Case study

Norway: Planned copper mines threaten the Sámi culture

Summer 2019: A Sami delegation from Norway demonstrates in front of Credit Suisse. Summer 2019: A Sami delegation from Norway demonstrates in front of Credit Suisse.

For almost ten years, two new copper mines have been planned in northern Norway. The metal is of key importance for wind and solar technology. However, residues from the mines would have a disastrous effect on the local fish stocks, fisheries and reindeer herding. Reindeer herding provides the basic livelihood of the region’s Indigenous Sámi people. They have defended themselves, alongside the STP, with some success: Credit Suisse, which had a substantial stake in the project, withdrew from it. The Sámi are continuing to fight for their rights, which have been violated under the pretext of the energy transition.

The Repparfjord is a small fjord in the northern Norwegian region of Finnmark. With its fish population it is important for the local fishery. Sámi communities live in the surrounding areas. For them, the pastures are important for reindeer grazing. However, the land of Repparfjord also conceals copper deposits, which the Nussir ASA mining company has been aiming to extract for several decades.

Nussir ASA thus takes part of today’s trends in energy economics and energy politics. Copper mining has increased at a phenomenal rate in recent decades. The importance of copper for the energy transition has further accelerated this development. The metal is not only used as a highly efficient electrical conductor within the power grid, it is also an important component of solar and wind energy installations.

Sámi people’s homeland under threat

To supply the increasing demand, the Nussir ASA company has been planning to operate two copper mines on Sámi land by the Repparfjord since 2014. Specifically, this involves extracting 50,000 tons of copper ore from the localities of Nussir and Ulveryggen. From the point of view of the Sámi communities living there and the STP, the project threatens the environment and violates the rights of the Sámi, particularly due to the absence of consultation processes. The copper extraction, mining operations and the construction of the required infrastructure are to take place on Sámi reindeer grazing land. This would threaten the area’s traditional reindeer herding, and consequently the means of subsistence and culture of the Indigenous communities. But beyond that, there are also plans for underwater disposal of the mining residue, contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals, directly into the fjord. This would threaten fish stocks and the local fisheries dependent on them.

In the video, Sami representatives talk about their perception of the planned copper mines in the Repparfjord.

Credit Suisse under pressure

Swiss bank Credit Suisse (CS) was also involved in these plans. According to STP’s research, until 2019 it managed 20.6% of Nussir ASA’s shares as “nominee shareholder” representing then unknown clients. The bank was thus responsible for the second-biggest shareholding in the firm, after Norwegian company Monial AS. The Sámi communities affected, the Norwegian Sámi parliament and the STP called upon Credit Suisse to relinquish its role as nominee shareholder until an amicable agreement with theSámi people is found. In 2019, the STP launched a campaign against the involvement of CS, with the slogan “Stop banking against the Sámi!”, in order to put pressure via the media on the Swiss bank and raise awareness of its responsibility for Indigenous rights violations.

While nothing is moving on the legal front, in December 2020, Credit Suisse responded to the demands of the Sámi communities and the STP: It relinquished its management of the Nussir ASA shares, and so since then has no longer been involved in the project as a nominee shareholder. This represents a partial success, as following the bank’s exit, the identity of the actual owner, previously undisclosed, is now officially listed in the Nussir ASA investor register. This investor self-identified after the agreement between the bank and the Sámi communities.

In March 2019, the Naturvernforbundet environmental organisation, the Sámi Parliament and reindeer herders together filed a challenge against the granting of an operating licence to Nussir ASA. They did so on the grounds that granting the licence violated the national and international rights of the Indigenous Sámi people. The challenge is currently pending.

The political struggle continues

Despite the departure of Credit Suisse, the mining project is still on the table. Nussir ASA earlier signed a letter of intent with Aurubis AG, Europe’s biggest copper producer. This took realisation of the project one step further. The Sámi communities fought the project using all available political and legal means, and entered into talks with Aurubis. In the summer of 2021, young activists joined in with local fishers and Indigenous Sámi people on the shores of the Repparfjord to block construction of the mine. Their presence attracted the renewed attention of German copper giant Aurubis AG, which announced that it was terminating its purchasing agreement with Nussir due to sustainability concerns. Currently the process of constructing the mine is also in abeyance due to the withdrawal of various investors. Nonetheless, the plan for the mine still exists, meaning that the threat to the Sámi culture and the landscape has still not been averted. The STP supports the Sámi in its environmental concerns, and will continue to monitor the case closely.

Together with the Sámi communities, the STP was able to persuade major Swiss bank Credit Suisse to take responsibility and depart from the project. However, the project has represented an acutely threatening scenario for the local population for nearly a decade.

The STP and the affected Sámi communities are thus holding fast to their demands:

  • the land rights of the Sámi must be recognised in all projects. This implies an agreement on land-use rights including appropriate compensation, for example through profit sharing.
  • Nussir ASA should stop the project until an amicable solution with the affected Sámi people has been found.
  • All stakeholders must commit to the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) in all future investment projects. They will ensure that the rights of the Indigenous peoples are taken into account and that their participation is guaranteed. This also applies to renewable energy projects.

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