How much are Canadian banks investing in rainforest exploitation and destruction?

Apr 12, 2022

How much are Canadian banks investing in rainforest exploitation and destruction?

New dataset tracks financing of mining activities in sensitive tropical rainforests
Aerial view of the mining plant and stockyard of the S11D Complex, the world's largest open-pit iron ore mine, controlled by Vale, in the Carajás region of Pará state. Ricardo Teles/ Agência Vale

How much money is being invested into mining activities exploiting the three largest tropical forest basins in the world: the Amazon in South America, Papua province in Indonesia, and in the south region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) around Kolwezi?

A dataset released today, April 12th, goes a long way in pointing to answers. The International Forests & Finance Coalition, Walhi (Indonesian Forum for Living Environment), and Brazil’s Movement of Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM) launched a preliminary searchable dataset tracking financial movements from banks in Canada, the US, Japan and elsewhere into mining companies accused by grassroot movements of exploiting local environments.

Since 2016, $37.7 billion (USD) has been provided by banks as credit to 24 mining companies, large and small, accused of driving deforestation, water contamination, and human rights abuses against Indigenous and traditional communities in the three regions.

Canadian banks pumped $5.8 billion (USD) in credit and investment into mining companies that, the report claims, are acting against human rights and towards the obliteration of these important ecosystems.

The five main investors from Canada are the Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank, Power Financial Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial, according to the published data. And the main Canadian creditors, providing financing like loans, are BMO Financial Group, RBC, Scotiabank, TD and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

“When mining comes it takes over the territory,” Indigenous environmental leader Alessandra Korap Munduruku says in an interview with the Media Co-op. Munduruku is a leader in the Munduruku tribe from Médio Tapajós in the Brazilian Amazon, located in the Amazonas state in the North Region of Brazil. She lives under threat due to her activism.

“How will Indigenous people live with a giant hole made by mining? How will Indigenous people eat fish when mining is polluting the rivers as happened to the Guaporé river? How will Indigenous people walk hand-by-hand with mining when they expel us or bring death to our people?” Munduruku asks.

“When they come with machines, men also come and with them come violence, guns, drugs and in many instances, they rape the women or steal our children. They respect no one.”

The dataset comes on the tails of Amazon Watch’s and the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil’s (APIB) joint report, Complicity in Destruction IV: How Mining Companies and International Investors Drive Indigenous Rights Violations and Threaten the Future of the Amazon. That report pointed the finger at a number of companies, including Canadian Belo Sun, as covered in our previous reporting. Canadian investors alone injected $2 billion (USD) in mining companies seemingly operating on Indigenous lands.

Charles Trocate, national director of Brazil-based MAM, sees a dialectical relation between industrial and extractive economies, where the metropolis imposes its will over the peripheral countries and even if they have an interdependent connection, the latter serves the former with raw materials, and exploitation is kept mostly out of sight. This helps explains the chronic abuses happening in impoverished or “emerging” countries.

Using data to inform and strike back

Financing flowing towards mining companies with operations in the Amazon was tracked using financial databases of Bloomberg, Refinitiv, Trade Finance Analytics, EMAXX and IJGlobal, along with company reports and publications, company filings, as well as media and analyst reports, Forests & Finances’ coordinator Merel van der Mark explains to the Media Co-op by email.

Some of the amounts are estimates, taking into account that mining companies with business outside of Brazil or operating in other sectors needed to have amounts recorded in the dataset platform reduced to “more accurately present the proportion of financing that can be reasonably attributed to their mining operations” in Brazil, says van der Mark

Still, the data is not exclusively adjusted to the Brazilian Amazon as it refers to finance and mining activities in Brazil, inside and outside the rainforest, while also covering the other mentioned international areas.

One of the main obstacles the coalition faced conducting their research was the lack of transparency. Their data is a compilation of information from public domain, but van der Mark believes there is more than meets the eye, like the possibility of unregistered transactions in financial databases or published in reports, which makes tracking difficult. In some cases, there are laws on bank secrecy protecting this sort of information and making it “hard to hold all financiers accountable for the impacts they finance.”

When asked about Canada being known world-wide as a “progressive” nation and finding Canadian money being funneled to mining companies, van der Mark sees the picture as “really concerning.” These are “mining companies responsible for big social and environmental impacts, including two dam ruptures that killed hundreds of people,” she mentions, referring to the tragedies of Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019), both in the Southeast state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

At Brumadinho, 270 people were killed, and there are still six people who had not been found, while at Mariana, eighteen were killed and one disappeared. Both tragedies shocked Brazil, with images of the disasters in the news, and are heavily felt by relatives and friends.

Trocate of MAM believes that although mining is growing, with help from political players, it will ultimately lead to a more unequal society by bringing profits to few hands and driving poorer people to despair.

“Many folks talk about ‘sustainability’. But the forest isn’t something artificial, it is life itself and when the environment is slaughtered [so to] are the Indigenous people. That is why I ask those who live abroad to move out of their comfort zone, in their apartments, in order to monitor what the mining companies from their countries are doing in the Amazon and to Indigenous people,” implores Munduruku.

van der Mark, asked what readers in Canada can do, says, “You can ask your bank or pension fund what it is doing to ensure it will not finance any social and environmental impacts linked to the mining sector, and let them know you care about this. If they don’t improve, you can consider changing banks or pension funds and let them know why you changed! You can also help by sharing information in your networks, on the responsibility of financial institutions for the social and environmental impacts caused by the mining sector.”

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