returning to these streams. Ducks are nesting in new wetlands.

This remarkable ecological restoration, itself a manifestation of the village of Selkie’s vision, is also having tangible cultural and livelihood impacts, strengthening village autonomy and subsistence. Local fishermen can now enjoy rebounding fish stocks and cleaner waters. Hunters have access to new areas and have adapted their practices in agreement with the whole community to target invasive species that threaten the return of biodiversity of rewilded sites. The restoration of marshmires and wetlands is allowing the return of long grasses, cut for hay to feed domestic animals, and of berries picked, processed and stored to provide much needed, locally sourced vitamins during the dark, long months of winter.

The holistic revival of culture, subsistence livelihoods and ecosystems in Selkie has found international recognition, with restored areas becoming Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs)- managed by the community, for the benefit of the wider community of life on these lands and waters. ICCA status offers a degree of protection for the lands, waters and community of Selkie in an area still targeted for extractivism in the form of mining and industrial forestry.

As the carbon-rich marshmires and wetlands of Selkie, and their custodians, have begun to heal, they have also begun to sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, effectively reversing the process of peat mining.

The success of Selkie’s ecological restoration in biodiversity and climate terms has spawned a movement. This small village, supported by local organisation the Snowchange Cooperative, has catalysed a landscape rewilding programme across Finland, from the traditional territories of the Skolt Sami in the north, to the nation’s western archipelagos. In each place climate- critical land- and waterscapes are being protected and restored to health, with local and Indigenous peoples and their knowledges at the helm.

“This is about total re-birth on the land”, says Snowchange’s Tero Mustonen.

Protection in Kawthoolei

In the hyper-biodiverse ancestral territory of the Karen Indigenous People, the future is not so much invested in reviving and restoring critical ecosystems and the lifeways that rely upon them, but rather protecting them.

According to their own calendar, the Karen have lived in this territory, known as Kawthoolei, for at least 2,758 years, developing intricate governance systems and deep connections to the land.

In the Karen’s finely balanced ‘Ku’ shifting cultivation system, vegetables and other foods are grown on a defined, but adaptable, rotation, allowing nature to recover in between cropping. Rivers and wetlands are similarly governed according to customary law to ensure they continue to provide a means of reliable transport and trade, as well as a rich source of fish. Wild forests, where the Karen forage for wild foods like bamboo shoots, banana fruits and flowers, honey, mushrooms, and edible ferns- are venerated and respected.

“Many areas in Myanmar have been deforested, with animal habitats destroyed, and plant species lost, but in our Karen homeland healthy populations of threatened and near threatened wildlife can thrive”, say members of the Karen Environment and Social Action Network (KESAN).

But maintaining these positive relationships with their home ecosystem has not been easy for the Karen.

A focal point for one of the longest-running civil conflicts in the world, Kawthoolei has also attracted the attention of gold miners, quarriers and Chinese and Thai companies wishing to construct massive hydro dams along the mighty Salween River.

In this challenging context, the Karen have unilaterally decalred and created The Salween Peace Park (SPP), which they describe as “a grassroots, people- centered alternative to the Myanmar government and foreign companies’ plans for destructive development in the Salween River basin”.

Local governance structures for the Peace Park have been established, with power stemming from the grassroots-level upwards, and a charter representing the principles laid out by the SPP’s communities has already been developed.

Members of the General Assembly are now working with knowledgeable community members in a series of working groups to strengthen the governing body and develop a series of initiatives to improve the lives of Karen communities inside the SPP. A master plan is also being developed, guided by local communities, to build a roadmap towards achieving their aspirations of peace and self-determination, environmental integrity, and cultural survival.

“The Salween Peace Park is federal democracy in action”, say KESAN.

Democracy in Cajamarca

The town of Cajamarca is carved into the Andes, framed by the snowy peaks of the Nevado del Tolima and the Cerro Machin Volcano.

More than half of Cajamarca’s 20,000 inhabitants live off the land as peasant farmers. Their municipality is the world’s number one producer of arracacha, an Andean parsnip that is of particular importance to Cajamarcans. Farmers say a sweet _arracachuno _smell surrounds these crops. According to local farmers, arracacha is Cajamarca’s ‘true gold’, but South African mining multinational AgloGold Ashanti (AGA) disagrees.

In 2007, AGA announced the discovery of a massive gold deposit in Cajamarca. They named the deposit ‘La Colosa’ (‘The Colossus’), estimating it to hold around 30 million ounces of gold – the largest gold discovery in Colombia at the time. Extracting the gold locked up in La Colosa’s reserves would involve blasting more than 1 billion tons of rock, require more than 500 million tons of explosives and hundreds of thousand tons of cyanide in order to separate the gold from other minerals like pyrite, or ‘fool’s gold’.

In March 2017, following 10 years of tireless organising by grassroots groups in Cajamarca and their close allies in Ibagué, citizens succeeded in holding a ‘popular consultation’ (a local referendum provided for in Colombia’s constitution) called by and for the people in Cajamarca.

Mobilised by social movements in the region, 6,241 voters took to the polls on the day of the vote. Of those people, only 76 voted in favour of mining, while 6,165 voted against- a landslide victory of 98%. This resounding landslide victory dealt a major blow to La Colosa and AGA’s plans in the region. The company has since suspended its operations in Cajamarca.

Since the success of Cajamarca’s popular consultation, and indeed long before, the organisations that came together to resist La Colosa began promoting non- extractive livelihoods rooted in Cajamarca’s agrarian identity, shaping a new development narrative.

“People in Cajamarca and Colombia more widely are calling for a new paradigm and a new development model that includes alternatives that are rooted in and serve the well-being of the planet and the people. We cannot and should not base our development pathways on the expansion of the extractive industries”, says campaigner Mariana Gomez.

From creating new markets to support peasant farmers growing using agroecological methods, to developing communal ways to provision citizens with water, since the popular consultation Cajamarcans have been blazing a trail towards this alternative vision of locally sourced and controlled abundance. In doing so, they are fighting back against the industry-peddled myth that communities who reject mining are condemned to poverty.

Cajamarca’s victory and subsequent revival has become emblematic, and popular consultations have experienced a ‘boom’ in Colombia. Ten more municipalities have voted down extractive projects through popular consultations and more than 70 other municipalities have expressed their interest in holding popular consultations regarding extractive projects. Despite entrenched opposition from the Colombian federal government, this rapid expansion of effective territorial defence continues a-pace.

An ethic new and ancient

Selkie, Salween and Cajamarca. It is in places like these where the hope for a green recovery and a truly sustainable future lies- a plural, post-extractive future of many parts.

The Karen’s efforts to establish the Salween Peace Park highlights the critical need to protect intact ecosystems and the ‘alternatives’ that already exist in the millennia-old, but constantly renewed and adapted lifeways of land-based and Indigenous communities.

In their struggle for the Right to Say No, the people of Cajamarca demonstrate how and why direct, perhaps bio-regional, democracy is a crucial pre-requisite for better ecological decision making, addressing the asymmetries of power that exist between states and corporations on the one hand, and citizens and local authorities on the other. They also show us that saying no to mining means saying yes to the possibility of life-sustaining (re)productive and regenerative alternatives.

Selkie’s remarkable efforts to rewild damaged lands and waters are an exemplary example of decolonised, community-led conservation in the North. The villagers also reveal to us the critical need for a post-extractive future to facilitate the restoration of our planets vital systems and cycles. So much damage has been done already and this damage must be undone.

These stories of ‘post-extractivism from below’ each reveal something different, but their fundamental similarity lies in tending to and transforming the relations of care between peoples and the territories in which they live and upon which they ultimately rely. Resilience flows from this ancient ethic, and it is this post-extractivism seeks to renew in order to end an age of sacrifice zones imposed through violent supremacies.

Explore YLNM’s emblematic cases of ‘post-extractivism from below’ on our website. We hope they inspire and inform: _