Monthly Archives: June 2019

‘Bodies are still under the rubble’: Death toll rises to 43 at TSX-listed Katanga Mining’s ‘Word Class’ Congo mine

A copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. PHOTO: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG

Reuters | June 27, 2019

At least 43 artisanal miners were killed on Thursday when part of a copper and cobalt mine owned by Glencore collapsed in southeast Congo, the provincial governor said.

The accident occurred in the KOV open-pit mine at the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession, in which Glencore subsidiary Katanga Mining owns a 75 per cent stake, said Richard Muyej, the governor of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Lualaba province.

“It was caused by the clandestine artisanal diggers who have infiltrated (the mine),” he told Reuters. “The old terraces gave way, causing significant amounts of material to fall.”

“KOV is a delicate site and presents many risks,” he added.

Glencore said in a statement that it had confirmed 19 fatalities so far and was assisting search and rescue operations by local authorities.

Artisanal mining on the edge of commercial mine sites is a big problem across Africa. The rudimentary, outdated and unregulated practices miners employ can often compromise safety: mine disasters in Congo alone cost the lives of dozens a year.

Thousands of illegal miners operate in southern Congo, which produces more than half of the world’s cobalt, a key component in electric car batteries.

Glencore said an average of 2,000 illegal miners sneak daily onto the KCC concession, which spans a vast flat expanse on the outskirts of the city of Kolwezi near the Zambian border and is one of the country’s largest copper deposits.

Delphin Monga, provincial secretary of the UCDT union which represents KCC employees, said a crack in part of the pit had been noticed on Wednesday. He said KCC had put up red warning signs, but the diggers had ignored them.

This is not the first accident at the mine. In 2016, a 250-metre wall inside the KOV pit collapsed, killing seven mine employees.

Muyej said that the authorities were meeting to decide on new measures to secure large mines.

At least nine illegal gold miners died in Zimbabwe when they were trapped in a mine last month.

Twenty-two died in a previous Zimbabwean gold-mine flood in February, and 14 tin miners were buried alive in Rwanda after heavy rains in January.

In February, about 20 people died when a truck carrying acid to Glencore’s Mutanda Mine in DRC collided with two other vehicles.

Congo’s military deployed hundreds of soldiers last week to protect a copper and cobalt mine owned by China Molybdenum Co Ltd from illegal miners.

Shares in Glencore closed down 4.9 per cent, their worst day of trading since December. The company said the incident has not affected output.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Edward Sterck said if the incident is related to illegal mining, any impact may be relatively short-term beyond an investigative period.

“However, preventative action will likely be needed and it could impact Glencore’s social license to operate,” he added.

KCC produced a total of 152,400 tonnes of copper and 11,100 tonnes of cobalt last year. Glencore’s nearby Mutanda project produced 199,000 tonnes of copper and 27,300 tonnes of cobalt.

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Cancel all seabed mining licences

PNG Council of Churches | Voice of Milne Bay | Alliance of Solwara Warriors | Bismarck Ramu Group | Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights | 28 June 2019 

Dear Hon. Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your recent election as the new leader of Papua New Guinea and for the establishment of your new cabinet! This fills our hearts with hope for a better future. 

We, the PNG Council of Churches, Voice of Milne Bay, Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Bismarck Ramu Group and the Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights, would like to draw your attention to the issue of deep sea mining in our Bismarck and Solomon Seas.

We stand with the communities of the West Coast of New Ireland Province, Duke of York Islands, East New Britain, Madang, Manus and Milne Bay Provinces who oppose sea bed mining under the Alliance of Solwara Warriors. 

Together we call on the Papua New Guinean Government to cancel all Nautilus Minerals’ deep sea exploration licences, mining leases, and environment permits.

Our communities already face many unsustainable developments impacting our lands, oceans, lives, and livelihoods. This includes mining, logging, and oil palm operations. The risks and uncertainties of experimental seabed mining are too great to allow this industry to ever proceed in Papua New Guinea.

We have our own economies and natural resources to sustain and support our daily survival. We ask our government to invest in these.

Our coastal communities have always been connected with our seas. The sea is central to identity, livelihoods and culture practices. It cannot be separated. 

We simply do not want Seabed Mining in PNG’s Waters.

The former government made a bad investment decision by buying into Nautilus Minerals. Our country and ordinary citizens are paying the price. The $US120m equity, a loan from BSP, that the Government invested in the Solwara 1 project could have been used for medical supplies, education, and much-needed infrastructure. 

Nautilus Minerals is currently seeking protection for alleged bankruptcy and is re-arranging its affairs to protect the interests of its officers and two major shareholders. It seems like the company is not considering the impact on its shareholders which includes the PNG government.

We look to your leadership to ban seabed mining in our country and to use our nation’s funds wisely.

Therefore, we call on the new Papua New Guinea Government to:

1. Terminate the Solwara 1 mining lease and environmental permit, and all of Nautilus Minerals’ exploration licences

2. Demonstrate that it has learnt from the very costly mistakes of the former Government of purchasing a 15% stake in Nautilus Minerals and commit to:

a. Never taking up a stake in any deep sea mining venture in the future;

b. Not issuing any more exploration licences or mining leases for deep sea mining; and

c. Providing real and lasting support to communities right across Papua New Guinea by assisting thriving artisanal fisheries, growing the fledgling ocean based eco-tourism sector, and funding communications and transport infrastructure, education and health services. 

We anticipate your favourable response, and we thank you and wish all God’s blessings on your efforts as our new leader.

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Enga landowners say Porgera talks broken down

Radio New Zealand | 28 June 2019

A landowning group at the site of the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province says negotiations with the owner Barrick have broken down.

The Canadian company is pushing to renew its contract in August for another 20 year period.

The company has said it had met with senior landowners to discuss their issues.

But the Justice Foundation for Porgera Ltd, which said it represented the bulk of local landowners, said without their commitment any agreement would be worthless.

It said Barrick needed to come to it to negotiate the necessary protocols.

The mine is currently the subject of a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit for damages caused over its 30-year life and PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape has recently committed to ensuring PNG citizens have greater control over their resource wealth.

The contract renewal comes amid unresolved allegations of rape, sexual assault, drownings and shootings at the mine site.

Justice Foundation for Porgera chair Jonathan Paraia said: “Barrick knows full well the vast majority of landowners are sick to death of the human rights abuses, the environmental destruction, the hollow promises”.

He said they were highly offended at the lack of respect Barrick’s CEO has shown towards them while trying to engage them in a significant international mining contract with a 20-year life.

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Papua New Guinea treasurer calls for more benefits from LNG, mining projects

Sonali Paul | Reuters | June 26, 2019

Papua New Guinea’s new treasurer on Wednesday put Total SA, Exxon Mobil Corp , Newcrest Mining and their partners on notice that the country wants to extract more benefits from their gas and mining projects.

Treasurer Sam Basil said the country also needs better forecasts from Exxon and Total on the expected income flow from a $13 billion plan to double the country’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Basil was appointed earlier this month by Prime Minister James Marape, who led a revolt against former prime minister Peter O’Neill in May.

France’s Total is leading the Papua LNG project, which will develop the Elk-Antelope gas fields to feed two new LNG production units to be sited at the PNG LNG plant, run by Exxon.

At the same time, Exxon and its partners plan to add a third new unit at PNG LNG, which will partly be fed by another new field, P’nyang.

Total recently reached an agreement with the government setting terms for its Papua LNG project, while Exxon is in the process of negotiating a separate agreement with the government for P’nyang.

Treasurer Basil said the projects should all be treated as one, rather than “under the cloak of separate joint ventures”.

“I am putting each of the project partners in all of these projects on notice that the concerns of our people must be addressed through dialogue and negotiations with the state and that we expect all parties to contribute to a fair and equitable outcome,” he said.

Exxon’s original $19 billion PNG LNG project is the biggest foreign investment in the country and crucial to the economy, but the plant has been a disappointing contributor since it started exporting LNG in 2014.

Last year’s earthquake which forced a shutdown of PNG LNG dented the government’s take from the project more than Exxon had expected it would. The 2019 budget had assumed that oil and gas sector revenue would fall by 9.4 pct from 2018, but it actually fell by 16.4 percent, Basil said.

He plans to ask the Treasury and Exxon to come up with new detailed forecasts of future cash flows from the project to the national and provincial governments and local landowners.

He also said the government would put on hold talks with the owners of the Wafi Golpu gold project, Newcrest and South Africa’s Harmony Gold, until the state negotiating team has talked to the Morobe provincial government about its aspirations for the project.

“Our future prosperity depends on delivering these projects and delivering them well. But we must now find a way to ensure that these major resource project agreements capture enough value to the state and to our people,” he said.

Exxon and Total were not immediately available to comment. Newcrest had no immediate comment.

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Geopacific stitches up Woodlark gold project in PNG

The colonisers eye up their pot of gold

Matt Birney | Company Advertorial | The West Australian | 26 June 2019

Geopacific Resources has acquired 100% direct ownership of the flagship Woodlark gold project in Papua New Guinea, buying out fellow Australian Kula Gold’s remaining share in a cash and scrip transaction worth about $3.29m.

Kula will immediately utilise the cash component to repay a loan totalling about $0.72m to Geopacific.

The deal seems like exquisite timing for the company, with the gold price nearly 25% higher than that assumed in November’s definitive feasibility study for Woodlark, which already outlined robust economic metrics and strong margins to develop the project.

Additionally, full ownership streamlines the corporate structure with significant administrative cost reductions and importantly reduces the risk to external financiers, willing to fund the project’s start-up.

Geopacific Managing Director Ron Heeks said: “Moving to 100% ownership of the 1.6Moz Woodlark gold project is a major milestone for the company. Full ownership simplifies project financing discussions and further enhances the company’s attractiveness and general market appeal … (with) additional benefits … (including) a substantial reduction in corporate costs.”

“The timing of the transaction coincides with the near completion of project finance due diligence and a strengthening gold price that is well above the DFS pricing assumption of AUD$1,650/oz. Progression in these work streams alongside the increasing gold price is a positive step in taking advantage of the increasing margin.”

The company is now racing down the final lap with baton in hand and is currently in the closing stages of an Independent Technical Experts, or “ITE”, review of the gold project, with representatives attending a site visit to Woodlark Island this week.

Back in January, the ITE review was commissioned by a consortium of banks and non-bank lenders, after an indicative non-binding term sheet was received.

Perth-based SRK Consulting was appointed as the lead ITE to review the technical aspects of the Woodlark project on behalf of the group of potential lenders.

SRK completed an initial Fatal Flaws Review late in 2018, with none being identified for the project.

With the gold price only strengthening since, the free cash flow position of the proposed initial 13-year mine life project has ballooned with Mr Heeks saying in January: “Every AUD$10 (per ounce) increase in the gold price is an additional ~AUD$10m in revenue which is considerable upside for the +1Moz project …”

November’s DFS study optimised the project at AUD$1,650 per ounce and produced a pre-tax free cash flow of $424m.

Geopacific recently received indicative costs to build the proposed gold processing plant on Woodlark Island from three international standard contractors.

The company said that an initial review of those costs showed that the pricing is in line with the DFS parameters completed last year by Lycopodium.

Total capital establishment costs for the Woodlark gold project come in at just under $200m, with a third of those monies required to construct the processing plant, which is very respectable considering the relatively isolated overseas location.

With respect to the near completion of the ITE review of Woodlark, Mr Heeks added: “The ITE review is progressing well and Geopacific is confident with the technical aspects of the DFS completed by industry-leaders Lycopodium, Mining Plus and MPR Geological.”

“The results from the initial ITE fatals flaws review (built) confidence in the Woodlark project in addition to the conservative approach undertaken in calculating the (mineral) resource. The resource estimate uses a fully diluted resource model with a significant dilution factor.”

“This provides additional comfort that mining at the estimated grade is achievable. The Woodlark deposit is a permitted project with robust economics that are improving with the current gold price ~AUD$350/oz higher than that used in DFS.”

Last month, the company appointed Ian Clyne as its new Chairman to actively drive financing arrangements for the gold project.

Mr Clyne has been part of the company’s board since 2016 and brings with him a wealth of corporate experience including most recently as Group CEO of Bank South Pacific Limited, based in PNG’s capital Port Moresby for five years.

It was a strategic move for Geopacific, with Mr Clyne being a strong advocate for PNG’s potential and its people and holding a high level of commitment to social and community issues within the mainly rural population of the developing country.

Commenting at the time, Mr Clyne said: “As the Chairman of Geopacific, my priority is to drive the Woodlark gold project towards a successful project finance outcome that will maximise shareholder and stakeholder value and returns.”

“Woodlark Island is one of the most prospective regions of PNG and we take great pride in our positive relationships with the local community, the National & Provincial Governments, and the regulatory authorities who have also demonstrated strong levels of support for the permitted … project.”

The Woodlark project holds an ore reserve of nearly 29 million tonnes grading 1.12g/t gold for 1.04 million ounces, contained within a broader JORC-compliant mineral resource estimated at 1.57 million gold ounces.

This gold resource is also likely to build over time as the project has extensive gold and copper exploration potential, in a region where Geopacific holds the dominant land position on the 912 square kilometre area of Woodlark Island.

Once in production, the company will likely be able to self-fund and potentially sustain its mining operations at the Woodlark gold project to beyond the initial 13-year mine life.

The project area is blessed with flat terrain and soft outcropping ores with average metallurgical gold recoveries exceeding 90% during the first five years of production.

All permitting is granted and the project enjoys strong community support in the proven mining investment hub of PNG.

With full ownership of the exciting project within its grasp, the gold price behaving itself and a new Chairman at the helm, Geopacific now has clear air ahead towards the construction, development and ultimately gold production at the impressive and undervalued Woodlark project.

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No tangible development in Western despite decades of mining

A father holds his malnourished son in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Sally Lloyd

Marape Tells Awi Yoto To Improve Western

Leiao Gerega  | Post Courier | June 24, 2019

For almost 38 years Western province has seen no tangible development taking place despite helping the country generate millions in kina from the Tabubil mine.

The province remains one of the least developed in the country with low health status and lack of basic delivery of service to its people.

Prime Minister James Marape who visited the province on Friday to launch both the provincial and district five year development plans was implored by Governor Taboi Awi Yoto to look at the provinces needs which include;

  • Creation of one or two electorate added to the province’s current three electorates;
  • Uplift moratorium on the Province’s need to recruit new public servants;
  • Fix issues with the province’s dividend trust account through former operations with Ok-Tedi;
  • Find common ground on issues regarding WP’s major development program called the PNG sustainable development program;
  • Building of a major port to export its resources;
  • Request Ok-Tedi and Porgera to compensate middle and south Fly over mining waste pollution;
  • Current 33 percent shares in Ok-Tedi be lifted to previous 64 percent and
  • Stop fly-in and fly out of Ok Tedi workers to ensure money goes back to the people

Mr AwiYoto admits that the slow progress of development of the province was due to disunity amongst the leaders.

He assured Mr Marape that they are now ready to work together to ensure their people benefit from the money owed to them.

The 2018-2022 development plan under the theme “a new way forward” focuses on three key areas which are health, education agriculture and covers the province and its three districts in the Middle, South and North y.

“This is no easy task….everyone in this country have their own issues,” Mr Marape said while giving examples to how Buka and Lihir have fared poorly over the years despite the huge mining activities.

“Our agriculture and mining resources have been lost over the years while the people are suffering. Waigani is stealing from them and we are here now to turn things around,” Mr Marape said.

“These new work will take years but we want to direct and steer the country in the right path,” he said.

Mr Marape who travelled later to Tabubil to hear presentations from Ok-Tedi mining limited says everything will be discussed in Waigani after which they would strictly ensure monies owed to the people under various areas will be “unlocked.”

Mr AwiYoto says despite giving so much to the country the province has been failed by so many governments over the past years and is confident there is certainly a positive journey ahead.

Around 17,000 people gathered to welcome the prime minister at the Kiunga Township on Friday.

Mr Marape grew up as a child in Western province where his father was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor.

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Govt To Review FIFO: Minister

Gorethy Kenneth | Post Courier | June 25, 2019

The government will review the fly in-fly out (FIFO) workforce arrangements for foreign workers. This may now put an end to K91 million spent annually on this exercise. Minister for Immigration and Border Security Petrus Thomas announced this yesterday.

Mr Thomas said the Immigration and Citizen Authority (ICA) is now looking at issuing long-term working residence visas by next year which is in line with its organisational reform and improvement of service delivery under its Five-year Corporate Development Plan (2018-22).

The Minister referred to the study carried out by National Research Institute in 1997 on the effects of fly in-fly out on the Porgera mining project which revealed that the PNG economy was losing between K36 million and K91 million annually on direct national income.

He said the Bougainville Copper Mine had successfully maintained a small satellite mining town with classic facilities that were built to accommodate workers for the Bougainville Copper Mine.

“There was sufficient cash flow injected directly into the local communities with high returns gained from the capital investments, he said.

Mr Thomas said these changes to the frequent abuse of the 60-day multiple entry visa by foreigners had prompted him to suspend it last year.

“The multiple entry visa category had been reviewed and will be introduced again once cabinet approves the new conditions, fees and guidelines,” he said.

Similarly, Mr Thomas was of the view that the fly in-fly out practice has also been abused by many foreign em-ployers and contractors after receiving criticisms lately from MPs and concerned landowners of resource project areas.

“The fly in-fly out practice may have worked in some short-lived projects, but the impact of FIFO and contribution to host communities, their social welfare and economy has never been truly assessed in long-term projects,” he said.

Mr Thomas said part of the issue lies in the distant lack of national data. “Various agencies supposed to be integrated to streamline these processes had not succeeded,” he said.

“There was no viable data or studies carried out in the past to justify foreign workers’ fly in-fly outs continuous practice.

“It appears that PNG has been under the notion that the FIFO system works in every particular way and no one bothered to review it.”

Mr Thomas said while the government is embarking on developing few new resource projects like Wafi-Golpu and the Papua LNG Project, it should also be mindful of such fly in-fly out arrangements that could potentially suck opportunities during this thriving economic situation.

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DeepGreen closer to ocean mining battery metals after Swiss cash injection

[A highly misleading] computer rendition of a seabed mining operation. (Image by Phil Pauley | Twitter.) In reality the mining will be done in almost complete darkness thousands of metres below the surface!

Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining News | June 10, 2019

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, a start-up planning to extract cobalt and other battery metals from small rocks covering the seafloor, has secured the bulk of the $150 million it needs to carry out its first feasibility studies.

The financing, provided by Switzerland-based offshore pipeline company Allseas Group, is a welcome sign of progress for the deep sea mining sector, which has been stalled due regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Unlike other seafloor mining companies, including pioneer Nautilus Minerals, the Vancouver-based explorer doesn’t want to drill, blast or dig the bottom of the ocean. DeepGreen’s main goal is to scoop up small metallic rocks located thousands of metres below the surface in the North Pacific Ocean.

Its exploration focus is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a mineral-rich, 4,000-kilometre swath of the Pacific that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico, where billions of potato-sized metals-rich rocks lie in a shallow layer of mud on the seafloor.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey.

Companies exploring or already developing projects to mine the seafloor argue the extraction of those deep-buried riches could help diversify the sources currently supplying metals needed for electronics and evolving green technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels.

Academics and scientist, however, are concerned by the lack of research on the possible impacts of high seas mining. They fear the activity could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurized darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment.

Not enough studies

Last year, the European Parliament called for a ban on seabed mining until the environmental impacts and risks of disturbing unique deep-sea ecosystems are understood. In the resolution, it also urged the European Commission to persuade member states to stop sponsoring and subsidizing licenses to explore and exploit the seabed in international waters as well as within their own territories.

Shortly after, an international team of researchers published a set of criteria to help the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, protect biodiversity from deep-sea mining activities.

So far, it has granted 29 licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to explore in international waters.

Nautilus, however, is the only company that has gone beyond the exploration stage and has gotten close to open the first polymetallic seabed mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Its Solwara 1 project, however, has been slowed by funding issues and local opposition.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) sold its 4% stake in Nautilus a year ago, as part of efforts to retain only its most profitable assets. And, in March, it had to delist from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Cook Islands PM: ‘Conservation is in our blood’

Prime Minister Henry Puna arriving at 11th Conference of the Pacific Community in Noumea, New Caledonia. 19062018

Losirene Lacanivalu | Cook Island News | June 21, 2019

Cook Islands’ declaration of two million square kilometres of ocean as “sacred” captured the imagination of delegates at a major oceans conference in New Caledonia this week.

Prime Minister Henry Puna explained to the 11th Conference of the Pacific Community that the Cook Islands had declared their entire exclusive economic zone as Marae Moana.

At the local scale as a veteran pearl farmer, and at the national scale as prime minister, he relied on scientific and technical data to make evidence-based decisions for the good of the community and the oceans far into the future, Puna said.

This protected area was just one example of how the Cook Islands were putting the Blue Pacific narrative into action.

Puna’s words coincided with another regional resolution, across the ocean at Pohnpei in Micronesia, seeking to preserve the Pacific’s tuna fisheries and affirming that climate change was the single greatest threat to regional security.

Puna said the Sustainable Development Goals aimed to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. “With Marae Moana, we have exceeded the expectations of the goals.”

Puna said the Marae Moana law provided a framework to make resourcing decisions on integrated management through adopting a precautionary approach to the marine environment, in sustaining fishery stocks, and environmental impact assessments for seabed mining.

Forty years of ocean survey work suggested that as many as 10 billion tonnes of mineral rich manganese nodules were spread over the Cook Islands Continental Shelf.

These seabed mineral resources offered a significant opportunity for the long-term sustainable economic and social development of the Cook Islands, he said.

But he said any decisions on whether the recovery of seabed minerals will take place must start by gathering technical data, and using scientific analysis.

The Pacific Community’s work with the Cook Islands had proven invaluable in availing, over many years, scientific and technical data to all members, to ensure evidence-based decisions.

The Cook Islands should not be viewed as a small island, but as a large ocean state. “The Blue Pacific may be a new phrase for the region, but we have been practicing this approach as stewards of the Pacific Ocean Continent for generations.

“The people of the Cook Islands, like Pacific people throughout our region, are born conservationists. Conservation is in our blood. By protecting our ecosystems, we conserve our cultural heritage and ensure that we can pass that heritage to future generations,” Puna added.

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Reporters investigated abuse and corruption at a Barrick gold mine in Tanzania. They faced threats and censorship

Marion Guégan and Cécile Schilis-Gallego | The Star | June 18, 2019

In Tanzania, reporters trying to investigate violence, environmental damage and other wrongdoing connected to a gold mine in the north of the country are trapped between the silence of a mining giant and the lies of a repressive government. At least a dozen reporters — local and international — who wrote about the mine have been censored or threatened. Forbidden Stories, an international consortium of 40 journalists publishing in 30 media organizations around the world, unveiled the shameful history of gold leaving the North Mara gold mine to end up in coveted high tech phones and computers. This is part of the “Green Blood” series, a project pursuing stories of journalists who have been threatened, jailed or killed while investigating environmental issues.

“Truly innovative products leave their mark on the world instead of the planet,” Apple proudly claims on its website. “We are building a better world for future generations,” says Canon’s CEO. Nokia’s “technology improves lives.”

“Right now responsible sourcing is clearly part of the cost of doing business, it’s part of the commercial need of a company to access markets and financing, among others,” said Tyler Gillard, due-diligence expert from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In other words, it pays to advertise green and ethical products. That’s why big tech companies get the gold they need for certain electronic components from certified suppliers. In the case of Apple, Canon, Nokia and more than 500 companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, that means MMTC-PAMP in India.

Yet, certifications guaranteeing conflict-free minerals have focused on small-scale miners, not multinationals. In Tanzania, a gold mine indirectly owned by the Canadian gold mining giant Barrick has a documented history of human rights abuses and environmental damage. The North Mara gold mine currently sends its gold bars to MMTC-PAMP in India, where the gold then makes its way into many of the most popular tech gadgets in the world.

Canon and Nokia both highlighted that the Indian refiner had previously been audited and found conformant. “If allegations are confirmed, this smelter will be red-flagged and we will ask our supply chain to divert business from this smelter,” said a Nokia spokesperson. Apple shared a similar statement.

At the other end of the supply chain, local and foreign reporters who have tried to cover what is happening on the ground have faced intimidation and censorship from the state. Forbidden Stories, an international consortium of 40 journalists publishing in 30 media organizations around the world, found wrongdoing was ongoing at the North Mara gold mine, despite the company’s claims.

The mine, near the Kenyan border in northern Tanzania, has been plagued with violence for about two decades. As a result, the mine is surrounded by a two-metre wall and guarded like a fortress — both physically and metaphorically.

Forbidden Stories talked to several reporters who had been discouraged from reporting on the mine. Some received anonymous threats, others were censored by authorities. One reporter even decided to flee the country for over a year.

“They have created fear.” Jabir Idrissa, a 55 year-old journalist from Zanzibar, has not forgotten what happened to him two years ago. He was then working for two newspapers, the Swahili-language weekly MwanaHalisi and Mawio, both part of a newspaper group recognized for its investigative reporting.

In June 2017, Mawio published a story linking two former Tanzanianz presidents to alleged irregularities in mining deals signed in the 1990s. “We had a long discussion in the newsroom when we were deciding on stories,” Idrissa says. “Truly, there are topics we didn’t report on because of the general environment,” he said. But this one was a must, he said. They couldn’t avoid it “because journalism is a job of telling the truth.”

This is particularly difficult in Tanzania, where press freedom has been threatened for the last five years and, more specifically, since the election of John Magufuli to the presidency in 2015. A recent law provides for more than three years’ imprisonment, a fine of more than five million Tanzanian shillings ($2,100 U.S.) or both for knowingly publishing information or data deemed “false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.”

In addition, “journalists are attacked without reason,” according to Ryan Powell, a media development specialist working in East and West Africa. “Police will harass journalists, and people do not interfere.” Tanzania now ranks 118th out of 179 countries on Reporter Without Borders’ World Freedom Index. It dropped 25 places in the last year.

The day following publication of Mawio’s investigation, Minister of Information Harrisson Mwakyembe banned the newspaper for two years. The editor-in-chief of Mawio, Simon Mkina, claimed he started receiving threatening phone calls. As for Idrissa, he lost his job and was ostracized from any other journalistic opportunity. Left without resources, having to feed his three children, he left Dar es Salaam and started working in his cousin’s second-hand shop in Zanzibar.

The story that caused all this hardship was about Acacia Mining, a U.K.-registered company that has owned the North Mara gold mine under different names since 2006 and whose majority shareholder is gold giant Barrick. The Canadian parent company could soon become the direct owner of the North Mara mine and two others because of a tax dispute between Acacia and the Tanzanian government.

After benefiting for years from an extremely advantageous tax agreement with the Tanzanian government, the company is now losing an arm-wrestling match with authorities on the environmental front. In May, authorities fined the company 5.6 billion Tanzanian shillings ($2.4 million U.S. dollars) for alleged pollution from North Mara’s tailings dam.

January Makamba, the minister responsible for the environment, said the amount of the fine was justified, among other things, by the persistence of the problem.

“It’s been 10 years, and the tailing storage facility is still seeping,” he said about the dam supposed to prevent runoff of the environmentally damaging by-products of the mining operation.

“North Mara gold mine has kept water with poison in this facility for a long time, and this dam is not built properly, so poison has been seeping into underground water and nearby rivers and streams.” Makamba conceded some responsibility on the part of the Tanzanian government, saying it “consistently believed what the mine was telling.”

Acacia Mining told Forbidden Stories that it “has already recognized the need for additional tailings management” and that it “has commenced planning and design for a new tailing storage facility.”

Opposition politician Tundu Lissu, who has written on the environmental aspects of the mining industry in Tanzania, noted “the pollution of rivers and grasslands where villagers are taking the water from and raise their animals,” as well as “serious health problems associated with pollution.”

“I saw six people who washed in water near the mining area and they got a very bad reaction,” said Dr. Mark Nega, a former district medical officer in the area, about patients he saw in 2013.

In 2009, a study found high levels of arsenic in water in the vicinity of the mine. Elevated concentrations of arsenic are frequently found near gold mining sites. In 2015, farmers from the area sent samples of water coming from the mine to Kenya to be tested. Toxicology analysis carried out by a Kenyan government analyst found “nitrates and nitrites levels considered unsafe for livestock’s consumption.”

“An environmental incident occurred at North Mara mine during the Spring 2009 high rainfall season, when water containing discharges from containment ponds and run-off from the Mine entered the nearby Tigithe River,” said Acacia Mining in a statement. The company says it took prompt action following the incident.

On top of that, nongovernmental organizations have documented 22 alleged killings by the police or mine security workers since 2014. The victims were for the most part illegal miners, called “intruders” by the company.

“Small-scale miners who had government licences had previously owned most of the land in question,” explained Mary Rutenge, a lecturer at Mzumbe University in Tanzania. “The company’s acquisition of their land destabilized their livelihoods, and this company did not compensate them adequately.”

All of this with disastrous results: groups of jobless young people from neighbouring villages arm themselves with machetes or metal spears and get drunk on beer and Konyagi — a local brand of gin — every night to find the courage to climb the wall in the hope of making no more than the equivalent of $20. Instead, they find the armed policemen on the other side.

Why take so much risk? “We must go so we can get gold to help our families,” explained Monchena Mwita, the leader of the “intruders” from Kewanja, a village at the edge of the mine. “We can’t get gold without getting into the place, and there is nowhere else to get money so that’s our only source of income.”

Barrick’s leadership blames Tanzania’s police for any wrongdoing. “There have been many, many investigations on various allegations, and you can’t hold me accountable for the state authority,” said Barrick CEO Mark Bristow when asked about the killings by Forbidden Stories.

Yet, the barrier separating national police forces from mine security is not so clear. According to the U.K. nongovernmental organization Rights and Accountability in Development, Acacia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the police in which it says it will “provide ‘monetary and in-kind support’ to the police, will pay officers an allowance, provide meals and accommodation, supply fuel” to protect the mine.

Some victims also say it is not the police but mine security workers who attacked them. Forbidden Stories, along with a reporter from the Guardian (United Kingdom), met Lucia Marembela, a 44-year-old woman who says she was raped twice in 2010. She says she recognized her rapists as mine security forces because they were wearing blue uniforms and not the police force’s beige ones.

Marembela was caught by men while she was looking for gold from the mine, a fate she says is common for women in the area. “When we were tired of running, they would end up catching us and bringing us with them,” she says. “They would throw us in their vehicle and take us to an isolated place, near a small airfield, far from the view of passersby.” She says one man would then rape them, while the others were on the lookout. “Once they’ve finished their dirty work, they let you go, get in their vehicle and go back to work,” she said.

We have met two other women who described the same type of attack.

Marembela will have to spend the rest of her life living with the consequences. Her partner left her when he learned she had been raped, leaving her alone to raise her six children. “I have very bad memories of what was done to me,” she says. “Especially since everyone knows that I was raped, starting with my children. Sometimes people tell each other what happened to me on the street, and that hurts me very much.”

Marembela, along with other women, went to complain to mine management. She says the company — then called African Barrick Gold — subsequently reached out and asked her to sign a confidential agreement: in exchange for 13.9 million Tanzanian shillings ($8,600 U.S.), Marembela gave up her right to pursue a civil case against the mine or against Barrick. She says she was not able to fully read and understand the document before signing it.

“You shouldn’t silence people, but there’s always retribution,” said Bristow, the Barrick CEO. “And, in the short time I have been with Barrick, there have been demands for retribution. Not for justice. For retribution. To pay people who are making the demands.”

The situation continues as of today. “These abuses, particularly in North Mara gold mine, they come and go, they come and go,” said Lissu, who previously legally represented villagers in the region. Lissu was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2017, after he accused Magufuli’s government of lying about the mining contract. “There are periods of calm, and then something happens, and the whole thing blows up. But the tensions remain today.”

“Human rights abuses related to excess use of force by private and public mine security started increasing noticeably sometime around 2005 and was very high between 2009 and 2016,” said Catherine Coumans of the Canadian NGO Mining Watch, who has been documenting what is happening at North Mara for many years. “Our local contacts, and even mine personnel I have interviewed have told me that the international focus MiningWatch and RAID have put on the issue have helped bring the cases of shootings down, but severe beatings, especially of the head and joints, leading to sometimes lifelong handicaps, are still very high.”

In a statement, Acacia Mining said it had consistently refuted various allegations from both NGOs regarding unlawful deaths and human rights issues.

Forbidden Stories journalists met the families of two men, shot by the police in separate incidents in 2014 and 2016 as they were inside the mine. The families say they were not compensated. The police say they acted in self-defence.

“It is clear from Acacia’s own account that human rights violations continue at its North Mara mine,” wrote RAID in July 2017.

Yet the mine’s gold bars are today refined at MMTC-PAMP — an Indian refiner part of the Swiss-Dutch MKS PAMP Group — which is certified by the London Bullion Market Association, the most prestigious trade association in the industry.

“During our due diligence performed on North Mara, we took the NGO’s reports very seriously and challenged the mine on the issues raised,” said Hitesh Kalia, a risk and compliance officer at MMTC-PAMP. “We have assessed the measures taken by the mine to remediate the human rights claims, which are largely historical and related to the activities of the State police force operating in the area of the mine.”

Back in 2010, at the peak of the human rights abuses, a document written for investors indicated that the gold was refined by the Swiss company Argor-Heraeus, also certified and a listed supplier of more than 600 companies. Asked by a journalist from Tamedia (Switzerland), Argor-Heraeus did not confirm or deny having refined gold from North Mara.

There is less to labels than it seems, say experts.

“It’s important to know that these schemes in the gold sector are run by industry associations,” explains Gillard. “They check that refiners have systems in place to source gold responsibly, in line with OECD standards. They are not intended to provide a guarantee on the status of every gold product, a guarantee that there is no child labour, a guarantee that there is no conflict financing with each piece of gold that is purchased.”

He said the complexity of the gold supply chain makes such certainty unfeasible, and the quality of audits is often insufficient. The responsibility is thus diluted all along the supply chain.

Jürgen Heraeus, chairman of the Supervisory Board of Argor-Heraeus, describes the situation frankly in an interview in 2016: “[I]n this industry it is impossible to refine clean gold.”

Back in Tanzania, impoverished “intruders” keep looking for gold at the risk of their lives, and reporters are punished and prevented from shedding light on environmental damage and other wrongdoing.

“Once they’ve used the gold, they will go, and they’ll leave and leave the poison behind,” Lissu said of the mining operation.

And, in the case of journalist Jabir Idrissa, a career and a livelihood laid to waste.

In December 2018, Mawio won the case in court against the minister for information. The newspaper will not reopen anytime soon though, as they need a licence from the government to publish again.

“So it is just up to the government. If they give us the licence, we will get back to work,” says Idrissa. “I haven’t lost hope we will get back and work with high status and courage.”

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