MAC: Mines and Communities

Stopping a World According to Inco

Published by MAC on 2004-05-15

As Inco posts record profits, a leading campaigner gives her personal critique of the world's second largest nickel producer.

Stopping a World According to Inco

Tracy Glynn

May 2004

What do the people of a small city in the Niagara Peninsula, the Sudbury nickel belt of Ontario, the El Estor hills of Guatemala, and a village in Indonesia, have in common? All have been adversely affected by Memorial University's new partner Canadian nickel mining giant Inco Ltd.

When I first arrived in St. John's in September 2003 to start my degree, the first thing that caught my eye as I approached the MUN campus was a sign that read: "Memorial University of Newfoundland in partnership with the Inco Innovation Centre." A year before coming to St. John's, I sat in a living room in Sorowako, Indonesia and listened to Sorowakans speak of Inco's broken promises over the years that included provisions for water, healthcare, employment, and education. Instead, the villagers got polluted air and water, and military intimidation from the Inco deal to exploit their nickel.

The United Nations among other reputable organizations have documented Inco's links to human rights abuses in Guatemala. Over 100 Q'eqchi' indigenous people were massacred during a peaceful rally against Inco's Exmibal project on their land in the 1970s. Students, professors, and labour activists in Guatemala City vocally concerned with Inco's contract with the government were forever silenced with a bullet from the military. In a April 16, 2004 statement, members of the Q'eqchi' Mayan community stated: "We denounce that during its operations, Inco/Exmibal destroyed forests, contaminated the water and air, participated in repressive acts such as the hunting down, kidnapping and murder of our local leaders that left children orphaned and mothers widowed, and forced indigenous communities from their lands."

What would the Sorowakans and Q'eqchi' Mayans think if they visited MUN's campus and saw the university in bed with the company that has caused them such hardship? By partnering with Inco, MUN has become part of the problem. The problem is a society that allows multinational corporations like Inco to take precedence over human rights and the environment.

The Toronto Globe and Mail's 2004 Report on Business feature on Corporate Social Responsibility reported a failing grade for Inco (46/100) and noted Inco's "poor community relations record at home and abroad."

Port Colborne, Ontario residents residing along Lake Eerie's shores are fighting a daily battle to get Inco to clean up their contaminated properties. Inco operated a nickel and cobalt refinery from 1918 to 1984 in the city's east end. As a result, soil tests done by the Ontario Ministry of Environment shows what appears to be nickel oxide, a carcinogen, at levels high enough to mine, 4000 to 17,000 ppm. This level far exceeds Ontario's 310 ppm human health guideline. Port Colborne residents launched Canada's largest environmental class action lawsuit in 2001 to the tune of $750 million against Inco and other responsible parties. The City of Port Colborne, the Ontario Ministry of Environment and two school boards have settled with the plaintiffs with Inco now facing the lawsuit alone.

Retired Inco refinery workers are dying of nasal cavity and lung cancers. Some do not live long enough to get their first pension check from Inco. One former refinery worker points out in the short film about Port Colborne called Nickel City, "sure Inco looked after us...the graveyard is full of the people that Inco looked after."

Three air samplers monitoring air pollution have replaced the children in the playground behind the Inco refinery. Public health officials have warned Port Colborne parents against letting their children play outside. A public school has been closed while the Catholic school still operates but with special outside rules that children are only to play on the small patch of pavement behind the school.

Just over 300 kilometres north of Port Colborne, NASA did research in the Sudbury basin in the 1970s because it resembled the moon's landscape. Inco's Sudbury smelter emissions, once noted as the leading contributor to acid rain in North America, destroyed vast tracts of forests. Today, Sudbury is the subject of a multi-million dollar soil study to determine contamination levels.

Port Colborne resident Diana Wiggins visited Newfoundland last summer to share the struggles of her community with Inco and warn Placentia residents, the site of Inco's planned hydrometallurgical plant, that they must be vigilant to ensure that environmental problems do not haunt their community in the future.

Back in the land of MUN, concerned students and faculty are requesting ethical policies to stop partnerships with unethical corporations like Inco. Inco like some of the other corporate donors to MUN are multinational players on the world stage that hold enormous power, some of which are wealthier than nations. These corporations donate to universities to further their agendas and green their image. Token donations aside, Inco is a world class corporate criminal responsible for human rights violations in Guatemala and Indonesia as well as right here in Canada.

As the Inco Innovation Centre begins to take form in the heart of the MUN campus, one is left wondering whether the university considered that their partnership with Inco would be part of the future facilitation of the forceful relocation of more people from their lands and opening of the last intact forests of countries like Indonesia and New Caledonia where nickel is found?

Universities are supposed to be a place where we learn how to critically think. Instead, MUN has become a think tank for mining, oil and gas corporations. Will researchers at MUN be free to study the extractive industry's social and environmental impact without a seal of approval from Inco or big oil? Corporations will not fund research, which could harm their profits. Furthermore, is it really wise for the university to be investing so heavily on research and development for the exploitation of non-renewable resources? Society needs academic experts to provide impartial recommendations and critiques on policies, technologies and products.

Although MUN students were not consulted on whether the university should partner with Inco, MUN students should remain vigilant over what Inco is doing in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in other places of Canada like Port Colborne, and in places like Guatemala, Indonesia, and New Caledonia. When abuses occur because of Inco, MUN students should protest these abuses. When Inco affected communities demand justice from Inco or their governments, MUN students should speak in solidarity and support of these demands. These efforts albeit reactionary are essential in the movement towards greater social and environmental justice for all, considering that apt rules and regulations that govern corporations and punish their crimes still dreadfully do not exist.


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