Impunity and Death in Large-Scale Mining Camps
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 18 Dec 2020
Credit: Luis Enrique Pérez Pinto and Milagros Salazar Herrera
The report shows a hidden truth in the mining industry in Peru, which bases its operations on the labor of workers subcontracted through outsourcing companies. In the last 15 years, more than 60% of workers who died in work accidents were subcontracted. The data analysis shows that the most important mining companies are in charge of the mines that concentrate the majority of worker deaths and are also the companies that violate labor safety regulations. In addition, after analyzing databases of the Prosecutor’s Office, we found that the investigations into these deaths are archived without finding those responsibles.
The report was highlighted by the Federation of Mining Workers of Peru and by the Federation of Mining Contractor Workers–—organizations that have taken our report findings to demand from government authorities and mining companies better safety-health and working conditions. This took place during the mining strike carried out in December 2020.
When confronted with the findings of this publication two government officials from the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Energy and Mines stated that outsourcing companies should operate within the framework of the law. Authorities also indicated that formal complaints are processed not only by the corresponding government departments but also by other entities that work in coordination with regional and local authorities.
In an interview on the local radio station RPP, Presidential candidate and former congresswoman, Verónika Mendoza also criticized that large mining companies have their workers in precarious situations that put their lives at risk, for which she proposed a new regime that “stops the abuse of outsourcing.”
Even though mining is an economic activity that moves millions of dollars, the majority of workers are still subcontracted through outsourcing companies—companies that ignore the precarious working conditions workers endure.
It’s also important to highlight that the mining industry exercises great control on the political arena and perhaps it’s one of the sectors that has the most lobbyists in Peru. Because authorities argued that mining was imperative for the economic development of the country, mining companies in our country never stopped operating during the pandemic even though the lives of hundreds of workers were at risk.
This investigation has exposed for the first time an issue that the media has never covered.
The research was based on the analysis of data that we obtained from Peruvian government entities in charge of overseeing and regulating the mining sector such as the Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem), the Agency for the Supervision of Investment in Energy and Mining (Osinergmin) and the National Superintendency of Labor Inspection. By analyzing these data using Excel dynamic tables we identified information that gave rise to the investigation including the companies that registered the most deadly accidents in the last 15 years and the highest number of sanctions for violations of health and safety regulations.
With these data we were able to identify the number of accidents and their annual evolution. Subsequently, we added to this data files from Peruvian Prosecutor’s Office that show where mining companies that registered the most fatal accidents are located. This information was then taken to datasets that allowed us to identify the status of each investigation. We found that the vast majority of cases were archived without finding the responsible parties.
Additionally, we interviewed family members of the workers that were victims of accidents, and we also contacted both government and company officials.
To visualize the data, we use the free Infogram platform where we try to portray the main research findings in the form of interactive bar and line graphs.
What was the hardest part of this project?
This is the first time that a team of Peruvian reporters has systematically exposed government entities’ ineffective control and fiscalization on hundreds of fatal accidents involving mining workers in the last 15 years. This issue required an in-depth investigation to expose the magnitude of the social consequences as a result of one of the most powerful economic activities in the country and an absent government.
By applying investigative journalism techniques, going to the scene of events to collect testimonies, and analyzing several databased and officials documents, our team was able to expose a precarious situation that has resulted in hundreds of fatal accident and death involving mining workers.
The underlying goal of this project was to tell a compelling and powerful story in an effort to show the world how a system––where large mining and outsourcing companies and government officials are involved––continues operating at a great social cost.
We started working on this investigation during the Covid-19 pandemic, which hindered the work of our reporters that had to travel hundreds of kilometers from Lima to the Andean provinces of Huarochirí and Oyón where the Alpayana and Buenaventura mining companies operate. Yet collecting relatives’ testimonies was necessary in order to humanize data and collect more details about the incidents.
In addition, in the case of the information obtained from the Supervisory Agency for Investment in Energy and Mining (Osinergmin), Convoca.pe managed to deal with the secrecy of that entity that for weeks avoided delivering the information requested. After several attempts, however, we were able to obtain the data containing the list of the mining companies that were sanctioned for violating occupational safety and health regulations. This information was imperative to the project to confirm the profile of the mining companies that register the highest number of sanctions.
What can others learn from this project?
Our work evolved as we were able to access data throughout the investigation. The first data we obtained was from the National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL) where–after a process of filtering and cross-checking information–we found penalties for violations of labor legislation; some of them related to fatal accidents. This preliminary finding led us to access the records of fatal accidents in large mining companies in the last 15 years (2006 to 2020) through public information requests.
We also filed several public information requests from Osinergmin inquiring about the registration of sanctions against mining companies for violating safety and health regulations. After analyzing this information we found that mining companies with the most fatal accidents that had subcontracted workers were also the same companies that registered the highest number of sanctions for safety violations.
In the last stage of the investigation, we strengthened our data analysis work with information from the Prosecutor’s Office on the status of investigations related to fatal accidents in mining units. We believe that it is important to make a progressive evolution in terms of data access in order to delve into the preliminary and last findings of the investigation.
After finding out about the foreign investors in the mining companies involved, our team decided to translate the investigation into English. Therefore, we also recommend that journalists should make the effort of translating their investigations in an effort to reach bigger audiences in the countries where mining companies headquarters are located in.