Canadian companies are putting communities at risk during COVID-19 pandemic
Canadian companies operate mining, energy and hydro-electric projects across Canada and in over 100 countries around the world. Many of these projects have been associated with serious human rights and environmental abuses, prompting the Canadian government to establish voluntary initiatives to encourage companies to respect human rights. However, Canada’s active promotion of oil, gas, mining and hydro projects coupled with an alarming lack of corporate respect for human rights has led to wide-spread impunity for corporate human rights abuses.
During the global COVID19 pandemic, this is especially concerning. Many countries – including Canada – have declared mining, energy and construction as essential services, allowing companies to continue operating. Communities are concerned that their governments are not taking the additional risks to workers and communities seriously enough.
While some companies are taking appropriate measures, inadequate sanitation, physical distancing, and sleeping arrangements in work camps and on job sites are frequently reported by workers. As of June 1, available data shows infection transmission at nearly two-dozen Canadian operated mine sites in Canada and the Americas alone, resulting in hundreds of sick workers and community transmission of the virus.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where much of the world’s copper and cobalt are mined, workers have been pressured to accept shifts of up to two months or risk losing their jobs. They can’t leave the site to be with their families and are forced to sleep in dorms with other workers, are not provided with adequate handwashing facilities, food, or water, and receive very little extra pay – only $2 per day. In Guatemala, community members have accused a Canadian mining company of taking advantage of the health and economic crisis to garner support by handing out food and other aid in exchange for people’s names and ID numbers. They say this will lead to more tension between community members once pandemic response measures are lifted.
The situation for human rights and earth defenders, especially those who oppose resource exploitation, is dire: their freedom of mobility has been severely curtailed by lockdown measures, putting them at ever greater risk of harm by those who wish to silence them. In Colombia alone, more than 28 human rights defenders have been murdered since March, including people killed in their homes while they complied with quarantine measures. Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous places on earth to undertake this work.