As the communications consultant for nonprofit Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, I understand the importance grant money has during incredibly unprecedented times. Right now, grant money is competitive and hard to find, and everyone – from schools to local businesses – needs help to protect their family, friends, and community from the long-term fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There have been many instances lately of mining companies giving gifts of cash and supplies to those in need. Giving back to communities, especially during uncertain times, is very appreciated, and I encourage people and organizations to apply if they’re eligible. For those who accept a grant from mining companies and other for-profit industries, however, I think it’s important to acknowledge the underlying motivations these corporations have.
Called “Social License to Operate,” companies use the tactic of giving money to communities to buy their support, acceptance, or silence. While grant money should be considered a gift, one that does not come with strings or expectations, this is not often the case.
I live in Bisbee and work as a freelance reporter. Like Patagonia, Bisbee has a strong mining presence. Over the last year, I’ve interviewed nonprofits and businesses who have accepted grant aid from Bisbee’s resident mining company. This company has been added to the board of our local science lab, funded a new STEM program at our elementary school, donated books and money to our library, and gifted supplies to the City of Bisbee after our city hall burned down.
As a result, this mining company is seen as an integral part of Bisbee, frequently mentioned as a partner or donor in almost all my newspaper assignments. Meanwhile, the reality is that Bisbee, like Patagonia, faces a future of renewed mining in our mountains. The more this company buys their way into local businesses, the less likely residents will object to their mining practices – good or bad.
I admit I work for a Patagonia nonprofit that is frequently vocal against Patagonia’s mining companies. But I am more than my career as a consultant. I am a citizen of the Earth, concerned about the rise of corporations and their devaluation of ecotourism, wildlife, water quality, and the unique makeup of local communities. I also belong to a younger generation that will need to fight climate change and fix the long-lasting environmental problems that corporations – especially industrialized mining – can create.
While I encourage corporations to support local communities, I reject the use of grant money as a means of buying a town, a business, or a person. Please, use your freedom of speech to speak out against the corporate practices you don’t agree with – regardless of whether you’ve received a grant. This is the only way we can ensure corporations don’t use their position to negatively impact our families, our livelihoods, our economy, or the biodiversity within which we live.