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Natural resource justice

The inequality of resource wealth: Communities rich in oil and minerals often live in poverty.

Few sectors have contributed more to the twin crises of global inequality and climate change than the oil, gas, and mining industries. Yet, despite a looming climate emergency and fresh concerns about the post-COVID economy, the pressure to extract oil, gas, and minerals remains higher than ever.

Too often communities that lose land and suffer the pollution and other negative effects of mines and pipelines seldom enjoy their benefits. Women bear a disproportionate burden of these negative effects, including the disruption of family and social life, increased risks to health and safety (especially in terms of domestic and sexual violence), and increased work in caring for family members made ill by pollution.

In fighting for natural resource justice, and addressing the reasons why resource rich countries are poor, Oxfam helps organizations in communities affected by oil, gas, and mining industries to:

  • defend their right to decide whether, and under what conditions, projects can go forward on their lands.
  • shine a light on the links between natural resources and corruption, how governments spend oil, gas, and mining revenues, and if the communities bearing the costs get any benefits from them.
  • advocate for the environment, defend the rights of those speaking out, including women and other vulnerable people.
  • propose better laws and policies that respect the rights of people, the community, and the environment, and
  • advocate for countries to shift away from fossil fuels to limit global warming.

Why do resource-rich countries experience poverty & injustice?

Despite the potential for mining and energy projects to provide jobs and revenues for government, in many cases companies instead seize community lands for mines and pipelines and displace farming and fishing communities, Indigenous peoples, and other minorities. When the financial benefits leave the country or only enrich a few elites, it increases inequality. In many countries it is difficult to determine how much money mines and oil production contributes to the national treasury, and what happens to those revenues.

When countries rely too heavily on non-renewable natural resources, they often overlook other forms of economic activities like agriculture and manufacturing, which can distribute income more widely across society. Indigenous peoples and women are particularly vulnerable—governments and companies often overlook their concerns. And once committed to exploiting nonrenewable resources, governments do not always distribute revenues back to communities. The result is increased inequality, pollution, and poverty.

Oxfam supports a just transition away from fossil fuel extraction and burning, recognizing that high-income countries bearing the greatest responsibility for historic greenhouse gas emissions have an obligation to phase out fossil fuel extraction first and fastest.

What is Oxfam doing to fight for natural resource justice?

Oxfam works closely with organizations in more than 30 countries to fight inequality and defend the rights of communities and people affected by oil, gas, and mining projects.

A fishing community on the shore of Lake Albert in Uganda. Recent oil finds under the lake threaten the environment of livelihoods of fishing families.
A fishing community on the shore of Lake Albert in Uganda. Recent oil finds under the lake threaten the environment of livelihoods of fishing families. Photo: Andrew Bogrand/Oxfam

Human rights and communities

Communities should be able to realize and defend their human rights. For Indigenous Peoples, this includes the right to decide whether or not oil, gas, and mining projects can go forward—an international standard known as “free, prior, and informed consent.” Oxfam and our partners help communities defend their rights, document harms inflicted on them, and seek remedies according to international law and business codes of conduct.

Oxfam staff review a revenue board outside of the district assembly building in Shama, Ghana. The board, funded by Oxfam and partners, lists the amount and location of revenue collected by the local government to prevent fraud and corruption.
Oxfam staff review a revenue board outside of the district assembly building in Shama, Ghana. The board, funded by Oxfam and partners, lists the amount and location of revenue collected by the local government to prevent fraud and corruption. Photo: Andrew Bogrand/Oxfam

Economic justice and accountable governance

Working at local and international levels, Oxfam and our partners advocate for the disclosure of financial information about oil, gas, and mining projects, including investment contracts, to fight corruption and to encourage governments to collect their fair share of taxes and revenues. Just as importantly, we help civil society groups ensure that these revenues are allocated to communities in ways that reduce inequality and increase their resilience to the climate crisis.

Rhodah Kabbila (front), Obvious Malyeniluyu (back) and Busiku M Shakantu (center) are members of the Natural Resource Group in Sindzongwe, Mamba in Southern Zambia. The group lobbied to save a bridge that helps the community during the country’s wet season. “We have been able to have roads repaired and new classrooms built for a school here,” said Busiki. “We did all of these things through the voice of this group.”
Rhodah Kabbila (front), Obvious Malyeniluyu (back) and Busiku M Shakantu (center) are members of the Natural Resource Group in Sindzongwe, Mamba in Southern Zambia. The group lobbied to save a bridge that helps the community during the country’s wet season. “We have been able to have roads repaired and new classrooms built for a school here,” said Busiki. “We did all of these things through the voice of this group.” Photo: Georgina Goodwin/Oxfam AUS

Gender justice

Women are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of natural resource extraction, including sexual and gender-based violence. Oxfam works with groups that help women advocate for the government and companies to respect their rights, document the negative impact of projects on women and other vulnerable people, and encourage women’s participation in decision-making bodies.

A soil sample taken in 2013 from one site inside the Pacaya Samiria National Natural Reserve in the Marañon river basin.
A soil sample taken in 2013 from one site inside the Pacaya Samiria National Natural Reserve in the Marañon river basin. Renato Pita/PUINAMUDT

Environmental and climate justice

The environmental impacts of natural resource exploitation and climate change are hurting vulnerable people, particularly women and girls, the most. Oxfam is advocating for a just transition from fossil fuels, and helping communities ensure that no mining or fossil fuel projects pollute their air, land, or water. We are advocating for countries that depend on fossil fuel revenues to diversify their economies and to end subsidies for the fossil fuel sector.

Leaders in Peak, a village in northern Cambodia, are committed to protecting the environment for future generations from the detrimental effects of water contamination and structural damage because of an underground gold mine nearby.
Leaders in Peak, a village in northern Cambodia, are committed to protecting the environment for future generations from the detrimental effects of water contamination and structural damage because of an underground gold mine nearby. Photo: Andrew Bogrand/Oxfam

Civic space and human rights defenders

Human rights and environmental defenders and those advocating for transparency and justicemany of them womenare facing worsening threats, harassment, and intimidation. Representatives of Indigenous communities and other minorities in areas affected by oil, gas, and mining projects are especially vulnerable. There is widespread impunity for acts of violence against these defenders of human rights, which serves to close down the civic space communities need to defend their rights and work for justice. Oxfam and our partners are working to support grassroots movements and community leaders so they can raise their voices, advocate for laws and policies that protect their rights, and shine a light on corruption.

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