Reports on Self-Organised Activities

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Report of the Self Organized Activity at the Thematic Social Forum in Mining and Extractivism - Johannesburg, RSA

Activity: Participatory Reflective Exercise on Systemic Change – inspired by work of Joanna Macy

Date: 12 November 2018

Facilitator: Method Gundidza_EarthLore Foundation

 

This was probably the least attended activity for the day partly because the venue may have been difficult to find but also because translation into Spanish and French was difficult and so we ended up having it with only two English speakers from Brazil and Mauritius.

The activity was broken into two participatory processes inspired by Joana Macy.

 

Activity 1: Invoking the beings of the three times.

 

This activity can be done at the beginning of a workshop like we did. It is to acknowledge and bring the energy and the presence of the people who went before us known as the Ancestors. These are people who inspire us and our movements because of their contributions to it. We draw energy in knowing that the activist work we do today to protect and defend our Mother Earth was started by those people whom we don’t see anymore. These are our parents, scientists, philosophers, spiritual and traditional leaders whom we know in our own spaces but have passed on.

 

We also acknowledged the beings of the present being ourselves living physically in the present now whom we know in our respective places where we come including those all gathered here for the TSF. We are the beings of the present who are activists now and are working hard to protect Mother Earth.

 

Lastly we acknowledged the beings of the future whom we can’t imagine their faces yet but we are sure that they are on their way to this present realm we are in ourselves. These are the people whom we work very hard for so that they may inherit from us an Earth that full of life and all its support systems.

 

During each of the three acknowledgements, we paused to remember and say both loudly and silently the prominent names that came to our minds after which we chanted the chorus “Gather with us now in this hour. Join with us now in this place.”

 

Activity 2: Reporting to Chief Seattle

This activity was to honor the Earth in all her different manifestations as sea, forests, mountains, wetlands etc. We took the opportunity to remember how much Mother Earth has been wounded through the different extractivist and mining activities in the different places where we come from. In doing so we were inspired by what the Native Chief Sealth or Seattle of USA said to his tribal assembly in 1854 as his response to the offer by the US Colonial government to buy their native Duwamish land. His full speech is available on request.

All participants had the opportunity to read the full text and after each reading we imagined the presence of the Chief in the room and told him in silence but also loudly how our different lands have and continue to be damaged. Participants shared how the seas are polluted by plastics and oil, the rivers are full of cyanid from gold mining, skies are full of smoke some from coal fired power stations etc.

We then ended the process by commuting ourselves as the living to work hard to uphold the wishes of Chief Seattle to become ‘sons of the Earth’ rather than to be her masters.

 

Report Prepared by M Gundidza, EarthLore Foundation

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Working to overcome tension between labour versus community interests

Notes: Nicola Bullard

The two opening speakers were Matthews Hlabane (South Africa) and Jaron Browne and Kali Akuno (Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, USA);

We started with a round of introductions and people shared why they had chosen this session. All participants had a direct interest and experience in the issue, as well as rich personal experiences to share.

Mathews described how he started as an anti-apartheid activist at the age of 13, and explained the key role of the trade unions in the struggle, including supporting communities, providing resources and political education. In 1997 he was involved in organizing a community based march against Anglo America over water issues where the mining companies sent out the workers to march against the communities. In addition the mining company targeted the chair of the community who eventually sold out.  Sometime later the workers started to lose their jobs and had to resettle in the communities impacted by mining. This experience showed the importance of building solidarities with labour because in the end everyone lost. Mathews explained how migrant workers do not identify with the issues of the local community because they are from somewhere else. He also spoke of the importance of mobilization and education (of workers and communities), the need for environmental justice organisations to engage with worker leaders. He also noted that most workers are casual or contractual and that many miners who are laid off are now struggling to survive in areas where the air, water and land is polluted and very often their health is too poor to go back to the mines.

Jarod Browne and Kali Akuno introduced the work of GGJA in building alliances between indigenous, black, Latino, Asian, etc. communities both in the US and with the Global South. They spoke of environmental justice campaigns giving the example of Bayview Hunters Point, a naval base where many black workers and families had settled. The area is highly toxic and in the face of community protests the Navy and the EPA were never present but sent out the workers. They were able to build a common table between the community and the workers but some unions did not join, especially those with predominantly white membership. They described that ‘just transition’ is an environmental justice term that was developed by labour leaders who realized that they were ‘on the wrong side of history’ and needed to find a way to talk about community, worker and economic transition. They also spoke of the experience of Peabody Coal, a company that went bankrupt and abandoned three large communities with no compensation, no reparations and no reclamation. Together, the workers and the communities developed three common demands: Black Lung Disability Trust Fund; Reclamation Act; and Miner Pension Fund. They noted that the common demands were carried by workers and the community. They also noted that while there might be some universal dynamics of labour/community tensions, there are always very particular local contexts such as race, class, state of labour organizing which can make it more, or less, difficult to build convergences.

Following there was a rich exchange of experience and analysis. (I can prepare more detailed notes later). There was a lot of discussion about the meaning of just transition and how to engage workers and communities in building common visions and with concrete economic alternatives; the particular experiences of migrant workers; the tension between protecting livelihoods and territory and the need for work especially when communities are impoverished and with few choices; the importance of building leadership and the tactics of companies to divide communities and workers; the vulnerability of communities where many people cannot read and have no information; the violence that exists within and between communities.

We then split into two groups to discuss: what are the main sources of tension? And what are the strategies to overcome these tensions to build common struggles and a just transition.

The report back from the groups:

Tensions

Lack of knowledge and access to critical information

Lack of choices (no other jobs available)

Impoverished and vulnerable

Fear of the unknown (e.g. mining vs renewables)

Fear of losing investments

Corruption and cooption (of leaders)

Companies using workers to defend the company’s interests

Dividing communities that stand up and resist

Capitalist economy (the fundamental contradiction)

Livelihoods tied to industries that make us sick

Cannot imagine living without resources

 

Strategies

Education, consciousness

Alternative livelihoods, economic alternatives

Reparations to communities

Shared positions and solidarity between workers and communities (accepting the problems of the other)

Improved mining code

Community ownership of mines => mutual interest between workers and community

Disinvestment (targeting pension funds in the North)

 

Remaining questions

Is it possible to have responsible mining?

Can we end all mineral extraction?

 

Key messages

Lack of choices

“Prefer the devil that you know than the devil you don’t”

Livelihoods are tied to the industries that make us sick

Education and proper consciousness are fundamental

If you say yes to mining, you must be prepared to migrate

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Self Organised Activity - Tax Justice and Extractives

In the Self-Organized Event on Tax Justice and Extractives we covered the following issues:

  1. Overview of the extractives sector in Southern regions and harmful practices of MNC’s in relation to illicit financial flows

  2. The contributory role of states, laws and policy, including international treaties

  3. Emblematic cases from the different regions of MNCs involved in tax abusive practices

  4. Revenue loss and fiscal implications (such as the imposition of regressive, gender-discriminatory taxes, social service budget cuts)

  5. Impacts on women’s economic empowerment, especially for those in mining-affected communities

  6. Recommendations for advocacy and campaigning and ways forward (issues, positions, strategies

 Context

Around the world we are seeing a shift in power from people to multinational corporations. These multinationals are extracting huge amounts of resources including financial resources from countries. The harmful impacts of these practices are many fold, not least the destruction of our environment. Moreover, the effects of extractive industries are experienced more dramatically by the countries of the global South.

 

Besides the plundering of our natural resources, multinational corporations are also extracting huge amounts of financial resources through illicit financial flows (IFFs). This is much needed resources that can contribute meaningfully to a just transition toward a more people-centred and ecologically sustainable development path.

 

IFFs do not only reduce the tax base by taking resources out of the reach of tax authorities, it also, in the context of neoliberalism, is one of the underlying causes behind the global corporate tax race to the bottom. Consequently, states have to raise resources in more regressive ways, such as increasing indirect taxes, that ultimates hits the poor hardest. In addition, IFFs perpetuate low-wage regimes, deepening income inequality and reducing consumer demand.

 

The deepening of inequality, growing unemployment (including the precariatisation of work) and poverty in many parts of the global South necessitates urgent, and radical action that is driven by the global South, so as to ensure that appropriate measures are emplaced.

 Rationale

The extractives industry in many countries in the global South is one of the most privileged in terms of tax treatment. Resource-rich developing countries extend generous fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to multinational corporations, in the hope of drawing in the capital investment required to cash in on their natural wealth.

 

Among the most harmful tax practices in terms of revenue-erosion are the provision of generous tax incentives to the sector. They also embolden corruption and rent-seeking behavior, and at the same time promote tax avoidance and evasion schemes that boost corporate returns and individual gain. The sector is particularly prone to transfer mis-pricing and profit-shifting by multinational corporations, given the highly traded nature of fuels and mineral products in international markets and the domination and control by a handful of giant firms.

 

However, it is also commonly observed that many of the developing countries hosting such investments are sites of persistent poverty, fast-growing inequality and other forms of human rights violations. Environmental damage is often irreversible, exacerbating vulnerabilities to climate change. Typically, in mining areas, food, water, livelihood sources are threatened, homes and communities are lost. Meanwhile, billions of dollars in profits are pocketed by mining corporations, as well as colluding government officials who enable such investments. The terms of exchange are steeply unequal and unjust, facilitating and resulting in fiscal, environmental, and intergenerational extractivism and massive loss.

 In the self organised session we:

  1. Highlighted the financial extractivism practices of mining multinational corporations in various global South countries and their impacts on public finance, workers wages and development by examining 1) the preferential treatment accorded by states to mining MNCs; 2) corporate tax abuse; 3) the direct and indirect fiscal impacts, with a specific focus on how women’s economic empowerment is adversely affected.

  2. Laid the platform to further unpack how to build a global South perspectives on how to combat IFFs including providing the space for sharing knowledge, insights and experiences which will ensure contextual relevance in the process of developing a South-South campaign on tax, wage and fiscal justice particularly in the extractives sector.