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Co-existence of artisanal miners and companies gaining momentum

There is a notable opponent to the Brazilian government’s plans to allow mining on indigenous lands — the mining industry itself. Proposed rules backed by President Jair Bolsonaro are considered too lax by large miners. In a statement Tuesday, iron ore giant ​Vale SA called for free, prior and informed consent by local communities. 

Companies are joining environmental groups and members of the public in opposing the fast-tracked bill, which is expected to be put to a vote in congress next month. It follows criticism of a government decree to support artisanal miners, known as garimpos, whose operations often lack permits and imperil rainforests.

Taking the side of indigenous communities over loose regulations shows just how far the mining industry has come at a time of rising investor scrutiny on environmental and social issues. In Brazil, the ESG stakes are even higher as the sector recovers from two tailings dam disasters in recent years. Vale relinquished all of its mining processes on indigenous lands in the country last year.

To be sure, opposition to the bill doesn’t mean large mining companies are against tapping deposits on indigenous lands per se. They just want it done with proper consent and oversight.

The government-backed bill would pit informal miners with little consideration for ESG matters against the formal industry that needs to show its green and community credentials to access capital, said Marcio Santilli, founding partner of NGO Instituto Socioambiental.