On April 16, a flash flood in Burkina Faso trapped eight miners underground. Six of them were killed, with two of the bodies only being found over a month later, on May 27. Six of the eight miners were from Burkina Faso, one from Zambia, and another from Tanzania. The company responsible is Canadian-based Trevali Mining Corp., which has mines in Burkina Faso, Namibia, as well as New Brunswick. The company is currently valued at 369 million dollars, making it the largest mining company in Burkina Faso.
The media has characterized this tragedy as an unfortunate accident. However, as the details emerged, it has become apparent that Trevali’s policies directly led to the disaster. Reckless mining practices, combined with lax safety measures, doomed eight innocent miners to a horrific death. Trevali is not an exceptional case. Canadian mining corporations, and their defenders in the Canadian state, have blood on their hands.
Corporate negligence in pursuit of profit
From the outset of this tragedy, it was obvious that the actions of the corporation both laid the groundwork for the disaster, and made it worse after it occurred. According to the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Albert Ouedraogo, the mining company had been conducting open air explosions which weakened the foundations of the mine and allowed the water to get through. By all accounts, the response of the company to the flooding was abysmal. The company officially stated that they would be working around the clock to get the miners out, but reports from miners on the ground say otherwise.
Mathieu Bationo, one of the miners that made it out of the flooded mine, said that the company was moving slowly and did not even have the machines to get the miners out. Despite mining accidents being an inevitable part of the job, it was clear the company did not have any preparations in place. The safety of the workers was an afterthought. “It was very slow, so we had to pressure them to get things moving quicker…it was as if they did not understand the gravity of the situation,” Bationo said. This is the reality for many of the workers that are employed by Canadian mining corporations in Africa. Their lives are treated as secondary to the primary concern of these companies: profit.
Trevali Mining Corp. certainly has the money to provide decent working conditions. It operates and owns rights to the Perkoa Mine in Burkina Faso. The Perkoa mine is one of the largest in the country, producing over 2000 tons of minerals daily. The corporation overall has had a 64 per cent increase in profits over the past quarter, mainly due to the increased oil and gas prices that have followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing countries to spend more on renewable energy like solar panels and wind turbines. Both of these rely on zinc, which Trevali mines in abundance, allowing it to profit off of human suffering of the war, as well as off the suffering of its workers. If only the safety of workers was as much of a priority as profits, then perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided.
The bloody legacy of the Canadian mining industry
This tragedy is not an isolated incident. The entire Canadian mining industry is not only negligent towards its workers, but commits outright acts of brutality in order to protect their interests in developing countries. In 2015, a report was released highlighting some of the horrendous human rights abuses by Canadian companies, such as one case in Peru where in 2013 over 106 “social conflicts” were reported, all involving Canadian mining companies. These social conflicts usually involve corporations terrorizing workers and killing activists. Between 2000 and 2015—a span of only 15 years—44 activists were killed by mining corporations in Latin America.
Some of the stories are particularly gruesome, like the nine miners in Guatemala who protested mining practices at the Escobal Mine, owned and operated by Tahoe Resources. These miners were attacked by private security forces and were summarily executed, and the crime was followed by an attempted cover up. According to a report produced by the Justice & Corporate Accountability project (JCAP), the head of security for Escobal “ordered the shooting of protestors and then conspired to cover up the evidence and fabricate a story of an attack.” Similar reports from El Salvador recall the story of an activist who was found dead after protesting against Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim, her fingernails ripped off and her body stuffed in a well—clearly tortured before she was killed.
As much as the Canadian government likes to paint Canada as a friend to human rights, it is clear that in the face of the overwhelming drive for profit, such talk is nothing more than a smoke screen. It is important to remember that Canadian mining companies control the majority of mining worldwide, with 75 per cent of mining companies basing themselves out of Canada. In Africa alone, Canadian mining assets are valued at over $36 billion.
The Canadian state is well aware of this and provides massive support, both financial and military, to Canadian mining companies abroad. Infamously, the Canadian government played a critical role in the coup against democratically elected Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. More recently, Canada has participated in the Venezuelan coup attempt to protect their 130 million dollars worth of investment in the country’s mining sector. This coup failed, but not all countries are so lucky. In 2009, a successful coup in Honduras was carried out which was directly supported by the Canadian government. Canada defended the Honduran military’s removal of President Manual Zelaya, who had been pushing for moderate checks on the Honduran mining industry. Canadian mining investments in Honduras are over 100 million dollars. Unsurprisingly, Zelaya was replaced by Pepe Lobo who was far more friendly to Canadian mining corporations in the region.
The mask of friendly liberalism used by the likes of Prime Minister Trudeau conceals this bloody legacy. In reality, Canadian imperialism and the Canadian mining corporations represent one of the largest assortment of gangsters on the planet. They provide the starkest demonstration of profit taking precedence over human life.
International solidarity is the way forward
In response to abuses and atrocities like that in Burkina Faso, many in Liberal circles have called for stricter legislation to keep mining companies in line with international human rights. However, relying on the Canadian state to oversee these corporations would be like asking fellow thieves to stop a bank robbery. It is precisely the Canadian state that supports and helps carry out both the negligent and deliberately brutal business practices of these corporations.
Instead, we must rely on the forces of the working class. Canadian mining corporations do not just operate abroad. They also invest heavily right here at home. Some of the largest strikes in Canadian history have been carried out by Canadian miners against the same mining corporations that are killing activists and workers abroad. One notable example is the miners strike in Sudbury, Ontario against mining corporation Vale Inco. in 2010. This was the longest strike in Canadian history, and resulted in a huge victory for the workers there.
It is precisely these struggles which are important for combating imperialism abroad. Workers in Canada are exploited by the same oppressors as other workers around the world. A blow against the capitalists in one country is a victory for workers everywhere—and the nationalization of Canadian mining under democratic workers’ control would be a big step towards the liberation of the global working class.
The road to ending the domination and abuses of these mining corporations is not through legalistic routes, but through international workers solidarity. Only through an international struggle for socialism, between workers of all nationalities, can these companies be stopped.