Mining companies are supporting vaccination efforts as Covid-19 continues to devastate much of the developing world.
The miners are offering vaccines and strengthening health services to employees and surrounding communities. The effort is focused on the poorest nations, where health systems are weak, vaccines are in short supply, and vaccination campaigns lag far behind those in the West. Anglo American NGLOY 2.33%
PLC has said it is spending up to $ 30 million to support the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across its entire footprint. Other miners, from Glencore GLNCY 2.60%
PLC to Rio Tinto RIO 0.67%
PLC, has been offering support to local governments during the pandemic, from conducting screenings and mobile tests to donating additional beds for hospitals and clinics.
The miners, often seen as villains by locals who say their activities destroy landscapes and cause harmful pollution, are welcoming vaccine programs as an opportunity to soften their image. The strategy is particularly powerful in raw material-rich markets in Africa, where only 0.5% of the 1.5 billion people have received a vaccine, compared to 63% of Americans.
By helping governments manage injections, many companies hope they can rapidly rescale production depressed by the pandemic at a time when prices for many commodities are rising as demand from the United States and China picks up.
Production of most commodities remains moderate or lower this year than in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic. While lithium production increased by a third compared to 2019, platinum is 11% lower and copper and nickel only 1% higher, according to investment bank Liberum. The prices of many commodities are skyrocketing, largely thanks to the supply imbalance.
“For almost the first time, people have an idea of what mining companies are doing in their communities,” said Mark Cutifani, CEO of mining giant Anglo American. Anglo’s support package includes $ 10 million earmarked for South Africa’s national Covid-19 vaccine program, including purchasing vaccines, offering logistical support, and using the company’s health facilities to administer vaccines to its elders. 45,000 employees, their families and the surrounding communities.
In November, Russia’s number one gold producer, Polyus PJSC,
launched a campaign to vaccinate its employees and contractors under the country’s Sputnik program, starting with the top brass in Moscow. Since January, the company has stepped up its efforts at its remote mines with a large-scale information campaign that includes posters, brochures and meetings.
In March, Stepan Belokopytov finished his shift as foreman at one of the world’s most remote mines in Siberia, washed up, waited in a short line, and received his first Covid-19 vaccine.
“Then I got home, I turned on the television. In the morning I woke up … I got dressed, went to work, ”he said. “I felt great.”
Governments and communities turning to miners for help are also marking a rapid change since the onset of the pandemic when locals and officials from countries such as the Philippines, Panama and Canada pointed to these companies as potential spreaders of the virus and forced the closure of some operations.
In April of last year, the government of Panama ordered First Quantum Minerals, based in Canada Limited.
shutting down a large copper mine there, days after a public backlash against plans to continue mining amid the pandemic. In northern Colombia, locals blocked a mine operated by Glencore.
, the world’s largest gold miner, has provided funds to support a local vaccination campaign for workers and community members at one of its mines in Mexico. In Ghana, the company had a vaccination clinic in its town hall for workers and contractors.
“Mining companies are well placed to support the vaccine program,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an online speech during Investing in African Mining Indaba, an industry conference, in February. “The health and safety of mine workers remains a priority, but this must also apply to the families of mine workers.”
Some miners with operations in the developing world say they are willing to pay for the doses, but national authorities are still struggling to obtain vaccines.
, the world’s number one platinum producer, says it is making preparations to vaccinate up to 18,000 people a day, if the South African government makes the vaccine available to it. The company says it is in discussions with vaccine suppliers. Sibanye-Stillwater estimates that it could spend 200 million South African rand, equivalent to 14.74 million dollars, for the vaccines, plus another 50 million South African rand to administer to its approximately 84,775 employees and contractors, along with their families and communities surrounding their territory. mines.
“In order for us to operate smoothly and efficiently, we need to minimize disruptions due to things like blockage,” said Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater. “Being part of a vaccination program makes complete business sense.”
Industry watchdogs, which typically highlight miners’ bumpy records on worker safety, pollution and tax contributions, have applauded miners for expanding access to vaccines in areas where vaccines are in short supply.
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At the same time, the miners’ efforts “can’t help but be selfish,” said Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, an industry watchdog, because it supports business continuity and reduces disruptions to operations. operations.
Boipelo Bonokwane, African regional coordinator for the Coalition Against Pandemic Mining, a group of watchdogs and non-profit organizations that monitor mining activities during Covid-19, says mining companies have a duty to care, especially after that their businesses were declared essential services in many countries, amid nationwide closures.
“Miners and their families are exposed to the virus,” he said. “Many miners live in conditions that make them much more vulnerable to the pandemic.”
Australian gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd. has donated around A $ 2.5 million ($ 1.94 million) and logistical support to UNICEF to support the launch of the vaccine, provided to the government through Covax, a multi-million dollar program started by the World Health Organization to immunize the world, in the New Ireland province of Papua New Guinea.
“The response to Covid-19 is everyone’s business,” said Julius Chan, governor of New Ireland, in a UNICEF and Newcrest press release. “It affects us all, regardless of gender, social status, race or religion.”
—Rhiannon Hoyle and Georgi Kantchev contributed to this article.
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