On 5 May, I met with Canadian mining giant Goldcorp to talk about its San Martin mine in Honduras.
This was just one day after Goldcorp, in the lead up to its annual general meeting, published on its website that “reported net earnings from continuing operations in the first quarter of 2011 were $651 million compared to $232 million in the first quarter of 2010. Adjusted net earnings from continuing operations were $397 million, or $0.50 per share, compared to $159 million, or $0.22 per share, in the first quarter of 2010.”
Certainly such earnings seem to substantiate Goldcorp’s claim to being the “fastest growing, lowest-cost senior gold producer with operations and development projects in politically stable jurisdictions throughout the Americas”. In other words, great news for shareholders.
The thing is, I wasn’t there to discuss Goldcorp’s profits, instead I – together with CAFOD’s Honduran partner organisation CEHPRODEC and our Canadian sister agency Development and Peace – wanted to know how this claim to fastest growing and lowest cost (read highest profit margin) senior gold producer, sits alongside Goldcorp’s environmental and social responsibility record.
CAFOD has been looking at the environmental and social impact of mining for over 6 years now as CAFOD’s partner organisations from across the world have been telling us how in their experience mining can fuel conflict or pollute water sources in some of the poorest and most excluded communities.
In the case of Honduras, the people living near Goldcorp’s San Martin are small farmers whose long-term survival depends on raising animals and growing subsistence crops. When communities living downstream from the mine showed increasing concern about the water they use in the home and for farming, CAFOD commissioned international mine water management experts from Newcastle University who found evidence of pollution due to acid mine drainage.
Considering this, it was great to hear Goldcorp’s Vice President for corporate social responsibility finally say that the Newcastle University report with recommendations on how to better treat and prevent acid mine drainage (AMD) was “extremely well done” and that Goldcorp “responded to it internally”.
We were told that Goldcorp’s own environmental consultants “had the same comments and analysis” as experts Dr Jarvis and Dr Amezaga regarding the water quality. In other words, in 2008, water data for San Martin showed “typical characteristics of severe AMD” and “risks remain in relation to pollution due to AMD post-closure”.
We also welcomed Goldcorp’s openness to increase water sampling types and water monitoring frequency in order to get more certainty on the effectiveness of the AMD prevention system.
How disappointing then to hear that two weeks later at Goldcorp’s AGM, CEO Charles Jeannes – when talking about San Martin mine – did not openly acknowledge what was said to us in private: Goldcorp has to “continue monitoring to make sure [the pollution prevention system] works in the way we think it is working”.
We know that CEO Jeannes wasn’t asked explicitly about AMD in the AGM but if people in the vicinity of the mine are worried about the way in which the mine might be impacting on their health, surely it is in the company’s interest to publicly acknowledge what they are doing to prevent pollution.
“Welcome to Development and Peace. Please fasten your seatbelt to prepare for the ride of your life!”
This is what I could have been told as I landed in Ottawa this past September 2010. I arrived in Ontario, a western Canadian girl, trying my very best to have no preconceived notions. I came as an undergraduate student with the Laurentian Leadership Centre, a semester long internship program with Trinity Western University, hoping to cap off my degree in International Studies with an insider’s look at a development organization.
What drew me specifically to Development and Peace is the fact that it is a Catholic-based organization working, in direct relationship with the Church, guided by Catholic social teaching, to effectively transform the world in love through social justice action. My prior limited experience with D&P set me as an open book to be written in.
Well, rides and books aside (I am the analogy queen) interning in the Eastern Ontario Regional office was a wonderful experience. The small office—my supervisor and I comprised the office workforce—saw a flurry of activity from rallies to speaking engagements to creative adventures. I quickly discovered the mission of D&P, the basics of the operation, and the breadth of issues that the organization has tackled.
The timing of my placement allowed me to jump head in to the work conducted in support of Bill C-300. Despite the bill’s defeat in the House of Commons the entire process was such a great opportunity to be amidst the action. It opened lines of meaningful dialogue, challenging me to dig deeper and ask serious questions outside of the academic setting. I met such inspiring, passionate people. For me, it was a firsthand chance to see passion put into action—the way conviction is meant to challenge our comfortable lives.
Much of the remainder of my internship experience was meaningful in a different way. It was my turn to put faith and conviction into action. Our office moved forward in what I have coined the “Ottawa Catholic Schools Initiative”. It has been a concerted (and successful) effort to further partner with the Ottawa Catholic schools and surrounding area to share our passion and educate students on issues; it is specifically aimed to be interactive, for students to feel empowered and inspired, to know that they can make a difference. How this crystallized was through collaborative efforts with chaplains and presentations to a number of schools in the area.
Now the time has come to leave. I have met amazing people who are the lifeblood of D&P. I have been inspired by people who stand for change, who are willing to change their own lives to see transformation become a reality. I have been challenged. And now I fasten my seatbelt to go home…
by Suzanne Cailliau
(former) Intern to the Eastern Ontario Regional Animator with Development and Peace
All our members, young or older, are deeply disappointed, as well as our partners in the Global South, who really welcomed Bill C-300 on responsible mining and corporate social accountability. For years, we have listened to their stories about how Canadian mining companies are taking over their land, polluting their water sources, destroying their environment, and often without consulting the affected communities or listening to their concerns.
So, what next? Where do we go from here?
One thing that has inspired me about this crucial campaign is the way we have finally had the real-life stories told in the media. The week leading up to the vote was flooded with news about corporate social accountability. Google Bill c300 and you will see what I mean!
Before I mention next steps in advocacy, I want to share with you some great relfections and analysis.
DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE is disappointed by the defeat of Bill C-300 by a mere six votes in the House of Commons, with 24 MPs not showing up for the vote. The Bill would have improved the standards of corporate accountability of Canadian mining companies operating overseas.
“It is a very disheartening outcome,” said Michael Casey, Executive Director of DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE, who, with all its members, have supported Bill C-300 since it was introduced as a Private Members’ Bill by MP John McKay (Lib-Scarborough-Guildwood) in 2009. For 5 years the organization has campaigned to protect communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America against human rights abuses and environmental degradation caused by Canadian companies.
“Our 11,500 members are deeply disappointed, as are our partners in the Global South, who really welcomed the Bill,” added Mr. Casey. “For years, we have listened to their stories about how Canadian mining companies are taking over their land, polluting their water sources, destroying their environment, and often without consulting the affected communities or listening to their concerns.”
The Canadian Campus Ministers Soldiarity Trip to Honduras learned first hand the phenominally detrimental effects of Canadian mining companies. Read about their expereince here. The Bill would have put in place a complaint mechanism, whereby allegations of abuse would be investigated and accompanied by minor sanctions if not redressed.
“Over the last three years, our members have met with dozens of MPs all across the country to present them with postcards signed by constituents asking that the government ensure that Canadian mining companies act responsibly abroad. In total, 500,000 postcards were signed and sent to Parliamentarians,” added Casey.
“This would have ensured greater justice for all and how can you oppose that,” he asked.
“What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?” – Irresponsible mining practices are a global issue
“…Our country is in peril. All the living systems on land and in the seas around us are being ruthlessly exploited. The damage to date is extensive and, sad to say, is often irreversible…
We ask the government not to pursue short-term economic gains at the expensive of long-term ecological damage.
We suggest that the Government… promote an awareness of the fragility and limited carrying capacity of our islands’ eco- systems and advocate measures designed to support ecologically sustainable development.”
An extract from the 1988 Filipino Bishops’ Pastoral letter entitled: What is happening to our beautiful land?
Much like this summer’s Youth Solidarity Trip to the Philippines, in 2007 Development and Peace members and staff were forcibly reminded that irresponsible mining practices are not exclusively the domain of some Canadian companies when they visited the area around the Rapu Rapu mine, operated by the Australian mining company Lafayette Mining Ltd, on this island in the Albay Gulf, in Luzon province, the Philippines.
To help us understand the situation of the Rapu-Rapu communities I want to share with you a letter, written by Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon Diocese, Philippines, imploring the Filipino government to suspend operations at this Australian owned and operated open pit gold, silver and copper mining operation on the island of Rapu Rapu.
… The Lafayette mine is more than a financial mess. It is an environmental and social failure. How many of us forewarned the Administration and the DENR that the project is not socially, technically, environmentally and financially feasible but, still, they allowed it to proceed.
Should they not be held accountable along with Lafayette to rehabilitate the island and compensate the local residents for the damages done by the mine? They also must ensure that enough rehabilitation funds are available for the affected people in the Island….
Our Solidarity Trip afforded us the opportunity to meet many great people and organizations; one of these organizations was the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines (CEC). The CEC is an NGO based in Quezon City, Metro Manila, which works at the grassroots, national, and global levels of the environmental movement.
The CEC’s areas of focus are “Addressing Environmental Challenges” and “Defending Communities and Ecosystems”, and “Working for Sustainable Alternatives”. They are not only fighting global climate change, but localized threats as well. Threats like the impact of extractive industries on local environments and the livelihoods of the people, as well as aggressive development by large corporations being backed by powerful politicians.
We met the staff of CEC on our second day in the Philippines. We learned about the organization as a whole, and the environmental issues in the Philippines they are facing and responding to.
We were told we would be visiting the island of Rapu Rapu on days 10, 11, and 12 of the trip to see how the open-pit mining for gold has affected the environment, and thus, the people of Rapu Rapu. We were all very excited about this opportunity, as was the staff of CEC.
On Day 8 we met Aubrey from the CEC and Dr. Rose from Sorsogon State College, who along with her students would be joining us on the journey to Rapu Rapu. The next day we travelled to a protest at the Department of Agrarian Reform before going to see a presentation at Aquinas University on Rapu Rapu and open pit mining.
It was a very intriguing presentation on how the company lied, denied, and would try to and blame anyone/anything else for the fish kills and water contamination on Rapu Rapu when it was quite clear that the tailings ponds (the mining waste water) were responsible. My personal favourite of the company’s excuses: “oh, the fish drowned…”. You can find out more about what we learned, and the struggle of the Rapu Rapu communities, on the movement’s blog: http://saverapurapu.blogspot.com/
The next day it was off to Rapu Rapu by ferry boat and smaller boat. Before we boarded the boat we were joined by our awesome guides: Aubrey and Rick (CEC staff), Dr.Rose, and the Sorsogon State College veterinarian students & Rong and Ryu (CEC interns). Check out CEC’s site too: http://www.cecphils.org/
After a few hours on the water seeing the awe inspiring landscapes of the island, ocean, and rock we made it to the other side of the island where the open pit mining had ravaged the landscapes = we were left speechless by the devastation.
We arrived at a Barangay (village) on Rapu Rapu where Yayi (CEC staff) and the community were waiting to welcome us. As per usual with Filipino hospitality, we were welcomed with open arms and gracious gestures.
The next 3 nights we would be staying in host families and learning of the issues, intimidation, and hardships that the people of Rapu Rapu have faced, and are still battling with because of irresponsible mining practises. After the 3 knowledge/experience packed days it was time to jump back on the boat(s) home. Once back in Legazpi we had to say our goodbyes to Aubrey, Dr.Rose, and the SSC Veterinarian Students. Our group then hopped on a bus with Rick, Yayi, Ryu, and Rong which was 12-13 hours back to Manila.
On our last day in the Philippines a few of us walked over to the CEC office to say our farewell as it was only a couple blocks from our hotel. Although we were only with our friends with the CEC for a handful of days, an immense amount of knowledge and experiences was gained, along with lifelong friendships created.
“My name is Kaitlyn. I’m a youth rep at Development and Peace – the official development agency of the Catholic Church in Canada, and the Canadian member of Caritas International. Inspired by Gospel values, particularly “the preferential option for the poor,” the goals of Development and Peace are to support initiatives by people in the Global South to take control of their lives and to educate Canadians about global issues.
For the past 42 years, Development and Peace has helped support thousands of grassroots projects all over the world that are striving for peace and justice financially and through advocacy and solidarity.
Development and Peace believes the voluntary approach to corporate accountability is fundamentally flawed. Canadian extractive companies that fail to uphold international human rights and environmental standards abroad must be held accountable in Canada.
Between 2006 and 2009, over 520,000 Development and Peace action postcards were collected across Canada, and 170 meetings with MPs were held; all calling for action on making mandatory corporate social responsibility a reality.
Working in solidarity with partner organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, our goal has been to convince the Canadian government to develop legal mechanisms that would require Canadian mining companies operating in these regions to act in a manner that respects human, social and cultural rights and is environmentally responsible.
We support Bill C-300 because it is a step in the right direction towards restoring Canada’s reputation as a rights-respecting country that puts life before profit.
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the injustices in his country, said “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the…contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is a right and it is a duty.”
Our brothers and sisters in the Global South have a right to peace, free from fear, free from destruction and free from oppression. Without mandatory corporate social responsibility, we cannot uphold our duty to work towards building that dynamic and enduring peace. We call on all of our elected representatives to ensure that bill c-300 passes its third and final reading. Let this be a small step towards creating a world where life always comes before profit.”
by Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt, Eastern Ontario Youth Rep
The core argument of the mining industry is that C-300 (The Responsible Mining Bill) would cause reputational damage to mining companies. That is nonsense. C-300 didn’t cause reputational damage in the case of the allegations of murder against Blackfire in Mexico; it’s not even clear that C-300 would apply to the Mexican situation.
What is clear, however, is that Canada’s reputation is being harmed by the actions of irresponsible mining companies. When our own governor-general faces protesters chanting “Canada, go home,” it’s hardly a good day for our relationship with the Mexican people.
Our troubles don’t end in Mexico, though. In Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina and in literally dozens of other countries, complaints are being raised against Canadian-based mining companies. Our national reputation is being abused.
Witness after witness at the Foreign Affairs and International Trade committee testified of incidents which, if they were to happen here, would give rise to jail terms, fines and lawsuits.
With an image such as this of our companies abroad, it is no wonder then that Canadians are no longer being met with the warm reception that we once took for granted.
Recently in committee, witness Steven Schnoor told a story of having to black out the Canadian flag on the back of his hat, and to quote Schnoor he “did this for [his] own safety.”
Other witnesses before committee, such as Tyler Giannini of the Human Rights program at Harvard Law School and Sarah Knuckey of the University of New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, gave damning testimony on the practices of Canadian mining companies, which they witnessed in Papua New Guinea. Testimony was also given by Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada; Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Church’s Development and Peace organization; Richard Janda from the McGill University’s law school; Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, a McGill history professor; Stephen Hunt, district director from United Steelworkers; Toby Heaps, the founder of Corporate Knights; and even former Argentine environment minister Romina Picolotti, who has fought her fair share of battles with Canadian mining companies.
This is only part of a long list of credible and respected individuals who have come forward to speak to this issue. Even witnesses against the bill, such as Carlo Dade, who testified on behalf of Focal, have admitted that for every two happy cases there is often an unhappy case.
With upwards of 4,000 mining projects operating internationally, this makes for a lot of unhappy cases.
The mining industry’s response to this testimony has been to brush it off, deny it or attack the credibility of the witness. With the evidence mounting to substantiate the testimony, though, this tactic of deny, deny, deny is becoming less and less believable.
The hearings before the Foreign Affairs committee, though, are just one small part of the growing and incontrovertible evidence that shows Canada has a serious corporate-social-responsibility problem in the extractive industry. It also points to Bill C-300 as a step in the right direction. C-300 seeks to bring accountability and transparency to incidents of breaches of environmental and corporate social-responsibility standards. If a company is found to be non-compliant, the sanctions to be applied would be a direction by a Minister of the Crown to withdraw our investments in Export Development Canada and the Canada Pension Plan.
These sanctions are neither drastic nor unreasonable. It should be the responsibility of companies operating overseas to use mining practices that respect human rights. The witnesses and the Canadian public want Canada, as the world centre for mining financing, to be accountable for its investments. If Canada invests in these companies through EDC and CPP, surely it’s not too much to ask that Canadian mining companies account to the Canadian taxpayers and pensioners in a transparent fashion.
The mining companies and their lawyers have made the argument that this small bill will destroy the Canadian mining industry and drive companies out of Canada.
Their “sky is falling” argument is losing credibility. Canada is the world centre for mining. It has the best technology, the biggest companies, the most expertise and the most favourable conditions. When C-300 passes, these facts will remain the same. Good corporate social responsibility is good for business, and good business is good corporate social responsibility. A responsible mining bill is good for Canada.
It is more than a little perplexing to me, then, why mining companies have put up such an enormous fight against such a modest bill.
So, as abuse heaps upon abuse and the government stonewalls, and ridicules the credibility of witnesses and appoints a toothless counsellor, the problems of the mining industry remain. The call for action on this issue is neither drastic nor frivolous nor vexatious. Yet it has been met with enormous resistance.
Bill C-300 is a modest proposal that can be seen as a limited stepping stone to better corporate practice. Perhaps the only reason that can be given for the resistance is a proverb that comes from the Bible: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
John McKay is a Liberal member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood in Ontario.