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Extractivism is the exploitation of natural resources on a mass scale, creating significant economic profits for a few powerful people and corporations in the short term, but too often resulting in minimal benefits for the communities resources are found in; driver of displacement, health inequities, human rights violations, ecological degradation, and colonial violence - Columban Center, adapted by Michelle Xie [1]

Extractivism functions in a capitalistic system, which relies on extracting natural resources, sourcing commodities and selling it to produce consumer products. Societies are organized and function to consume at unnecessary levels, leaving environmental waste behind. It is embedded in many systems and needs capital accumulation, pressuring, constraining, the centralization of diverse-sector source development and monopolization. It is a self-reinforcing concept. [2]

Extractivism can be traced back more than 500 years all the way to the European colonial expansion. 

Examples of extractivism

The exploitation of marginalized groups


  • Exploitation for resources has appropriated human bodies in the form of slaves or, more recently, as labor-intensive workers.
  • Extractive projects are normally located near marginalized, poor, and racialized populations. These projects often diminish existing economic activities and disrupt community networks and social structures.
The exploitation of women [4]
  • Women carry the heaviest burden and experience extreme trauma when natural resources are taken from their land and exported on a massive scale. There is sometimes an increase in prostitution and sexual violence in communities restructured by extractivism, which disproportionately affects women and girls.
  • “Although always present, in communities where gender discrimination is already the norm, rampant natural resource extraction and depletion results in women and girls having increased responsibilities and risks. They are, for example, burdened with additional caretaking when men migrate for higher-paying jobs. They are forced to farm less fertile land that produces poor yields. Their movement is constrained by private security forces or government actors. They are targeted for speaking out against extractive projects. Their reproductive and respiratory health suffer. They are forced into exploitative sex work.” -Warnaars, 2021
The exploitation of Latin America, Africa and Asia


  • You can’t tell the history of many colonies without talking about the looting of minerals, metals, and other high-value resources. European crowns and later the United States looted resources in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
  • In the last 20 years, several governments in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have asserted national control over new forms of primary-production extractive industries.
  • Today, much of these countries experience the brunt of the climate crisis, and most are economically disadvantaged due to the exploitation that happened many years ago.
  • In Eastern Zimbabwe during a diamond rush, “police took control of the fields, torturing, beating, harassing, arresting, imprisoning, and even killing those deemed to be illegal miners, the once peaceful Chiadzwa was radically transformed. Men and boys suffered significant abuse and torture” Warnaars, 2021 [6]
The exploitation of the environment 
  • "Because of the huge scale of extraction, many “renewable” resources, such as forests or soil fertility, are becoming nonrenewable. This is because the resource is depleted due to the extraction being higher than the rate at which the environment is able to renew the resource” -Lang, 2011 [7]

Thank you to Lindsay-Jane Gowman for their support compiling content for this page.

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to kenzie@lehub.ca.

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  1. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1HC35f2kDXc8cgLYWc9_oUZmINoTfP3_I
  2. Christopher W. Chagnon, Francesco Durante, Barry K. Gills, Sophia E. Hagolani-Albov, Saana Hokkanen, Sohvi M. J. Kangasluoma, Heidi Konttinen, Markus Kröger, William LaFleur, Ossi Ollinaho & Marketta P. S. Vuola (2022) From extractivism to global extractivism: the evolution of an organizing concept, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 49:4, 760-792, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2022.2069015
  3. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-08-05/extractivism/
  4. Examining extractivism gendered violence and honoring the women fighting for change. Ximena Saska Warnaars, Natural Resources and Climate Change. 21 April 2023.
  5. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-08-05/extractivism/
  6. Examining extractivism gendered violence and honoring the women fighting for change. Ximena Saska Warnaars, Natural Resources and Climate Change. 21 April 2023.
  7. Beyond Development Alternative Visions Frem Latin America. Permanent Working Group on Alternatives to Development. Edited by M.Lang and D Mokrani. Luemberg/Abaya 2011