Major mining companies are seeking to expand to currently protected indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest, bolstered by billions of dollars in financing from international banks and investment firms, a report found Tuesday.
Nine mining giants including Brazil's Vale, Britain's Anglo American, and Canada's Belo Sun have filed applications seeking authorisation to mine on indigenous reservations in Brazil – even though that is currently illegal, said the report by the environmental group Amazon Watch and the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB).
The firms appear to be betting that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has pushed to open protected lands to mining and agribusiness, will succeed in passing legislation introduced by his government that would allow them to operate on indigenous territories, it said.
As of November, the companies had a total of 225 active mining applications to Brazil's National Mining Agency (ANM) that overlap 34 indigenous lands, for a total area of more than three times the size of London, it said.
"The environmental damages and threats against the lives of forest peoples by mining activities are brutal and have only worsened under Bolsonaro's administration," Ana Paula Vargas, Brazil programme director at Amazon Watch, said in a statement.
"With the rainforest at the tipping point of ecological collapse, we need to involve all the actors behind this industry."
Experts say preserving indigenous lands is among the best ways to protect the world's largest rainforest, a vital resource in the race to curb climate change.
The report found the mining firms, which also included Glencore, AngloGold Ashanti, Rio Tinto, Potássio do Brasil, and Grupo Minsur, received a total of US$54.1 billion in financing from international investors over the past five years for their Brazilian operations.
It urged banks and financial firms backing such companies to pull out of them, saying many also had a history of human rights violations and environmental destruction.
Major backers of the nine mining companies include US firms BlackRock, Capital Group and Vanguard, which invested US$14.8 billion in them over the past five years, it said.
Banks including France's Credit Agricole, US-based Bank of America and Citigroup and Germany's Commerzbank are also major financiers of the companies, with a total of US$2.7 billion in loans and underwriting, it said.
Many of the companies denied the report's findings.
Anglo American said it had "legacy tenure applications" for indigenous lands that it had "fully and formally withdrawn several years ago."
Vale said it had done the same last year.
South Africa-based AngloGold Ashanti said it "does not operate nor have interest in operating on indigenous lands."
The firm said it had applied in the 1990s for mining licences for three areas that were later declared indigenous reservations. It withdrew those applications more than two decades ago, but the mining agency's database "was not updated," it said.
Belo Sun, Peru's Minsur and Potassio do Brasil said they had no activity relating to indigenous territory and defended their social and environmental records.
A spokesperson for Vanguard meanwhile said the firm "regularly engages with mining companies" to promote sound environmental and social practices.
Credit Agricole said it financed no mines in the Amazon.
"We have contacted Anglo American and Vale, which both confirmed they had no exploration permits for indigenous lands," it said.