MAC: Mines and Communities

Call for Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

Published by MAC on 2016-03-11
Source: Statement (2016-03-09)

For previous article on MAC: RAID: Time to rethink mining company grievance mechanisms

The report can be downloaded here

NGOs Warn: ‘Companies Duck Responsibility for Abuse Because of Flawed Human Rights Guidance, Lack of Independent Oversight’

In taking over leadership of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, Canada must act to address serious deficiencies.

MiningWatch Canada & RAID press release

9 March 2016

Ottawa, Canada/Oxford, UK - In April 2016 the Government of Canada takes over as chair of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. NGOs are calling on the Canadian government to seize the opportunity to correct practices that undermine the prospects of impoverished communities overseas to seek remedy for corporate abuse.

Canada and other governments (Switzerland, the US, and the UK) often champion business and human rights standards – the most prominent being the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. The Voluntary Principles claim to offer practical guidance to extractive sector companies about maintaining the safety and security of their operations while ensuring respect for human rights. A key objective for governments has been to harmonise the two instruments, in particular around the issue of companies’ own mechanisms to resolve the grievances of local people harmed as a result of their operations.

Both MiningWatch Canada and the British NGO Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) warn that the UN Guiding Principles and the Voluntary Principles allow companies to privatise and control the implementation of human rights, and that this is most apparent in the implementation of “operational level” grievance mechanisms.

“One stated purpose of the UN Guiding Principles is to use company-based grievance mechanisms as a means to nip problems in the bud and to prevent them from escalating into human rights violations. Despite this, they have been used in the most serious cases of abuse – including fatal shootings and sexual assaults by mine security officers or police,” said Patricia Feeney, RAID’s Executive Director.

John Ruggie, the former UN mandate holder on business and human rights and now an adviser to Barrick Gold Corporation, is sanguine, saying, “Companies are finding that grievance mechanisms can provide immediate remedy for certain kinds of human rights harms.”[1]

But for the victims of corporate abuse, company-controlled mechanisms offer few procedural safeguards and result in take-it-or-leave-payments or remedy packages, which, as a general rule, are not even remotely commensurate with the alleged harm that the victims have suffered.

“From our experience of company grievance mechanisms in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania, run by Barrick Gold and Acacia Mining (formerly African Barrick Gold), they seem to be more about protecting corporations from legal liability through the legal waivers they demand in return for remedy, and about refurbishing a company’s reputation, than providing an effective remedy for the victims of corporate-related human rights abuse,” says MiningWatch spokesperson Catherine Coumans.

Problems with the Voluntary Principles which the NGOs are calling on the Government of Canada to address during its chairmanship are:

Five years since they were adopted by the Human Rights Council, deficiencies in the UN Guiding Principles highlighted by RAID and MiningWatch include:

Recommendations for strengthening the UN Guiding Principles and the Voluntary Principles

A new report by RAID, released in advance of next month’s plenary meeting of the Voluntary Principles in Colombia, Principles without justice: the corporate takeover of human rights, examines the deficiencies in the Voluntary Principles and the UN Guiding Principles and further details recommendations for reform.

For information please contact:

Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, tel. +1 (613) 569-3439; e-mail catherine[at]miningwatch.ca
Tricia Feeney, RAID, tel: + 44 1865 436245; mobile + 44 7796 178 447; e-mail tricia.feeney[at]raid-uk.org

[1] Interview with John Ruggie, Barrick without Borders, 10 December 2015. Available at: http://barrickbeyondborders.com/people/2015/12/an-interview-with-john-ruggie/

 

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