Government action urged over Canadian MiningPublished by MAC on 2005-10-28
A committee of the Canadian House of Commons has just started "Hearings Across the Country" on a June "International Policy Statement" which aims to establish clear legal norms to ensure that Canada's companies and residents are held accountable overseas.
Since Toronto's stock exchange is the world's largest single source of project ("development") finance to the global mining industry, the proposal will strike hardest both at major companies like Inco, Barrick and Ivanhoe, and hundreds of "junior" miners whose activities across the world have been raising concern, or inciting vigorous community opposition.
The Liberal federal government in October rejected the most important parts of the all-party's Statement, opting instead for "voluntary principles". This was despite an onrush of NGO and other declaratoins of support, and a major series of articles in the Ottawa Citzen, which delved into some of the worst accusations made against the industry.
Kairos urges government action in mining abroad
Marites N. Sison, Anglican Journal
October 28, 2005
Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice group, has accused the federal government of failing to take action that would compel Canadian mining companies to respect human rights and adhere to environmental standards when operating overseas.
Kairos was responding to a government report in October that dismissed a proposal made last June by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for Ottawa to adopt concrete regulatory measures rather than voluntary codes of conduct for Canadian companies doing business abroad. Kairos is an umbrella group of 11 Canadian churches (including the Anglican Church of Canada) and church agencies working for social justice.
Earlier, business leaders, law professors, environmental activists and church leaders including Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, urged Prime Minister Paul Martin to adopt the proposal.
"Many Canadian companies make important contributions to local economies. However, the human rights and environmental practices of some Canadian companies operating abroad are a growing concern," they said in a letter dated Oct. 13. "In recent years, allegations of forced dislocation, assaults and even killings by security forces, contamination of lands, support for repressive regimes, and violation of workers' and indigenous rights, have been associated with the activities of specific Canadian companies."
Such activities, they added, not only harm Canada's reputation abroad, but also "create a perverse set of economic incentives, as more ethical companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage to those that would place the bottom line above adherence to internationally recognized legal and ethical norms to which Canada itself is already committed," said the letter.
The letter questioned why Ottawa was not holding such companies into account when many of them benefit from government's political assistance and financial support (for example, through Export Development Canada's project support and political risk insurance).
"Human rights impact assessments are one tool the government can use to ensure that Canadian companies are meeting these standards," the letter said.
Kairos pointed to what it called two "urgent" cases involving Canadian mining companies in Mexico and the Philippines.
Last October, an explosion shook the historic town of Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico, when Toronto-based Metallica Resources, Inc., began blasting to develop an open pit gold and silver mine, which the community has been opposing for over 10 years now, said Kairos in a statement. A citizens' group has won several legal battles against the company but it has begun its operations with the backing of some Mexican federal government agencies.
"How long will the government keep its head in the sand around Canadian mining abuses overseas?" asked Rev. Mark Lewis, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, who traveled to Cerro de San Pedro with a Kairos delegation in March 2005.
The federal government has also not investigated the Canatuan Mine Project in the Philippines, despite testimonies given by Philippine indigenous leaders about the forced relocation of people and the "negative environmental impacts" of the project. Canatuan mine is owned by a Calgary-based company, TVI Pacific Inc.
Mexican and Philippine towns bear brunt of destructive Canadian mining practices: federal government fails to respond
Kairos urges government action in mining abroad
TORONTO, Oct. 20 2005 /CNW/ - KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives today condemned the federal government's failure to ensure Canadian mining companies adhere to internationally accepted human rights and environmental standards when operating abroad. KAIROS is particularly concerned about two urgent cases in Mexico and the Philippines.
KAIROS is a national organization that unites 11 Canadian churches and church agencies working on social justice issues. It is responding to a government report released on Tuesday that rejects recommendations of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) which would help prevent Canadian companies becoming complicit in violating accepted human rights and environmental standards overseas.
"Canadian mining companies operating abroad often have little regard for human rights or the environment. This week the federal government failed to take any action to stop them," says Rusa Jeremic, a KAIROS Global Economic Justice Program Coordinator.
Mining in Developing Countries, the government's response to SCFAIT, fails to implement recommendations that would hold Canadian mining companies accountable for human rights or environmental violations committed abroad.
The lack of government action will have immediate consequences for the historic town of Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico, which is facing imminent danger from Canadian mining activity. Last week a violent explosion shook the town and its centuries-old buildings as Toronto-based Metallica Resources Inc. started blasting to develop an open pit gold and silver mine, which the community has been fighting for over ten years.
"We feel helpless," says Ana Maria Alvarado Garcia, a resident of the community, who felt the explosion from over 1.5 kilometres away. "All we are asking for is respect - respect for our culture, respect for our village, respect for our wishes." The villagers of Cerro de San Pedro fear the open pit mine will destroy their way of life, their historic village and the surrounding ecosystem through contamination of the water supply with cyanide. "How long will the government keep its head in the sand around Canadian mining abuses overseas?" asks Rev. Mark Lewis, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, who travelled to Cerro de San Pedro on a KAIROS delegation in March 2005. "Clearly it's time for Canada to hold mining companies accountable."
In its response Tuesday, the federal government also failed to launch an investigation, as requested by the SCFAIT, into the controversial Canatuan Mine Project in the Philippines. The Canatuan Mine is owned by Calgary-based TVI Pacific Inc. Earlier this year, indigenous leaders from the Philippines testified before a parliamentary subcommittee about the forced relocation of their people and negative environmental impacts connected with the mine.
"The Canadian government is failing the people of the Philippines by not investigating serious human rights questions raised by TVI Pacific's activities," says Ian Thomson, KAIROS Corporate Social Responsibility Program Coordinator.
In June of this year, the SCFAIT adopted a groundbreaking report on mining and corporate social responsibility. The recommendations in the report have been strongly supported by many human rights, labour and faith-based groups in Canada, including KAIROS.
For further information: Media contact: Adiat Junaid, Communications Coordinator, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, (416) 463-5312 ext.223, email@example.com, www.kairoscanada.org
CANADA: MPs Call for Tougher Rules on Overseas Mines
Paul Weinberg, IPS News
22 October 2005
TORONTO - A call by members of Canada's parliament for legally binding measures to govern the behaviour of Canadian mining companies around the world, and specifically to investigate the activities of a Calgary-based operation in the Philippines, has been turned down flat by the Canadian government's foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew.
Canada prefers to maintain its adherence to voluntary guidelines for multinational enterprises as set out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), says Kim Girtel, a media spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada.
"The non-binding nature of the guidelines has significantly increased the ability of likeminded governments to build international support and this would not have been possible if the initiative was binding," she said.
Girtel declined to name the countries that would oppose legally binding measures. She told IPS that a recent report on mining in developing countries, issued by Canada's parliamentary committee for foreign affairs and international trade, is raising "complex issues that need further work".
But business journalist and author Madelaine Drohan, writing in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 20, said that "large sections" of the response tabled by Pettigrew "could charitably be called fatuous; others were downright misleading".
Almost 60 percent of the world's exploration and mining companies are listed on Canadian stock exchanges, according to the Canadian foreign affairs and international trade department.
This sector accounts for 42 billion dollars in cumulative direct investment around the world, and there are plans to invest a further 14 billion dollars in new projects over the next five years.
Thousands of mining companies incorporated in Canada and generating capital on Canadian exchanges have set up mines in developing countries, which have been told by the World Bank "they need to generate dollars, foreign exchange earnings, to pay their debts, and that mining is a good way to do that," says Jaimie Kneen, of the Ottawa-based Mining Watch Canada.
The Canadian parliamentary committee, which had unanimous report from sitting MPs, including members of the ruling Liberal party, is concerned about the impact of Canadian mining and other resource companies on the economic and social wellbeing of employees and local residents, as well as the environment in such countries as the Philippines, Colombia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The committee also asked the Canadian embassy in the Philippines not to promote or publicly support TVI Pacific's Canatuan mining project in Mindanao until specific allegations regarding the violation of indigenous and human rights and the environment have been fully investigated.
What happened there is not an atypical example of how Canadian mining companies have functioned in developing countries, says Catherine Coumans, research coordinator for Mining Watch Canada.
Although Philippine legislation prohibits development on land without the specific permission of indigenous peoples, the Calgary-based TVI was granted a permit by government officials to mine for gold on what is locally considered a sacred mountain in Canatuan.
Among the problems facing the indigenous Subanon and other residents in a community near the one-year-old mine is inadequate protection from the run-off of chemical comtaminants, which threaten both the fish in the local rivers and streams as well as the rice and fruit plantations, Coumans explains.
Furthermore, she adds, local residents have been turned back at various checkpoints manned by private security guards employed by TVI. The company is seeking to evict and relocate residents who are reluctant to leave their homes, she said. All of this is happening in an area where guerilla armies and bandits are operating and both ambushes and kidnapping have occurred.
"It has been pointed out by Amnesty International and others that companies should not operate in areas that require them to use military forces or excessive security in order to maintain their operations, as such conditions are prone to human rights abuses," Coumans said.
There is no enforcement mechanism in the OECD principles, and the contact office in Canada that receives complaints regarding mining companies in Canada "cannot compel a company to respond", said Craig Forcese, a University of Ottawa law professor.
A separate set of voluntary guidelines negotiated between Britain and the United States when U.S. President Bill Clinton was in office (1992-2000) sets out a process for companies to provide security to safeguard their extractive operations without retaining the services of local paramilitary or military forces with a history of human rights abuses.
Forcese says that the current administration of U.S. President George W. Bush appears to be downplaying this security-oriented voluntary code.
Canada itself has never signed on to this agreement. Although there had been anticipation at Mining Watch that Ottawa would finally make a bold announcement on this matter, Kim Girtal at Foreign Affairs Canada told IPS that "no decision has yet been made"..
Coumans attributes the Canadian government's response to the historical clout of the mining and resource industries in Canada. She notes that three former prime ministers including Jean Chretien, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney have either sat on the boards of Canadian mining companies or helped to promote their activities in developing countries.
She contrasts this with the willingness of the government of Belgium, a country with a controversial colonial past, to enact a tougher corporate code of conduct that companies must sign in order to receive financing for export credits.
Furthermore, there is a strong complaints process in Belgium, in which enterprises not living up to those legislated standards will lose government support.
"If the Belgiums can do it, why can't [Canada] do it?" Coumans wondered. (END/2005)
Plugging a gaping mining hole
By Madelaine Drohan, Toronto Globe and Mail
October 20, 2005
Canada loves to boast about its international prowess in mining and energy. Our politicians tell anyone who'll listen that we're world leaders in knowledge, technology and people, that our companies operate globally and that almost 60 per cent of the world's exploration and mining firms are listed on Canadian exchanges.
But ask the government to ensure that Canadian companies respect environmental and human rights in their operations abroad -- as the Commons committee on foreign affairs and trade did in July -- and we're transformed into foot-dragging followers, our leadership role conveniently forgotten.
This image came through with striking clarity this week when the federal government responded to the committee's recommendations. Large sections of the response, tabled by Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew on Tuesday, could charitably be called fatuous. Others were downright misleading.
Take, for example, the response to the recommendation that the government establish clear legal norms in Canada so that Canadian companies are held accountable when their activities violate environmental or human rights abroad. That's the responsibility of states, says the government. They do this through their own domestic legislation. This makes sense until you consider that some of the countries in which Canadian companies are operating -- Congo is a prime example -- are often too riven by internal conflict, not to mention rampant corruption, to ensure that foreign corporations are respecting human rights.
The government says it doesn't like the idea of applying Canadian laws to activities abroad, except in special circumstances such as terrorist offences and torture by public officials. Again, this makes some sense (although Canada has bent the rules in the past when it boarded European trawlers it suspected of overfishing in international waters). The world would be a messy place if every country insisted that their laws applied everywhere.
The solution is to develop a set of international laws to cover global corporate activity. With our key role in global mining and energy, shouldn't we be leading the way? Not according to the government, which is content to "examine the best practices of other states."
The committee recommended that Canada work with fellow members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to strengthen the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Despite serious deficiencies, these guidelines are one of the few tools available for people to hold companies to account. The committee recommended they be made obligatory, rather than voluntary, a suggestion the government dismissed out of hand: "Any movement toward making the Guidelines binding or more legalistic would be contrary to the original intent of the drafters." The drafters are governments like that of Canada that see the gaping hole in international law but refuse to plug it with anything more meaningful than a lot of hot air.
In this, they are responding to pressure from multinational corporations that lobby governments furiously to ensure that their rights are protected by international laws, agreements and treaties that carry serious penalties if broken, while their obligations remain voluntary. Responsible mining and energy firms -- and there are a lot of them -- should recognize that this situation is not sustainable.
So, what is Canada planning to do? Talk, mostly. It will talk to Canadian companies about how to manage the impact when their activities are called into question. It will talk to other governments about what they are planning, and it will talk to Canadians in a series of five round tables over the next year.
We don't need more talk. We need a government to step up to the plate and lead an international effort to develop binding laws that govern corporate activity abroad. It's unfortunate, given the importance of mining and energy to Canada, that our government has rejected that role.
Madelaine Drohan is the author of Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business.
Liberals reject all-party call to regulate mining overseas
Kelly Patterson ,The Ottawa Citizen
October 19, 2005
The Martin government won't take steps to ensure Canadian mining companies are held legally accountable for human rights and environmental violations overseas, despite the recommendations of an all-party committee of the House earlier this year.
The government believes its response to a June report by the standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade "underlines our commitment to sustainable development," Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said yesterday.
He added that the government plans to address the issues raised by the panel in a series of roundtables this year.
The committee report came in the wake of a series of violent conflicts associated with Canadian mining operations overseas. They included three clashes that prompted Amnesty International to raise the alarm about alleged human rights abuses, and two cases in which Canadian companies have been accused of complicity in massacres.
The government response acknowledges that "a greater role for government is warranted in ensuring that Canadian companies" observe ethical standards, but argues that there is not enough of a consensus internationally on those standards for the government to make them mandatory.
Instead, the government will redouble its efforts to promote and develop voluntary social and environmental standards.
"That's just balderdash," said NDP MP Ed Broadbent, who sat on the foreign affairs committee.
"We've been talking about voluntary codes for 14 bloody years," Mr. Broadbent argued yesterday, pointing out that it was a major issue as far back as 1991, when he was appointed to run the Parliament-funded watchdog group now known as Rights & Democracy.
Graham Saul of Friends of the Earth Canada said the government's response amounts to saying, "'We don't know how to do this, so we're not going to do anything.'
"If holding companies to human rights standards is too complicated for the Canadian government, then the Canadian government is incompetent," Mr. Saul said, adding that its response "makes a mockery of Paul Martin's supposed commitment to human rights."
But Gordon Peeling, president of the Mining Association of Canada, called the response a "fair and balanced report on a difficult and complex issue."
He admitted that "clearly, improvements in performance (in the mining industry) are needed," but said legislating norms would be "heavy-handed."
He said he doesn't believe voluntary measures have failed, noting that his association, which represents more than 50 mining and related companies, is already seeing "real change" in response to a voluntary ethical code it adopted last year.
He also noted that the industry already has to conform to ethical guidelines to benefit from funding from agencies such as the World Bank.
But Fraser Reilly-King of the Halifax Initiative, an Ottawa-based coalition of about 20 non-governmental groups, said he was "shocked" by the government's response.
The Liberals did not even take up the recommendation that Canada join the U.S.-U.K. voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which sets guidelines for the use of security forces, he said.
"The standing committee was talking about ... armed forces that intimidate, threaten and in some cases kill protesters. The report seems to speak to people upset at some trampled flowers."
The government's report says it will support the newly appointed UN Special Representative on business and human rights, whose mandate is to clarify ethical standards.
It will also work with the federal Export Development Corporation, which helps Canadian firms overseas, to make sure the projects it supports conform with best practices, and will train Trade Commission staff "to better advise" Canadian firms overseas.
As for legal constraints, the government says it's up to the host governments to ensure ethical standards are followed. "That's absurd," Joan Kuyek of the Ottawa-based advocacy group MiningWatch Canada, said yesterday. Countries such as Angola can hardly be expected to enforce Canadian-style standards, she argued.
The government has promised to continue to help developing countries strengthen and enforce regulations. It also says there are already legal remedies available to foreigners.
For example, people and corporations may be tried under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act for offences committed overseas.
But the act requires the co-operation of the country where the crimes were committed, Ms. Kuyek pointed out, noting that countries such as Sudan, which stands accused of orchestrating an ethnic-cleansing campaign on its oilfields, are hardly likely to help bring to trial foreigners accused of abetting its campaign.
Urgently needed: mining ethics
By SUE MOXLEY and MARK LEWIS AND PAUL HANSEN Op-Ed Special to Toronto Globe and Mail
October 21, 2005
'My heart dropped when I felt the blast," Ana Maria Alvarado Garcia told us over a crackling phone line from Cerro de San Pedro. Residents of this tiny community in central Mexico have been locked in a 10-year legal struggle trying to stop a Canadian company, a subsidiary of Metallica Resources of Toronto, from developing a nearby open pit gold and silver mine in what is a state-recognized preservation site. These villagers fear the mine will destroy their way of life, wipe out centuries-old buildings, devastate the ecosystem and contaminate the local water supply.
Last week's blast -- in the midst of a series of conflicting court rulings, and just as the Canadian government was set to respond to a report critiquing corporate activity abroad -- caught almost everyone by surprise. When the explosion went off, Alvarado Garcia was a mere 1.5 kilometres away, testing topsoil for contamination. The instruments began shaking out of control, confirming the kind of full-blown seismic vibrations that might bring down the town's most treasured structures. "We feel helpless," she said. "It's as if the blast went off in our faces." In many respects, it's as if it went off in Canada's face, too.
In June, the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade completed its investigation into Canadian corporate activity abroad by recommending that the federal government implement laws to ensure that Canadian mining and other companies conform to the highest human-rights, labour and environmental standards. The committee's message was clear: If you are going to bank abroad on Canada's good name, then you have to uphold this country's reputation in the way you conduct your business.
The report followed dozens of news stories in recent years that showed Canadian resource companies in Sudan, Guatemala, Colombia and, recently, the Philippines operating without local consent and, in some cases, linked to environmental damage and human-rights violations.
It's a message we church leaders have been promoting for a long time. Since the implementation of the North American free-trade agreement in 1994, Canadian churches have been monitoring the human-rights situation in Mexico. And, in March, KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice organization, helped send a group of us to Cerro de San Pedro to see first-hand the situation there. What we found was a group of concerned citizens - community property owners, agronomists, ecologists, lawyers and others who make up an organization called the Broad Opposition Front (FAO) and who have been fighting the proposed mine in court for at least 10 years.
Throughout this, they thought the law was on their side. In 1993, a state decree recognized the Cerro de San Pedro area as a preservation site for at least the next 20 years in order to protect the region's flora and fauna. The decree outlaws any activity - and that would presumably include preparatory blasting - that would lead to changes to the topsoil.
In recent months, however, a series of seemingly definitive court decisions in favour of the community were suddenly overturned. We heard reports of increasing repression and intimidation of FAO members. At a recent peaceful demonstration, five members were roughed up by local police, and some 20 FAO members have had charges brought against them, including defamation suits, to try to silence the debate.
Is this Canada's fight? We say it is. On hearing of the Commons committee's report, FAO members circulated a petition in Mexico in support of the recommendations. Last Friday, they made the trek to the Canadian embassy to hand deliver the names of thousands of area residents who are calling on the Canadian government to urgently adopt the report. Cerro de San Pedro's residents know that binding legislation is needed to prevent companies such as Metallica from operating without a community's explicit consent. Sadly, it appears their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
This week, the government tabled its response, ignoring the committee's most critical recommendation to "establish clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable." Ottawa is willing to work closely and diligently with resource companies and international organizations to help develop a code of corporate responsibility. But the federal government is taking a pass on some of the key issues the parliamentary committee was asking for: making Canadian financial support contingent on meeting defined human-rights and environmental standards when operating abroad; and establishing a clear legal route for redress in Canadian courts where necessary.
Acknowledging the problem and committing to further study simply does not go far enough, particularly when Canada is an acknowledged leader in resource extraction: Nearly 60 per cent of the world's exploration and mining companies are listed in Canada, and they account for almost $50-billion in direct investment around the world, on almost 3,200 properties in more than 100 countries. Canada needs to act boldly and implement legislation that would hold Canadian corporations legally accountable to human-rights and environmental standards and ensure explicit consent of local populations. We can certainly set the standards high for how we expect our corporations to act.
As Ana Maria reminded us: "All we are asking for is respect: respect for our culture, respect for our village, respect for our wishes. We call on Canadians for their respect, support and understanding." So do we.
Bishop Sue Moxley is a suffragan bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, Rev. Mark Lewis is former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and Father Paul Hansen is chair of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
HOW TO PARCIPATE IN THE DeBATE
The Hearings referred to at the top of this posting will last until mid- December. There is also an "e-consultation" which consists of a series of pre-determined questions and can be found here
CCIC has prepared a background resource on the International Policy Statement which is available at here.
If you present a brief to the Committee over the next few weeks, please send a copy to Brian Tomlinson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Por Paul Weimberg, Interpress Service (IPS)
22 Oct 2005
TORONTO - El pedido de parlamentarios canadienses de establecer normas de conducta obligatorias para las empresas mineras que operan en el exterior y de investigar las polémicas actividades de una de ellas en Filipinas fue rechazado de plano por el canciller Pierre Pettigrew.
Canadá prefiere las pautas voluntarias para las corporaciones multinacionales, como establece la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económico (OCDE) a la que pertenecen todas las naciones industriales, señaló Kim Girtel, portavoz del Departamento (ministerio) de Asuntos Exteriores.
"La naturaleza no obligatoria de esas pautas aumentó significativamente la capacidad de los gobiernos de construir apoyo internacional, lo que no habría sido posible con medidas obligatorias", sostuvo.
Girtel rehusó mencionar los países que se opondrían a establecer pautas de conducta obligatorias para las corporaciones transnacionales.
La portavoz dijo a IPS que el informe sobre minería en los países en desarrollo publicado por la multipartidaria Comisión de Asuntos Exteriores y Comercio Internacional del parlamento canadiense llamó la atención sobre "cuestiones muy complejas que precisan una reflexión más detenida".
Pero la escritora y periodista empresarial Madelaine Drohan, en un artículo publicado por el periódico Globe and Mail el 20 de este mes, dijo que "grandes partes" de la réplica de Pettigrew a los legisladores "en el mejor de los casos, y siendo generosos, podrían ser catalogadas de necedades, y otras son, sencillamente, engañosas y se prestan a confusión".
Casi 60 por ciento de las compañías de exploración y explotación minera del mundo cotizan en la bolsa de valores de Canadá, según la cancillería.
Este sector representa una inversión directa acumulativa de 42.000 millones de dólares en todo el mundo, y hay planes de invertir otros 14.000 millones en los próximos cinco años.
Miles de compañías mineras con sede en Canadá y que producen dividendos en su bolsa de valores operan en países en desarrollo que, según el Banco Mundial, "están obligados a generar divisas para poder pagar sus deudas, y la minería es una buena forma de hacerlo", explicó Jaimie Kneen, de la organización no gubernamental Mining Watch Canada (un observatorio de las actividades mineras en este país), con sede en Ottawa.
La comisión parlamentaria, que contó con apoyo unánime de todos los legisladores, incluso los del gobernante Partido Liberal, está preocupada por el impacto de las compañías canadienses que explotan recursos naturales en el bienestar económico y social de los trabajadores y habitantes y en el ambiente de países como Filipinas, Colombia, Sudán y la República Democrática de Congo.
La comisión también pidió a la embajada de Canadá en Filipinas que no promoviera ni apoyara públicamente la explotación de oro y plata que la firma canadiense TVI Pacific, con sede en Calgary, viene realizando desde 1994 en la región filipina de Canatuan, mientras no se investigaran las acusaciones de violaciones a los derechos de los pobladores y de daños ambientales.
Canatuan es una región montañosa en el oeste de Mindanao --la segunda isla más grande de Filipinas, situada en la parte meridional del país-- habitada por los subanones, el grupo étnico más numeroso de Filipinas.
Unos 2.000 subanones residen en Canatuan, y la explotación de la TVI Pacific, entre otras cosas, compite con las actividades mineras de pequeña escala de dicha comunidad.
Lo que ocurrió allí no es un ejemplo atípico de cómo operan las compañías canadienses en los países en desarrollo, sostuvo Catherine Coumans, coordinadora de investigaciones de Mining Watch Canada.
Aunque la legislación filipina prohíbe el desarrollo de cualquier actividad económica que no tenga autorización expresa de los habitantes nativos, la TVI Pacific fue autorizada por el gobierno a explotar los yacimientos de oro de una montaña considerada sagrada por los habitantes de Canatuan.
Uno de los problemas de los subanones y otros habitantes cercanos a la mina, en funcionamiento desde el año pasado, es la ausencia de medidas de protección contra la contaminación, agregó Coumans.
Los productos químicos que se utilizan en la minería aurífera pueden contaminar los ríos y las corrientes de agua de la región, la fauna que habita en esas aguas así como las plantaciones de arroz y de árboles frutales.
Según la activista, la TVI Pacific pretende desalojar a los residentes --muchos de los cuales no quieren dejar sus hogares-- y guardias privados de la compañía apostados en controles de caminos cierran el paso a los pobladores del lugar.
Todo esto ocurre, además, en una zona en la que operan más o menos libremente grupos guerrilleros y bandas criminales, y donde se han cometido ya emboscadas, asaltos y secuestros.
"Amnistía Internacional y otras organizaciones señalaron que estas compañías no deberían operar en áreas que requieran el uso de la fuerza militar o medidas extremas de seguridad para poder desarrollar sus actividades, porque esas condiciones suelen derivar en violaciones a los derechos humanos", dijo Coumans.
No hay forma de controlar que se respeten los principios voluntarios de la OCDE, y la oficina de contacto en Canadá que recibe las denuncias sobre actividades de las empresas en el exterior "carece de instrumentos para obligar a las compañías a responder", sostuvo Craig Forcese, profesor de derecho de la Universidad de Ottawa.
Una serie de pautas adicionales, también de adhesión voluntaria, fue negociada entre Estados Unidos y Gran Bretaña durante el gobierno de Bill Clinton (1993-2001).
Dicho acuerdo establece un protocolo de seguridad para que las compañías vigilen sus operaciones de extracción sin recurrir a fuerzas militares o a grupos paramilitares con historiales de violaciones de derechos humanos.
Según Forcese, el gobierno de George W. Bush no parece muy interesado en promover la adhesión a ese protocolo.
Canadá nunca firmó un acuerdo semejante. Aunque la Mining Watch esperaba que el gobierno se expidiera finalmente sobre esto, la portavoz de la cancillería Girtal dijo a IPS que "todavía no se ha tomado ninguna decisión".
Para Coumans, esto se debe al enorme peso que históricamente tiene el sector minero en la política canadiense. Los tres anteriores primeros ministros, Jean Chretien, Joe Clark y Brian Mulroney, fueron miembros de directorios de varias compañías o bien ayudaron a promover esa industria en los países en desarrollo.
Coumans contrasta la conducta de Canadá con la de Bélgica, un país con un polémico pasado colonial, hoy favorable a implementar un estricto código de conducta corporativo que todas las compañías deben firmar si quieren financiación para sus exportaciones.
En Bélgica, además, existe un firme procedimiento de denuncias, según el cual las empresas que no cumplen con las normas pierden el apoyo del gobierno.
"Si los belgas lo pueden hacer, ¿por qué no lo podemos hacer en Canadá?", preguntó Coumans. (FIN/2005)