Canada’s transnational mining industry implicated in abuses
by Sakura Saunders, editor protestbarrick.net, Dominion Paper
June 2nd, 2010
TORONTO—Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani announced the termination of a mining contract for Barrick Gold’s Reko Diq project on January 5, 2010, following a unanimous decision by the Pakistani province’s cabinet. According to the minister, “They [Barrick and Chile’s Antofagasta, co-owners of the mine project] only have an exploration license, which does not cover extraction,” adding his government would not approve an agreement undermining people’s rights.
Immediately afterwards, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson warned that “multinational corporations will not invest in a country where deals are cancelled.” Canada’s international trade ministry followed suit, pressing Pakistani officials to “fulfill their obligations under a 2006 Pakistani-Canadian-Chilean agreement potentially worth billions of dollars,” according to the Vancouver Sun.
According to the Asia Times, “Critics said the local government’s action [to cancel the mining contract] was politically motivated to appease Baloch nationalists in the desperately poor and insurgency-hit province, who have been demanding the cancellation of the agreement.”
Balochistan, the province in Pakistan bordering Iran and Afghanistan, has been struggling for independence from Pakistan since 1948. The fifth uprising of the Balochistan independence movement was in 2004. More than 8,000 Baloch have been disappeared since then and 26 prominent leaders have been assassinated.
This ongoing independence struggle was overlooked by Canadian and US delegates as they pushed the Pakistani state to force Balochistan’s approval of the Barrick/Antofagasta mine. Meanwhile, in a move that the group American Friends of Balochistan say reveals insensitivity to the region’s politics, Barrick hired a Pakistani army colonel as its public affairs manager and head of security for its Balochistan mine project.
Disregard for political conflict reveals an international diplomacy concerned primarily with profits, and is consistent with the actions of Canada and its corporate ambassadors in situations around the globe where mining profits conflict with human rights.
Despite their human rights record, these corporate ambassadors of the mining sector will again be well-represented at discussions during the G20 summit in Toronto in June. Mining companies Banro, Barrick, Iamgold and Freeport McMoran will attend a parallel conference to the G20 summit, “G20 Business Leaders: Partnering with Africa’s Dynamic Markets,” at Toronto‘s Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre.
Questions about the ties between the mining sector and governement do not end in Balochistan though. Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala James Lambert published an op-ed in support of mining in Guatemala on the same day a survey revealed that 95.5 per cent of the people in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, opposed mining projects in their region.
Six years after that survey and the subsequent establishment of Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in San Miguel, villagers suffer from health issues linked to arsenic levels seven times the maximum limit recommended by the World Bank.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Barrick Gold officials during diplomatic visits to Chile and Tanzania, where Barrick mines have been widely protested for mistreatment of workers, environmental destruction, and for failing to pay Tanzanian taxes and royalties. Since Harper’s visit, a toxic spill killed 43 people and 1,358 livestock, according to the Ward authorities near Barrick’s Tanzanian North Mara mine.
An Amnesty International report published in February 2010 found Indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of being exterminated by state forces, right wing paramilitary groups and guerrilla organizations. “Far from creating a legitimate economy, as Liberal MPs have been suggesting in defence of the Colombia free trade agreement, the deal before Parliament would increase the chances that Canadian companies invested in agriculture, mining and resource extraction in sensitive areas will be doing business with murderers, drug traffickers and arms smugglers,” said Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians in a recent press release.
As a consequence of this growing list of allegations, Canada has drawn criticism from around the world, first from environmental, religious and human rights organizations and labour unions, and now increasingly from international institutions such as the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste and Products.
The Canadian government has also begun to acknowledge its lack of accountability within the transnational mining industry. The first National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries was organized in 2006, in reaction to a 2005 report from Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT). The report acknowledged Canada does not have laws ensuring Canadian mining companies “conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and [I]ndigenous peoples.”
The Roundtables released a consensus-based, multi-stakeholder report approved by the main industry group, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).
The Harper government took two years to respond to the Roundtables’ recommendations. Its report, “Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector,” rejected the recommendations and offered no tools for redressing the documented abuses of Canadian industry abroad.
Instead, the report offered increased subsidies to Canadian mining companies under the CSR banner. The “voluntary approach of CSR” is a strategy advocated by G8 countries as part of the Heiligendamm Dialogue Process, initiated at the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Before this dialogue process, the Commission for Africa (CfA), launched in February 2004 by Tony Blair in the lead up to the G8 in Gleneagles, advocated the same strategies in a 2005 report.
In an analysis of the report, watchdog NGO Corporate Watch said, “The Commission for Africa does concede that ‘oil, diamonds, timber and other high-value commodities all fuel Africa’s conflicts.’ However, [CfA] points the blame at the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] Guidelines on Multinational Companies for failing to provide ‘clear enough guidance on what companies should do in these situations.’...Rather than regulating, or even dismantling, these corporations, the CfA will allow them to continue plundering at will, apparently satisfied by their ‘corporate social responsibility’ policies and promises to be more transparent.”
Recently, members of Canada’s parliament have proposed legislation to hold Canadian transnational resource extraction companies accountable to Canadian law. Liberal MP John McKay introduced private members bill C-300 to the House of Commons February 29, 2009. The bill would withhold government funds, including billions of dollars in Canadian Pension Plan investments and diplomatic support for companies found—following a government investigation—to be abusing human rights. Some contend that this bill—while a positive step forward in holding corporations to account for their crimes—is most valuable in its exposure of the Canadian government’s support for its mining industry abroad.
Canada is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Private member’s bill C-354 aims to codify these international agreements into Canadian law. The International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Act (IPPHRA), introduced by NDP MP Peter Julian, amends the Federal Courts Act to permit people who are not Canadian citizens to initiate lawsuits based on violations of international law or treaties to which Canada is a party if the violations occur outside Canada.
“The IPPHRA contrasts with Bill C-300 in that C-300 keeps the monitoring of corporate activities out of the criminal or civil courts, in administrative processes controlled by ‘the Ministers,’” said Grahame Russell of Rights Action in an email.
“With respect to reforming Canada’s criminal code so that corporations and their directors could be brought to trial for criminal actions in their corporate activities in ‘developing countries,’” he added, “no one in Canada has taken up this challenge.”