The first cases of the Indian strain registered in Brazil were detected among the crew of Zhi's MV Shandong, which was barred from docking off the coast of the state of Maranhão. According to the Justice on Tracks organization, the ship that came from South Africa was chartered by mining company Vale S.A. to transport iron ore.
The mining company stands out among the largest donors of PPEs and rapid tests in Brazil, according to the Covid-19 Donations Monitor. However, the donations contrast with the reality of abandonment of laborers and municipalities being impacted by Vale's socio-environmental crimes, such as Brumadinho and Mariana.
The cases of crew members with positive diagnoses for covid-19, rekindle the debate put forth by mining unions, that denounces the unsanitary conditions of workers within the sector, subjected to the risks of the novel coronavirus as the country experiences a collapse of its healthcare system.
Larissa Santos, a political coordinator for Justice on Tracks, denounces that this fact makes evident the concerns raised by several social movements and NGOs regarding the risks of continued mining activities amid the pandemic.
“Mining activities are directly related to the incidence of the disease. The federal government’s decree [N ° 135, which determines mining as an essential activity] endorses that the profits of Vale and other mining companies are worth more than people's lives”, says Santos.
The entities reported Brazil to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in April of this year and, among the requests, is the need to comply with preventive measures, employment assurances for workers dismissed due to the risk of contamination, mass testing, in addition to revoking the classification of mining as an essential activity.
In the face of the arrival of the Indian strain to Brazil through a vessel chartered by Vale, the Justice on Tracks organization reinforces the need to comply with the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Workers are put at risk, as well as their families, communities and municipalities entangled in the mining supply chain. Ports are only part of that chain, which also involves mines and railways. Thus, in view of the arrival of the Indian strain on a vessel chartered by Vale, we further reinforce that the recommendations of the World Health Organization be fulfilled, and reaffirm that mining is not an essential activity, life is essential!”.
In its fourth edition, Vale's 2021 Sustainability Report, the document that gave rise to the International Articulation of Those Affected by Vale, also warns of an explosion of covid-19 cases in territories where Vale operates, disregarding sanitary standards and exposing employees and local populations to the illness.
The Yanomami Indigenous Land is one of those areas impacted by cases of covid-19 due to mining activities. In June 2020, a report by the Socio-environmental Institute (ISA), warned that about 40% of Yanomami natives could become infected if the government did not act to remove miners from the territory.
Faced with various complaints from workers clustered in Brazil’s mining regions in the midst of the critical situation faced at the outset of the pandemic, the government issued Decree No. 135 / GM on the night of March 28th, 2020, granting mining activities essential service status, which cannot be revoked during the pandemic.
In repudiation of the ordinance, a joint press release from various entities under entitled "Halting mining for our lives!" reported the first covid-19 death of a mining worker, in addition to alerting to the labor conditions to which they are subjected.
“We cannot be cannon fodder for the greed of corporations, nor for the irresponsibility and cowardice of the authorities. Our lives first!”, says an excerpt from the document.
Furthermore, experts question the supposed essential character of the activity. In an interview with the Unisinos Institute on the performance of mining companies during the pandemic, Bruno Milanez, a doctor of environmental policy and professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF), explains that “mining produces some goods that are essential, but that does not mean that it is essential in its essence”.
Milanez also explains that approximately 80% of the iron ore, 70% of the manganese and 95% of the niobium extracted in Brazil were exported to other countries. Therefore, they are of no use in combating covid-19 within Brazil.
Record profits during the pandemic
According to data from the Brazilian Mining Institute, the sector grew 36% in 2020, representing a whopping R $ 209 billion.
In 2021, the growth trend continues. Considering the 1st quarter only, Vale alone has already registered R $ 30.5 billion in net profit, which represents an increase of over 3,000%, considering that in the same period of the previous year, the mining giant posted gains of R $ 984 million, raking in a total profit of R $ 26.7 billion at the end of that year.
Social movements warn that mining companies’ profits are assured at the expense of the lives of workers and their families.
“Vale, like other companies in the sector, takes advantage of the federal government's decree that all services within the mining sector are essential, in order to accelerate the pace of exploitation, contravening health standards, making the virus spread and leading to illness and death among their employees and their relatives”, denounces a press release by Justice on the Rails.
Vale was asked about the complaints presented by our report. We did not receive a response from the company until the time of publicatioin.
Edited by: Mauro Ramos