Mining within the Context of a “Preferential Option for the Poor”

One challenge facing mining today is to find effective approaches towards reducing poverty in the host countries and particularly in the local areas of operations. Without question, mining generates wealth for host countries and local communities, the more so if environmental and social externalities (costs imposed on society) are held to the absolute minimum. However, the distribution of wealth generated by mining is skewed in favour of the haves against the have-nots. It is an unfortunate fact that mine generated wealth tends towards being concentrated in a few hands, those with the greatest ability to capture and capitalize on the mine generated wealth. Not only are the poor less able to capture and capitalize on that wealth, but the share of wealth that is captured is greatly diluted, there being so many more poor than rich. So, while mining contributes demonstrably to economic growth in host countries and local areas of operations, it also tends to widen the income gap. The rich get richer faster than the poor get richer. Since poverty has both an absolute and a relative dimension, even though incomes per family may increase as a statistical average or as a real experience in many households, a widening income gap can create the impression of relatively greater poverty in the minds of those in the lower tiers of wealth. The challenge then is: how can mining contribute wealth to host countries and communities in a manner that narrows the income gap, thus achieving true poverty reduction?
The challenge of enhancing the contribution of mining to poverty reduction can be usefully explored within the ethical framework of Christian social justice as articulated by pastoral documents of the Catholic Church. The most fundamental norm in this ethical framework is the “preferential option for the poor”. One reason for using this Church-based perspective to explore the normative dimensions of the relationship between mining and poverty is that some of the strongest criticism of mining in developing countries of the global south comes from Church leaders, whose perception is that mining is not an agent of distributive justice and does not truly benefit the poor. After examining the nature and causes of the moral hazards for local communities that pastors often perceive as originating from the development of mines in the vicinity, consideration will be given to some basic norms of Christian social justice, namely solidarity, subsidiarity and transparency.
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