Anglo American is a London-based mining company. The company was founded in 1918 and today it is one of the largest in the world. It has mining operations in Peru, Chile, Colombia and Brazil, in Botswana (through De Beers), South Africa, Canada, and Australia. Mineral extraction operations are focused on copper, platinum, nickel, iron, coal and diamonds, among other diverse minerals.
The health crisis, which has affected the whole world, seems to have left the extractive sector unscathed. The mining giant released its preliminary financial results in December 2020, reaching a total of $ 9.8 billion. This result is due to the overexploitation of iron and copper in Brazil and Chile. But, above all, it is a result of the serious impacts on the lives of people and the environment. The report from the Latin American Observatory of Mining Conflicts and other reports on COVID-19 and Mining detail how the industry has taken advantage of the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to benefit itself, regardless of the violations of human rights and the degradation of ecosystems.
On April 15, Anglo American announced its commitment to using 100% renewable energy in all its mining operations in South America by 2022. This announcement is a welcome step forward given the energy impact of mining. However, the communities that are neighboring a company operation are clear that this is not the only measure that the mining giant must take to reduce its impact. Anglo American has become known around the world for being involved in multiple socio-environmental conflicts. The main conflicts in Latin America are related to its operations at the Cerrejón coal mine, the largest in the Americas, the El Soldado and Los Bronces copper mines in Chile, the future copper project in Quellaveco, Peru, and the Minas Rio iron ore mine in Brazil.
On May 5, Anglo American will hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM). Every year the session takes place in person in London. Due to the health crisis, this meeting will be held online. However, questions may be submitted online. Therefore, the London Mining Network, a coalition of climate justice and human rights organizations, working in solidarity with communities facing the impacts of London-based mining companies, will present the truth about the impacts of the company. Communities in resistance to Anglo American, together with the London Mining Network, War On Want, TerraJusta and many other organizations will present information about the company’s destructive operations in Latin America. They will show the reality of the problems communities are facing, such as the extreme scarcity of water, the destruction of glaciers, the degradation of the ecosystem, water and air pollution, as well as diseases related to mining operations.
In Chile, communities based a few kilometres from Anglo American sites have been, are and will be suffering from tailings (fine mining waste) dust, water shortages, glacier destruction and pollution as a result of the company’s activities. Anglo American is depriving the communities of Lo Barnechea, Colina and El Melón of water. Currently people have problems accessing drinking water to live. This impact is a consequence of the overexploitation of water basins and the direct impact on glaciers from the company’s operations. In addition, the mining company owns water rights for more than 119 million litres of water per day.
91% of the glaciers in South America are found in Chile and they are the main water reserve for the country. From 1988 to 2005, between 6 and 9 million cubic metres of glacier water have been destroyed in the upper basins of the Mapocho and Maipo Rivers (Brenning, 2010). Anglo American, with its operations in Los Bronces Integrado, has contributed to the destruction of glaciers in Chile, impacting the most important water reserves for life in the region.
Teresa Poblete, environmental leader of the No + Anglo Movement, says: “We find their presence and impact unacceptable. Everyone can see that our communities are being allowed to get sick and increasingly poorer. Due to their operations, our land is worthless, we inhale mining dust that damages our lungs, we do not have access to drinking water and when we have water, it is contaminated. We ask you, if you have a bit of humanity, not to kill us all “.
In Colombia, Anglo American, together with BHP and Glencore, operate the largest open cast coal mine in Latin America: Cerrejón. The mine is located in the department of La Guajira, a dry region and ancestral territory of the Wayuu people.
Despite the fact that the climate crisis is forcing us to stop using fossil fuels, the Cerrejón Coal company has an expansion plan for the Bruno stream to exploit the La Puente pit.
The decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court SU-698 of 2017, protects ‘The right to health, water and food security of indigenous communities in the face of the threat of violation by the project to divert the channel of the Bruno stream that the Cerrejón company is pursuing’. Yet this was ignored by Cerrejón and the State Institutions when they authorised the diversion and destruction of the natural course of the Bruno Stream with the objective of expanding and continuing coal extraction.
Anglo American has been criticized because it has expressed its intention to sell its shares at Cerrejón Mine, no later than 2023. At the same time it has allowed Cerrejón to divert the Bruno Stream to expand the coal mine. The diversion ignores Colombian Constitutional Court judgment SU-698 of 2017. Anglo American must comply with the orders issued by the Colombian constitutional court.
The diversion of the Bruno Stream is causing perpetual and irreparable damage with the destruction of the aquifer and the loss of underground water storage capacity in an area of water scarcity and high vulnerability to climate change. According to technical experts in hydrology, this is generated by the siphoning effect on the groundwater generated by the large hole in the mine next to this channel. It also affects the tropical dry forest, impacting all living beings in the territory. Anglo American has not considered the views of the indigenous communities in their spiritual relationship with the Bruno Stream.
The communities demand the return of the waters of the Bruno Stream to their natural course, in compliance with ruling SU-698 of 2017, in accordance with the guidelines given by the Constitutional Court on the principle of precaution and preservation of the environmental integrity of the Bruno stream.
Given that the mine’s operating permit lastsuntil the year 2034, Anglo American cannot simply sell its shares without taking responsibility for its previous impacts. This implies closing the mine in a fair and adequate manner, with the direct participation of the communities and workers.
In Peru, Anglo American is the majority shareholder of the Quellaveco copper mining project, located in the department of Moquegua, in the South Andean region of the country. It is expected to start operations in 2022 using the open pit method. Quellaveco is one of the largest copper deposits in the world, with 7.5 million tons in mineral reserves. The useful life of the mine would initially be 30 years, but with the possibility of expansion. The Quellaveco mine is projected to produce 300,000 tons of copper during its first ten years of operation.
This “world-class project”, as Anglo American has called it, will use approximately 22 million cubic metres of water per year, of which 18 million will come from the Titire River and the other 4 million from a Vizcachas dam that it is building. The Moquegua region has a water shortage problem. This has been compounded by the negative effects of previous mining operations. The Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office previously identified this situation as a potential conflict since Quellaveco could exacerbate the scarcity of water resources in the Tambo river basin.
The project has also raised concerns because the use of water could modify the hydrological balance of the area, since water from rivers and rain play a role in the water cycle, which has neither a beginning nor an end. Surface water courses and their runoff or surpluses in rainy weather fulfill a series of environmental services, such as the recharge of underground aquifers and the regeneration of natural flora, among several others. This water is never lost. Even if it reaches the sea, it fulfills a function carrying nutrients and other elements that are part of the water balance and of the ecosystems in the area.
One concern is that Quellaveco has diverted the Asana River into an 8-kilometre tunnel, in order to make its project viable. The company says it is protecting the river so that it does not come into contact with the operation, but modifying nature is not an option. No engineering work can replicate what nature has done for thousands of years, creating rivers that contain complex ecosystems, surface and underground, that will be disrupted. We have already seen the experience of La Guajira, in Colombia, where the Cerrejón coal company diverted the Bruno Stream to expand the mine. Subsequent inspections have verified that the Bruno Stream and its ecosystems are disappearing. All of these water issues could lead to conflicts in the future. Anglo American announced an agreement with a Peruvian company to provide renewable energy to the operation. A transition towards a low-carbon economy must be accompanied by care for the environment and water in the territories.
In Brazil, the presence and impact of the mining company dates back more than forty years. However, since 2014, Anglo American has owned the Minas Río operation, where it mainly exploits iron. This is located in the State of Minas Gerais. The State Prosecutor’s Office filed a civil action against Anglo American in 2020, due to the admission of a project that authorized the heightening of the Sapo dam. This dam exceeded the permitted limits. This action violates national laws, since the construction of dams is prohibited when there are communities that inhabit the rescue zone. The communities of São José do Jassém, Água Quente and Passa Sete live downstream of the dam. For this reason, community members believe their lives are in danger. At the same time, in the Amazon, Anglo American has clear intentions to pursue extractive operations. This would cause clear damage to one of the most important lungs of the world and the indigenous peoples that have historically inhabited the Amazon. Currently, the company has about 80 exploration permits in the indigenous lands of the Amazon. This is prohibited, but it is believed that the political will of the government exists to create a bill that allows extractive exploitation in the Amazon.
This press release is launched on the same day that Anglo American holds its Annual General Meeting in London (May 4, 2021)
Latin American Network on Anglo American: public statement for our territories! here