On 24 January 2023, the Brazilian government declared a medical emergency after hundreds of Indigenous Yanomami children died from malnutrition. The humanitarian crisis in the Yanomami Indigenous Land is a direct consequence of illegal mining in the region – carried out by more than 20,000 individuals who invaded the sacred territory of the Yanomami in pursuit of profits from the illegal extraction of gold or diamonds.

The Amazon rainforest is being poisoned by small-scale and often illegal gold mining, which Brazilians refer to as garimpo. Garimpo is a highly visible and fast-increasing threat to Indigenous territories and peoples, having grown nearly 500% in Indigenous Lands over the last 12 years. Besides contributing to the elevated level of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon,  illegal gold mining devastates the environment and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples. Runoff into rivers and water contamination by toxic mercury – direct consequences of this activity – pollute waterways, aggravate multi-generational and often irreversible health problems, and fundamentally disrupt traditional food sources. Driven in large part by organized crime syndicates, illegal mining is dividing Indigenous communities, bringing conflict and social disorder into Indigenous Lands, and perpetuating high levels of violence in the Amazon.

Heavy industrial machinery, such as hydraulic excavators, has played a key role in accelerating destruction from illegal mining. Aerial flyovers and satellite mapping analysis carried out by Greenpeace Brazil between 2021 and 2023 found at least 176 hydraulic excavators in the three Indigenous Lands accounting for almost the entirety of illegal mining in Indigenous Lands in the Brazilian Amazon.  In addition, these aerial flyovers also found that HD Hyundai Construction Equipment’s excavators, produced by its subsidiary Hyundai Construction Equipment Brasil, are apparently the favored brand of heavy machinery used in the destruction of Indigenous Peoples’ Lands in the Amazon rainforest. Out of the 176 excavators within the Yanomami, Munduruku, and Kayapó Indigenous Lands between 2021 and 2023, no less than 75 were produced by the South Korean company.

The three territories analyzed by this investigation account for more than 95% of the area mined in all Indigenous Territories in the Amazon. Illegal mining in Indigenous Lands disrupts the way of life of these peoples and thus violates the right of these populations to live. according to their customs and traditions, as guaranteed in Brazil’s Constitution’s explicit provisions for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Ending activities that harm the environment and public health and violate human rights will require a new development pathway that addresses the underlying conditions that allow for calamities like illegal mining. Such a new development model must coexist with nature, respect the socio-territorial rights of the Indigenous Peoples and Traditional or Local Communities, and address income inequality. 

This report is more than an exposé; rather, it is a call to heavy machinery manufacturers to become part of the solution and take measures that prevent their equipment being used in illegal activities that yield repeated violations of human rights.

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Stop the Excavators