The globalisation of mining and its impact and challenges for women

In the following paper, which was delivered at the conclusion of an International Conference on Women and Mining held in Baguio City, in January 1997, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz considers the impact of large-scale mining, with particular focus on its impact on women. As the dominant players in large-scale mining are transnational corporations, and in view of the role played by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation in facilitating the expansion of such mining, she argues that the local struggle against mining has to become an integral part of the national and world struggle against globalisation itself.

by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

MINING still remains a major economic activity in many of the communities where we come from. However, the extent and length of our experiences with mining are very diverse. There are those whose communities have had a very long historical tradition of mining, whether this be indigenous small-scale mining or large-scale mining. The ones who have been and are still doing small-scale mining date back to as early as the 13th century, like the Igorots in the Philippines who have mined and traded gold with the Chinese and the lowlanders. Historical records also show that since the 9th century, Southern Africans from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, etc. have engaged in substantial mining and smelting in their communities and traded gold in the Arab world, up to India and the rest of Asia.

For the majority, however, mining developed in their communities with the advent of colonialism and imperialism. The colonisers from Europe and the United States heard the stories of 'uncivilised' peoples who lived in communities rich with gold and they decided they had to colonise these peoples and nations to get the gold. By the end of the 19th century, many of our countries were incorporated into the world market as a source of raw materials for the industries of the colonial powers.

There are those among us who come from countries whose mining industries just started in the mid-1900s and a few others whose countries are just starting to open and develop their mines.

While the beginnings of mining in our communities greatly vary, there are common threads, especially for those who come from the Third World (or the Developing and the Least Developed Countries):

1. The expansion or shrinkage of mining activities in our countries is directly related to the economic booms and busts in the global economy.

2. For those of us who come from the Third World, most of what is mined in our countries is used primarily for trade in the world market. Mining helped integrate our local and national economies into the global economy but most of our countries remain mere exporters of raw materials, such as mineral resources, and have not used such resources to build up our own industries. Thus, most of our countries are still agrarian economies, with some industrial enclaves which are doing assembly work.

We are still basically exporters of primary products and some labour-intensive manufactured goods, dependent on imports of heavy machinery, high technology products, finished products and luxury goods. Some countries, especially in Africa, have even become net-food importers, and most of our countries are heavily indebted to foreign banks and multilateral agencies like the World Bank.

3. More and more, the major players involved in large-scale mining in our communities are the transnational mining corporations which come from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

4. The World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have played significant roles in facilitating the opening up of large-scale mining in our countries, through loans which are given to the governments to build the infrastructure needed to support the mining operations (roads, energy sources, etc.) or through direct loans to the mining companies themselves, and by helping draw up the blueprint for the economic development of our countries.

5. Since the 1970s up to the present, the Third World have been under the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the WB-IMF. The main elements of such programmes have been the privatisation of state-controlled corporations (e.g., mining corporations), removal of subsidies, tightening of government budgets, with cutbacks on social services, reforms in tax codes, liberalisation of the agricultural and mining sector, etc. to allow the entry of foreign mining corporations. This also means liberalisation of investment codes, mining codes and agrarian reform codes.

Regalian Doctrine

We also come from countries which have varying laws and policies on land rights and land tenure. However, most of our governments are governed by the so-called Regalian Doctrine which says that the state or the crown has the right to the mineral resources found underground. There are a few countries which have recognised in varying degrees, the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, etc).

We have a unique country like Papua New Guinea which still has 97% of its lands officially recognised as customarily-owned lands. However, this law is increasingly threatened because governments are bowing to the demands of transnational mining and logging corporations to permit the alienation of these lands.

There are also countries which do not, as yet, have any laws recognising the ancestral land rights. Ancestral land rights defenders generally assert that indigenous peoples have rights to the lands which their ancestors had occupied since time immemorial and these rights include rights to resources above and under such lands. The concept of 'ancestral land rights' does not set up a dichotomy between surface rights and sub-surface rights. Thus, it includes rights to the mineral resources. In countries where such rights are recognised, the indigenous peoples demand royalty payments from either the mining corporations or the state which makes use of their ancestral lands for mining.

Some land-demarcation and land- registration programmes of ancestral lands have been and are being undertaken in some countries. Some countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific have lands which are demarcated as ancestral lands. There is also a diversity in how these programmes are implemented. Land demarcation is a double-edged sword. While for some, demarcation is used to protect their lands from being appropriated by the state or private corporations, for others, this is used to encourage indigenous peoples to alienate or sell their lands.

The history of mining is a history of land appropriation and displacement of people belonging to the lower economic sectors of society, including the women. It is a perfect example of how nations and countries which are endowed with rich natural resources can still wallow in poverty and oppression.

While mining has negative impacts on all those who live in the mining communities in general and those who are affected by the mining operations there are distinct impacts and added burdens on women because of the roles they play and their secondary status in most societies.

Generally, mining operations, especially those which are undertaken by large-scale mining operations, have the following socio-economic, health, and environmental impacts:

1. Appropriation of the lands of indigenous peoples, which results in massive displacements of people.

2. Large-scale destruction of lands, mountains, forests and agricultural lands, which includes erosion, siltation, deforestation, desertification and flattening of mountains.

3. Pollution of soils and rivers with toxic chemicals used in the extraction and processing of ores and with the toxic mineral by-products of the mining process. Air pollution is generated by the dust coming from continuous bulldozing of the land and transport of soil and mineral ores.

4. Frequent occurrences of mining accidents, ranging from the collapse of underground tunnels to the bursting or overflowing of mine-tailings dams, which have caused the further pollution of lands, rivers and oceans. The result is a decrease in marine biodiversity, and the killing of plants, animals and even human beings.

5. The mineworkers, the people in the mining communities, and even those who are at the receiving end of toxic mine-tailings, are faced with serious health problems. These include skin diseases, respiratory diseases like tuberculosis, silicosis, asbestosis, gastro-intestinal diseases, cancers, problems in reproduction like frequent abortions, malformed babies, mental illnesses, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, etc. Occupational hazards and accidents leading to lifelong physical disabilities are becoming more frequent among the mineworkers because of the poor and high-risk working conditions. Child labour has also developed and significantly increased in mining communities.

6. There is a significant erosion or destruction of traditional values and customs which have been crucial in sustaining community, tribal, clan and family solidarity and unity. Mining corporations have also deprived women in matrilineal societies (such as those found in the Pacific, PNG, Bougainville) of their rights to their ancestral lands. Incidences of alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, gambling, incest, wife-swapping and infidelity are increasing in many mining communities. These have worsened cases of domestic violence against women, and have resulted in the further commodification of women.

7. The subsistence economies which have nurtured generations of indigenous peoples have been eroded and replaced with the cash economy or the market-based economies over which indigenous peoples have no control at all. This has led to the marginalisation of women as food producers in the subsistence economy. Their traditional roles as food gatherers, water providers, care-givers and nurturers are very much affected. Their burdens have multiplied, leading to more stress and tensions, and, for some, mental illness. The environmental destruction has also decreased the productivity of the fields and poisoned wildfoods, marine life, animals, etc., thereby pushing women to enter into the informal economy to find additional sources of income.

8. Increasing protests and resistance of communities and peoples against the mine owners and operators, land displacement and pollution of the land and waters, have meant increasing militarisation in many of these communities. Human rights violations in some of the worst forms have been documented in many countries. These include arbitrary arrests and detentions, disappearances, tortures, hamletting of villages, aerial bombings, rapes, burning of villages and houses and harvests, etc. Women have been victims of rape and sexual abuse committed by military men. State violence against women is used to weaken the peoples' opposition to destructive mining operations and to the entry of mines. Divisions between families, clans, tribes and communities have been bred.

9. There is an increase in outmigration from rural communities into the mining communities. In some cases, migration of the dominant population to the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples has been official state policy in order to minoritise the indigenous peoples. Migration has created many problems of adjustment because of the mixture of peoples coming from different cultures and backgrounds. Again, the solidarity among families, tribes and communities weakens.

10. Increasing unemployment and underemployment. It is ironical that even with the increase in the number of mining companies entering our countries, the rate of employment is not increasing nor are labour rights and welfare improving. This is because of mechanisation and automation and also of the labour-contracting methods which undermine organised unions. The privatisation of state-controlled mining firms has led to unemployment.

11. Social inequity is further exacerbated by large-scale corporate mining operations because in most cases, the original inhabitants of the mineral lands are not even employed. The majority of those employed are miners and mockers who are easily replaced by machines. When the mineral deposits are exhausted, what is left with the communities are heavily devastated lands, some of which are beyond rehabilitation.

The transnational mining corporations and major shareholders end up getting richer and the community and people more impoverished. In the industrialised countries, mineworkers are also losing their jobs and are also asked to lower their labour standards because of the competition they face from Third World workers.


In general, we would like to wage a counter-globalisation struggle from below, from where we can strengthen our solidarity against global forces and institutions which are depriving us of our basic rights to human development and our rights as women, as indigenous peoples and as nations. We also aim to not allow the further concentration of power and wealth in the hands of transnational mining corporations and to reclaim the power for ourselves to be able to have control over our lands and resources, and to determine what path of development we should take as communities, peoples and nations.

We need to understand better the workings of globalisation and see the linkages and implications of these on our daily lives and to our peoples' movements.

With the coming into being of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), this agenda has been facilitated further. The WTO is one of the end-products of the conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). GATT, which was set up in 1948, was meant to regulate only trade in merchandise but the WTO which has replaced it includes concerns which are not necessarily directly related to trade.

When the Uruguay Round was concluded in April 1994, it expanded the jurisdiction of GATT to include four new areas, viz. services (General Agreement on Trade in Services-GATS), investments (trade-related investment measures-TRIMs), and intellectual property rights (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights-TRIPs), agricultural products. The WTO, which was created in 1995 to replace GATT, will oversee the implementation of the GATT agreements and all other agreements made under the aegis of this new body.


The TRIPs Agreement ensures that the technologies being developed in the industrialised countries will enjoy further protection through patents. This means that if there are advanced technologies developed for mining, they cannot be accessed easily by local mining bodies unless they have the capacity to pay the price and royalties for the patent rights. The advanced technologies being developed and given protection are also the very ones which are causing unemployment and enhancing further the concentration of wealth by the transnational corporations.

The challenges set before us in the light of these new faces of globalisation are tremendous. This means that we should not fall into the trap of fragmentation where we separate our struggles as women from the overall struggles of the various classes and sectors of oppressed peoples in the whole world. We should work closely with the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the workers, the urban poor populations, the fisherfolk, environmentalists, students and youth, and the professionals. We should become integral parts of local and national peoples' movements which will exert pressure on our governments not to totally sell out to transnational corporations or to the WTO.

We should form networks with peoples' movements, NGOs and other progressive groups in the industrialised countries. They themselves are victimised by the transnational corporations and governments which opt to cut budgets for welfare and social services, and create unemployment as a counter-inflationary measure. We should be able to educate our constituencies on what globalisation is and what its implications are for all of us. Finally, we should use our struggles against the transnational mining corporations as an expression of our protest against globalisation.

We have come up with many recommendations and proposals on how we should address the problems which we have identified. The general recommendations are the following:

1. More systematic and widespread information dissemination and sharing of experiences on the different forms and levels of struggles on the mining issue.

2. Education campaigns to increase awareness of the communities on the global restructuring of the mining industry, globalisation in general and the relation of these to their local situation.

3. Alliance-building with the other sectors of society who are also marginalised and oppressed.

4. Networking among women and among communities affected by mining operations.

5. Joint campaigns on common issues and concerns. Pressuring governments not to sell out to foreign mining corporations and instead give priority to the interests of the majority population in the country.

6. Strengthening viable alternatives on the local levels which can be built up to the regional and national levels.

(Third World Resurgence No. 93, May 1998)

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is the Director of Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research and Education).