“Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report” (Toronto Star, October 19, 2010)
“Canadian Mining Firm Accused of Complicity in Congo Killings” (The Tyee, November 26, 2010)
“Congolese try suing Anvil Mining in Canada” (CBC News, November 8, 2010)
These are some of the headlines that come up when looking up news about Canadian mining companies in the developing world.
The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) declared himself concerned at the treatment of displaced people by one of Barrick Gold’s subsidiaries (Lange, 2011). In addition, Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail (September 29, 2011) reported that 10,000 people had been displaced by Barrick’s North Mara mine, and that many people live next to waste and mine pits. Barrick is an easy target because of their high profile, but they are not the only Canadian company to have come under the spotlight. Anvil mining and TVI Pacific Inc. are but two others that have made the news in recent times.
Canada subscribes to a number of guidelines including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational enterprises. However, international guidelines and declarations are voluntary measures, which are not enforced. It seems that these voluntary measures have so far not prevented human rights abuses in the developing world. In fact, the OECD reports that Canada’s institutional and legal frameworks for dealing with violations of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions are “problematic” (OECD, 2011).
If voluntary guidelines are inadequate, then what about enacting laws forcing Canadian companies to comply with Canadian and international law?
Certainly Amnesty Canada thinks this is a good idea:
In fact, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade also thinks that it is necessary to “establish clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations associated with the activities of Canadian mining companies” (Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 14th report).
The latest effort to codify some form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) law came in the form of private member’s bill C-300, which was defeated in October 2010. The Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act would have had provisions for regulating the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad who violate international human rights and environmental laws. The natural resource industries in Canada are opposed to enacting legislation that would restrict their activities overseas, and at the same time argue that their human rights and CSR records are quite good and always improving.
This interview by the CBC highlights some of the contradictions between the official industry position and the reports coming from local communities:
The behaviour of a Canadian company on foreign soil should be of importance to Canadian EIA practitioners because it brings up certain ethical questions regarding standards that are upheld in one country and disregarded in another. This begs the question: Should Canadian EIA standards apply as a minimum to Canadian companies when operating overseas? Public consultation and a thorough EIA process are necessary to ensure that conflicts leading to human rights abuses do not arise. If the process is not well established in the countries where Canadian companies operate, then the responsibility falls on Canada to ensure that a minimum standard is followed.
CBC News. “Congolese try suing Anvil Mining in Canada”. November 8, 2010.
Lange, S. 2011. Gold and governance: Legal injustices and lost opportunities in Tanzania. African Affairs. 00/00:1-20.
OECD (2011), Report on the application of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officcials in International Business Transactions and the 2009 revised recommendation on combating bribery in international business transactions, OECD Publishing.
Sandborn, Tom. “Canadian mining firm accused of complicity in Congo killings”. In the Tyee. November 26, 2010.
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Fourteenth Report. 2005.
Whittington, Les. “Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report” In the Toronto Star. October 19, 2010.