London is one of the world’s main financial and industrial centres, and is considered one of the four cities leading the global economy.
Javier E. Núñez Calderón
This city is host to a considerable number of powerful multinational companies. It is a centre where hundreds of organisations and social movements promote human rights throughout the world.
One of these organisations is the Colombia Solidarity Campaign (CSC) who has developed a series of activities in favour of social justice and long-lasting peace for the South American nation. It also campaigns against foreign intervention, labour exploitation and against the association of multinational companies and extreme right-wing criminal organisations, responsible for forced displacement and human rights violations.
With that in mind, the organisation has been working on a series of lawsuits and protests against mining companies and the Colombian government, after it issued the multinational AngloGold Ashanti a number of mining permits without previously consulting the indigenous and farming communities who live in the land where the mines are.
Andrew Higginbottom, professor at the Social Sciences and Arts Faculty at Kingston University, has been investigating the history of gold and the environmental for the past 25 years, including the social and cultural effects its exploitation has on the communities who live in the lands where mines are developed.
He is also a human rights activist in favour of indigenous and farming communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as a founding member of the CSC. He gave an interview on the topic to The Prisma.
Is there a connection between London and the world gold exploitation system?
Yes. After the liberation of South Africa with the independence movements, big gold mining companies with headquarters in the country, decided to move their offices to London. Five of the seven largest companies were British. Why are they here? Two reasons: firstly, because London is a financial centre that allows them to benefit from interests without spending too much. Second, because from London, they can project themselves as “citizens of the world” and clean-up their bad image from South Africa, that came from the thousands of deaths and disease caused from the gold rush.
What impact in the UK do social movements against gold mining have?
Any form of opposition to these mining companies in London is very important. The CSC is affiliated with the London Mining Network, which is an alliance of social movements and NGOs from around the world. We attend meetings organised by the mining companies to give a voice to the affected communities. We work to raise awareness of the real situation that is going on, which has given us a kind of power to shame them. However, mining generates so much money they prefer profit over shame.
Isn’t it impossible to confront mine exploitation, in the middle of an international policy that, now more than ever, looks to consolidate an extractive economy?
Campaigns against mine exploitation have given positive results. The Tambo Grande case in Peru is interesting, because the community got involved and insisted on a local referendum so that the people could make a decision concerning the future of the mine. In the referendum, 93% of the people said no to the mine, resulting in the project being abandoned. The president at the time accused the people of being terrorists, even though they didn’t belong to any extremist groups, they were just defending their land and their right to work.
Is it possible to extract gold in large quantities without damaging the environment, the economy, and health of the communities?
Gold used to be mined through tunnels that were dug thousand of metres deep.
What happens now is that whole mountains are being opened up and there is a tendency to remove the land of the people living near the mine. It’s even more polluting and damaging for people because it doesn’t only affect the workers, but the people living nearby.
As an organisation, you are completely against mine exploitation…
It depends. If we talk specifically about Colombia, we can mention the case of the Cerrejón project, in La Guajira region, which has been subject to large social and environmental damage. The community from the area has accused the mining company of not doing what it says on its advertising. In reality, they are displacing farmers and indigenous communities without any compensation.
Our work as an organisation is to take both the workers and the communities’ lawsuits through to the corresponding authority.
Currently, the biggest demand by the workers’ union is to guarantee their health and safety, while the communities ask for real compensation for all the damage that they have suffered.
In this case the mine is already in operation and what we do is try to minimise its effects. On the other hand, in the Cajamarca region, the campaign is against the mining project, in order to prevent the damage it could potentially cause.
(Translated by David Buchanan (Google Docs) – Email: email@example.com)