Mining companies rush to shield indigenous communities from coronavirus – by Melanie Burton (Reuters U.S. – May 19, 2020)

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Big mining companies that rely on indigenous workforces or operate near remote communities have acted fast to curb the spread of the coronavirus and avoid a public health crisis that could damage their reputations.

From Australia’s outback to Canada’s Arctic wilderness to the Andes, mining firms have changed rosters to stop outsiders infecting remote communities, paid staff with potential health issues to stay at home and given food to indigenous families so they don’t have to shop in nearby mining towns.

Investors already weighing up holdings in miners because of their contribution to climate change say a bad outbreak of COVID-19 among indigenous communities near mining operations might also make them reassess their investment decisions.

Norway’s $1 trillion wealth fund blacklisted some of the world’s biggest miners last week over their carbon emissions and EY has ranked miners’ social licence to operate as the greatest risk to the industry for the past two years.

In Australia, mining companies are one of the biggest employers of Aboriginal people, who have an average life span nearly 10 years shorter than other Australians and can be at elevated risks of heart and kidney diseases and diabetes.

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