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  • Human Rights Research Center

Disproportionate Impact of Canadian Mining Corporations on Women Globally

Author: Lauren Salim

March 21, 2024


The extraction industry is lucrative, evidenced by the fact that the top 40 mining companies globally made USD 711 billion in revenue in 2022. However, the industry as a whole has largely fallen behind in addressing the disproportionate impact of mining operations on women economically, environmentally, and socially.


Mining companies are infamous for environmental and human rights violations. Canadian companies, while leaders in the industry, are among the worst offenders. Canadian companies make up nearly half of the publicly listed mining and mineral exploration companies globally. In 2022, they operated in 98 countries.



Economic Impacts and the Landscape of the Workforce


The International Labour Association reports that “only 14% of executive mining jobs are held by women.” Outside of C-suite roles, women also only comprise 8-17% of the global mining workforce. This gender gap affects women on an economic level, but the lack of representation has a significant impact on the overall effect mining companies have on the communities they operate in.


The Joint Submission to Canada’s UPR Working Group’s May 2018 report notes that the mining industry in general has a preference for hiring male labour, and generally offers limited job opportunities for women which are largely limited to cooking or cleaning roles. Additionally, these positions are usually subcontracted out which often results in poor working conditions and lower wages. It is fairly common for Canadian mining companies to outsource several types of services like cooking, cleaning, and security, which has been the subject of several court cases when human rights violations occur in these environments.


Through offering limited opportunities for women, mining companies often perpetuate the gendered labour and wage gap, and only a few mining companies are taking concrete corrective action including additional policies and skills training for women and gender-appropriate personal protective wear which is generally harder to source.


Importantly, a recent report noted that many mining companies do not even have effective monitoring and reporting work in place to assess their overall impact on women.


Impacts on Water and Health for Women


In many communities where Canadian mining companies operate abroad, women are primarily responsible for obtaining water. Thus, if the quality or quantity of water available changes, women are among the first people impacted. Additionally, if women are forced to travel farther to obtain suitable water, it might take time away from other aspects of their lives, including paid employment. It also might put their physical safety at risk. Additionally, various health impacts including higher rates of cancer, respiratory disease, fertility issues, and other health issues occur with greater frequency in extractive sector communities.


Physical and Sexual Violence Against Women


There have been many instances of the contractors providing private security to Canadian mining operations committing physical and sexual violence to repress those speaking out against or protesting mining operations.


Several legal cases in Canada, including Garcia v. Tahoe Resources Inc. (2017) and Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. (2013), have set the precedent for Canadian courts to hear civil proceedings where Canadian mining corporations are sued for their or their subsidiary’s actions abroad.

One case, Caal v. Hudbay Minerals Inc., is still ongoing. Eleven women have put forth a negligence claim that they were gang raped while security personnel and police were forcibly removing residents from their village in Guatemala in 2007.  These women have had to overcome many challenges through the legal processes. Many speak Q’eqchi’, a Mayan language, and have had little education.



Grahame Russell, Director of Rights Action, says, “HudBay Minerals/Skye Resources’ corporate officers were fully aware of many of the most serious underlying issues in Guatemala – endemic repression and violence, racism, and corruption and impunity – and that they chose to plan and coordinate directly with the Guatemalan military and police, and their own security guards (many being former military and police) to violently remove the Q’eqchi’ inhabitants from their lands, knowing that there were serious risks of violence and repression and knowing that there were unaddressed underlying legal questions as to the validity of Hudbay/Skye claims to the lands in question.”


More Ways to Access Justice and a Look to the Future


This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways that mining operations affect women in the communities they operate in. We hope that by addressing these issues, mining companies can take a serious look at the way their operations affect women.


Greater degrees of inclusion of women in the industry could help address some of these issues. Lisl Pullinger, an environmental, social, and governance (GSE) consultant, says “A broader focus on women’s participation in mining can ensure that mining’s impact does not exacerbate gender inequality and discrimination.


All levels of government and civil society can also facilitate better outcomes for women in mining communities by encouraging their inclusion in decision-making and by collecting and sharing data about the industry with a gendered focus.


The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), formed in 2019, reviews complaints of human rights abuses by Canadian companies working abroad in the garment, mining, oil and gas sectors. They also have the power to provide advice to companies or make recommendations for redress. However, the office is not independent of the government and lacks the teeth to demand real justice.


Emily Dwyer, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability’s policy director, says that CORE needs to have “the power to compel documents and testimony, otherwise it’s very challenging to expect that that office will be able to get at the information that it needs to investigate.”


There is a lot of room for Canadian mining companies to be more transparent, gender-inclusive, and accountable for the human rights violations they commit against women abroad. March is Women’s History Month and an opportunity for us all to advocate for better protections in areas where women need them most.


 

Glossary


  1. Subsidiary refers to a company that is owned by another, larger company.

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