Guinea's fast-growing bauxite mining industry is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Guineans. Mining has destroyed ancestral farmlands, damaged water sources, and coated homes and trees in dust.
Last week, 13 rural communities in Guinea made public a complaint against the World Bank's private lending arm over a loan to one of country's largest bauxite miners, alleging its operations have destroyed ancestral farm lands and polluted vital water sources.
The complaint to the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) Compliance Advisor Ombudsman is over a loan made to la Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG), co-owned by the Guinean government and multinationals Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
Human Rights Watch released a report in October 2018 that described how bauxite mining in Guinea threatens the way of life and livelihoods of rural villages. Guinea is the biggest exporter of bauxite to China, the world's largest aluminum producer.
Since operations began in 1973, CBG has taken land from rural farmers without adequate compensation, exploiting the Guinean government's failure to provide adequate legal protections to customary land rights. Satellite imagery documents how mining has progressively destroyed local farmlands. "In less than 10 years, I think the land will be exhausted," said a local farmer, whose village has lost more than 40 percent of its land to mining since 2005. CBG's expanded operations will now force the farmer's village to relocate.
The communities are represented by two Guinean NGOs and Inclusive Development International, who say that before the IFC lent CBG $200 million in 2016, it should have ensured the company would fulfill its responsibility to remedy the impacts of mining. The IFC's loan helped CBG raise more than $1-billion to expand its operations and increase production.
The complaint also alleges that run-off from bauxite mines has polluted local rivers and streams. Human Rights Watch's reporting showed that CBG has operated for decades without needing monitoring mechanisms to adequately assess the impact of mining on the quality and availability of water for local communities.
CBG has said that it has improved environmental and social management since receiving the IFC's loan and will consider any grievance related to past land acquisitions.
Rural communities, however, must overcome enormous challenges to obtain redress from mining companies, not least the massive power imbalance when confronting multinational corporations. This week's complainants are asking CBG and the IFC to enter an independent mediation process that will provide a more equal platform through which to find a way to address the harms the company has caused.