Platinum mining has been taking place in the hills north of Tachilek in Shan State, Myanmar since 2007. The precious metal commodity, commonly used in industrial applications and finest jewelry, is mined by several Burmese companies before it is exported to China and Thailand. A civil society report entitled “Grab for White Gold: Platinum Mining in Eastern Shan State”, published in 2012 by the Lahu Women Organization (LWO), has exposed human rights abuses and destruction of livelihood resources by these platinum mines. This EJatlas entry summarizes the main findings of this civil society report  and related press coverage .
Locals in the hills of Tachilek township have been relying for generations on farming for their livelihoods, growing rice, tea, fruits and other vegetables. The forest furthermore supplied them with ample goods such as honey that could be sold in town . Interest to develop mines in the area began around 2006, when a Chinese firm found minerals suitable to make bullets. The operation was later expanded to platinum production . Concerns about the mining activities began to emerge in 2007, when the Sai Laung Hein Company set up a workers’ compound close to Ah Yeh village. Surveying works followed . In 2009, the company allegedly started to confiscate villagers land. A few families agreed to move out of the village, however, compensation payments were well below the market price . In the same year, also the Myint U Aung Company started exploring the area. During 2010, Sai Laung Hein Company expanded their operations, employing at that time 200 workers and excavating large areas close to Ah Yeh village. Three other companies arrived - Hein Lay San, San Baramee, and Wonna Thein – and started to explore and survey the area during 2011 . Government signboards reading “Land of White Gold” posted throughout eastern Shan State had attracted many mining groups, said the activists .
About 393 households (approx. 2,000 people) from eight ethnic Lahu, Akha and Shan villages have been impacted by the mining activities. People were neither consulted nor informed about the operations, stated the report . Land confiscations in absence of adequate - if any - compensations were documented, as well as forced sales of property and land at cheap prices. When villagers complained about the impacts, the manager of Sao Laung Hein told them: “We got permission from the officials and we have invested a lot of money on this project. The best way to solve your problems is to move somewhere else!” [1, page 8]. Locals denounced the lack of a rule of law in the area. According to them, mining companies carried out their operations by paying off the local Burmese army, without adhering to any social and environmental standards. Neither local pro-government Lahu militia groups were consulted about the projects and received no payments. Since mining operations have started, the Burma army has increased its patrols in the area and reportedly forced villagers as well as companies to pay fees for their operations .
No jobs have been offered to locals, complained villagers. According to a local, a manager told them: “We only want workers who can work full time on this project. We don’t want to employ you because you need to rest every Sunday, and when you want to work on your farms, you won’t be able to work for our company.” [1, page 12]. Instead, forest and farmland were reportedly seized and destroyed by the dumping of mining waste. Also, the villages' access road to the main highway was damaged by the heavy machinery employed by the companies and water sources have been diverted and contaminated. Households informed to face water shortages for domestic and agricultural needs, which particularly affected women who then had to walk long distances to access clean water .
Women have furthermore suffered from the large influx of male mine workers, documented the report. According to the Lahu Women Organization, sexual harassment has become regular, some young women have been taken as wives by mining staff, and others were pushed into sex work. One young local women shared her story: “We have a big family so I left school after grade 7. I wanted to support my brothers and sisters. I didn’t want to do this work, but the company dumped soil on our farm, so we can’t work on it any more. I know I will get a bad name for doing this work, but I need to help my family. With more companies setting up here, I hope to earn more money." [1, page 13]. The organization also described how in one case mining staff was involved in trafficking of a local women [for details, see 1].
The villagers have tried to protest and issue complaints, but were unable to reach the site, said activists, because the company deemed their land as “limited areas” . They mobilized against the project by publishing the above-mentioned report that was based on bottom-up field research during 2010 and 2011. The report was presented during a press conference in Chiang Mai Thailand, in May 2012 , and called upon the government “to put an immediate stop to these destructive mining operations, which are not contributing to local development, but are causing poverty and environmental degradation.” [1, page, 2]. Activists further criticized that the political reform processes underway in Myanmar have not benefited ethnic people and that minority groups still leave in fear of abuses as in the past .
No information about the current status of the mines could be found.