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conference sharpens asia pacific mining debate

Rapid economic growth in China and India is spurring mineral exploitation in the Asia Pacific region. Many national governments there, some saddled with debt, support the entry of transnational mining corporations, arguing this will stimulate growth. Meanwhile, miners are not held accountable for the enormous social, environmental and economic damage they cause. Regionally, civil society opposition to mining has been limited in scope to the local or national level; no forum had comprehensively examined the wider impacts of mining-led economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

philippines mining conferenceThis project aimed to fill this gap, by carrying out an interdisciplinary mining conference and regional skillshare. The overall goal was to increase critical engagement and link local community experience to discussions on social movement building, development and alternatives.


what happened: The conference and skillshare were held in the Philippines from November 26 to December 1, 2007. The open public conference, held in Quezon City, had 109 registered participants from 20 countries, many of them from local mining-affected communities. Areas covered included legal regimes governing mining; global and regional industry trends; the actual economic contribution of mining to resource-rich developing countries; and the impacts of mining, from the social, cultural, political, environmental and gender points of view. 

The regional mining skillshare had 176 registered participants, plus others invited from mining-affected communities in the Philippines. It was held in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, a province affected by activity of at least three mining companies. On the last day of the skillshare, participants were invited to visit one of several of the province’s mining-affected communities, to witness mining’s affects, and express solidarity with community members. 

what is changing: To a large extent the objectives were met. Invited attendees provided good, critical commentary. Indicating the threat that mining companies perceive in our work, Friends of the Earth Philippines was criticized by a mining company for rejecting the registration of a mining company representative; and a gold mining company even organised a picket which “greeted” our skillshare participants on their first day.  Yet the skillshare also demonstrated to these companies that local mining-affected communities have international support!

 

The back-to-back activities inspired participants, and started or boosted networking amongst them; one exciting example is the discussions that were held with Chinese activists that could underpin future work around Chinese mining companies. International solidarity work was thus strengthened, and given a concrete initiative: the Global Day of Action against Mining. According to Judy Pasimio of FoE Philippines, “The seeds of global solidarity for people-oriented, just and equitable development have been planted.”

The conference highlighted the need for, and furthered, urgently-needed collaboration and solidarity between social activists/campaigners and academia. Materials from the conference were made available on the web and to various support/solidarity groups, activists and the general public.  These events also broke the perception held by many mining-affected communities that their situation is unique; now they know their experience is shared, and that victories, large and small, are possible for them too.

 

what we learned: Due to insufficient funding the group was unable to invite more people from the global academic and scientific community, including North America and Europe. Better funding could have contributed to greater information sharing, debates, and formation of alliances with people living in countries where most Asia-Pacific mining operators have head offices and shareholders. On a positive note, these events created an opportunity for Friends of the Earth campaigners on mining issues and community representatives to strengthen alliances, to become more familiar with each others’ work, and push the network’s campaign forward. This interaction with other FoE network members also strengthened the capacity of FoE Philippines staff who work on mining.

what next: Generally speaking, prompt and deliberate follow up is required if the seeds sown at the conference and skillshare are actually to yield lasting impacts.  On another note, these events gave the Working Group on Gender Programme an opportunity to jump-start the “Women Resisters against Mining” video project.  Video interviews were held with women from around the world who carry out resistance against mining in many countries, and are now being edited to produce a 10-minute video.

with thanks to our funders: hivos, oxfam novib, and the dutch ministry of foreign affairs

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