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.
There are 150 people gathered at this conference from close to 20 countries around the world. Papua New Guinea, Zambia, Brazil, Honduras, Madagascar, the Philippines, these are just a few of the countries where people have traveled from to be here. And nearly every continent is represented.
We are from different Churches, different organizations, different cultures and speak different languages but we are all here for one reason: because in some way or another we are affected by mining.
In reality, mining affects us all. The resources that are extracted from the land are found everywhere around us. They are in our cell phones and our pieces of jewelry, they are part of our pension plans and, most important, reflect our ability or inability to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Global South.
And this is why we are here, to see how we can combine our efforts and ensure that these resources benefit all equally, without forgetting where they come from: the earth itself. We were reminded of this important message at the opening of the conference with a simple, yet powerful, refrain: I will remember the land. One made all the more powerful when chanted by 150 voices from all parts of the world together as one.
Watch for yourself and join us in this unified voice:
Follow the blog site for this Ecumenical Mining Conferen here.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), violence has become a way of life. Violence against women is out of control and rape has become a weapon of war.
In many instances, armed men will overrun a village, attack the inhabitants, rape the women, destroy crops and leave in their wake a path of terror and destruction.
For those who manage to escape, they must return to their villages in the aftermath and try to heal from trauma and re-build their communities with a culture of peace.
This is the story told in ournew graphic novel: ROZA or the Courage to Choose Life, written and illustrated by Congolese artist Séraphin Kajibwami and published by Development and Peace in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The graphic novel includes an overview of the issues affecting this resource-rich country.
The graphic novel will be launched on Tuesday, April 5th with special guests Sister Marie-Bernard Alima, the secretary general of the Justice and Peace Episcopal Commission of the DRC and Most Rev. Nicolas Djomo, President of the Conference of Bishops of the DRC, both of whom are working to bring peace to their country.
Development and Peace supports several projects in the DRC to strengthen democracy, empower women, ensure fair control of natural resources and establish peace in the country.
Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Maison de l’Afrique, 6256 Henri-Julien St.
Watch for this graphic novel to be distributed in your region this fall!
Interested? Contact Genevieve Gallant, Youth Programs at Development and Peace: firstname.lastname@example.org 1-800-494-1401 ext 230
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.
On our Solidarity Trip we were hosted by 3 partner organizations of Development and Peace. We had a chance to learn about the realities and the community organizing taking place amongst urban poor, farming, and fishing communities in the Philippines.
For the first part of our trip we were hosted by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), based in Manila, an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit human rights organization. http://urbanpoorassociates.blogspot.com/
UPA is an organization campaigning for the protection of housing rights and the prevention of forced evictions and illegal demolitions.
It was established to educate families in housing rights matters and assist communities in eviction crises. Since they began UPA has educated over 285,000 families in housing rights and assisted 510 communities in eviction crises.
With UPA’s amazing Community Organizers as our guides we visited 3 urban poor communities. Baseco, an older and the largest of the urban poor areas; Route 10, a temporary community near the port and on the side of a large highway; and thirdly, Stormy Mountain, a community of the poor in a difficult housing situation, who recycle garbage as a means of livelihood.
The next segment of our trip we spent NASSA – Caritas Philippines, http://nassa.org.ph/ who are about total human development with a preferential option for the poor. We were blessed with a chance to meet with Bishop Bapillo, the auxilliary bishop of Manila, http://bishoppabillo.blogspot.com/ who taught us about the work of NASSA, as the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines.
NASSA has over 80 social action centres across the country that organise and direct local social justice activities. They have also developed an extensive and popular system of Basic Ecclesial Communities, who are led by committed local people to put justice, peace and community in action.
We met with lay-people, priests, farmers and families and experienced their incredible community-building, faith-developing, and hospitality.
With NASSA we travelled to Bicol region to visit and spend time with rural communities to learn about sustainable and organic farming, along with the important issue of land and agrarian reform. More first-hand experiences at farming to come!
Our last leg of the trip we spent with the Centre for Environmental Concern,http://www.cecphils.org/about.php who accompany communities in addressing environmental concerns. The Philippines is incredible bio-diverse, and is in fact the most bio-diverse centre of the world when it comes to fish, corals and ocean life. With CEC we discovered the impact of mining on the environment, livelihoods and communities of fisherfolk.
CEC has volunteers who give new meaning to the word commitment. They address environmental challenges, defend communities and work for sustainable alternatives.With them, we travelled to Rapu-Rapu where our host families, fisherpeople for generations, are unable to put fish on the table, nor drink from their wells, as a result of mining environmental abuses on the island.
We met with the people most impacted by extractive industries and who are accompanied by CEC in tackling this critical issue through education, action and advocacy.
On our trip we met with alot of inspiring people and learned about alot of difficult issues and people-first solutions. Stay posted as the 12 of us continue to share with you our stories, experiences and reflections!
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.