Three of the world’s largest mining equipment companies are contributing to major human rights abuses in Myanmar by supplying machinery to local mining companies that have been accused of stealing land, destroying livelihoods, causing landslides, and degrading the environment in Kachin State, the Stockholm-based charity Swedwatch said in a report released this week.
Myanmar is a major source of jade, gemstones, and other valuable minerals, and many of these resources are located on land populated by ethnic minority communities. Although the government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to implement tighter controls over the mining sector, military-affiliated companies continue to operate with few environmental or social safeguards.
“The impacts from the use of the mining machinery in the jade area are severe,” says the Swedwatch report. “Hundreds of people are estimated to have died in landslides and flooding since the mining operations started using heavy mining machinery [in the early 2000s]; many households have lost their livelihood as their land rights have been violated; vulnerable groups such as women, children and migrant workers are exposed to significant health and safety risks; and the extensive environmental degradation affects people’s access to water and sanitation.”
In addition to its impact on local communities, mining is also conducted in a way that damages the country as a whole. Corruption watchdog Global Witness has valued Myanmar’s jade mining industry at US$31 billion, and between 50 and 80 percent of that is smuggled out of the country without being taxed.
According to Swedwatch, the three companies have been aware for years that their products have been used to carry out human rights abuses and have done little or nothing to mitigate that impact. Swedwatch analyzed the companies’ responses to a series of 13 questions it posed to them and concluded that none of them have conducted sufficient due diligence to ensure that the companies to which they sell their equipment are adhering to human rights principles in their business conduct.
“The burden of proof has shifted to the companies. Without further information about the companies’ efforts, it can be argued that they are at risk of – or indeed already are – contributing to the negative human rights impacts in Myanmar’s jade mining area,” the report says.