MAC: Mines and Communities

Calgary Mining Firm Wrecks Havoc In The Philippines

Published by MAC on 2007-09-10
Source: Western Catholic Reporter ()

Calgary mining firm wrecks havoc in the Philippines

Philippine bishops' description a stark contrast with TVI's glowing website

By BISHOP FRED HENRY, Mission of the Western Catholic Reporter -

10th September 2007

Calgary - A call for a globalization in charity, a solidarity without marginalization, entails a respect for life lacking in many of the patterns of environmental pollution.

What is called for is not simply a physical ecology, concerned with protecting the habitat of the various living beings, but a human ecology, capable of protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations.

Such an ecological conversion will also leave behind for future generations an environment that conforms as closely as possible to the Creator's plan.

Often, the interests of production prevail over the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductive view which at times leads to a genuine contempt for humanity.

In an unusual move, on May 23, Bishop Manguiran of Dipolog, the Philippines, wrote on behalf of the five bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Ozamiz to the Canadian Conference of Bishops.

His letter was prompted by the negative impact of mining operations of Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI) based in Calgary. The bishops' position stands in stark contrast to the glowing picture of corporate responsibility in the areas of environmental management and protection, and the bringing of compassion to the community presented on TVI's website (www.tvipacific.com/main/?home).

Years of complaints

There are more than 84 million people in the Philippines and the land mass is less that half the size of Alberta. After years of complaints, investigative reports and company responses, the bishops continue to insist that TVI's large-scale mining operations are wrecking havoc upon the land and its people. Among the disruptions, they cite the following:

Geological demolition and biological extinction. Rehabilitation of the plundered mountains, forest and rivers is already impossible.

Deep extensive excavation induces pollution, exposing the atmosphere to huge amounts of iron sulfide. The use of mercury and cyanide to segregate the gold from rocks has killed water organisms and constitutes a hazard to health.

Massive water consumption

The gold extracting process consumes an enormous amount of water. TVI disposes huge volumes of cyanide-polluted water, which pollutes the land, and much of the contaminated water evaporates and contributes to global warming.

Many mining areas are located within tribal domains. There are numerous instances of cultural discrimination and human rights violations. TVI has levelled off the mountain that the Subanon tribe use as a sacred site for worship. Legal cases of harassment and human right violations have been filed against TVI.

Mining companies promise development to poor countries such as the Philippines. The promise is far from real as we experience comparable poverty to other countries of the South and only a few reap the benefits.

Role of stockholders

The bishops conclude their letter by asking for prayers, assistance in explaining their cause and the discouragement of investment in TVI.

Of course, people who invest their money in stocks become part owners of the company in which they invest even though they may entrust the running of the company to others. As such, investors must cooperate in shaping policies of those companies through dialogue with management, through votes at corporate meetings, through the introduction of resolutions and through participation in investment decision.

Solidarity also needs government involvement. It is significant that in Canada, after examining the overseas operations of some of Canadian mining companies, including TVI's, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade recommended in June 2005 that the Canadian government:

"Put in place stronger incentives to encourage Canadian mining companies to conduct their activities outside Canada in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and in conformity with international human rights standards.
Measures in this area must include making Canadian government support - such as export and project financing and services offered by government missions abroad - conditional on companies meeting clearly defined corporate and social responsibility and human rights standards, particularly through the mechanism of human rights impact assessments."

Level-playing field

This could include, for example, allowing tax benefits to accrue to the shareholders of only those Canadian mining companies whose practices verifiably give full effect to Canada's democratic values. Tools like the consistent use of human rights impact assessments, complaints processes and reporting systems would also level the playing field.

Very often, proposals like these are criticized as unwarranted intrusions into the sovereignty of the host country. Each state, this line of reasoning holds, should have the exclusive right to make deals with mining companies in its own way, disposing of its natural resources on its own terms. This argument is deficient, because no state has the authority to abrogate human dignity.

Sound economics cannot be separated from the demands of justice. We have a right to make human use of the goods of this earth, but we are accountable to God and to others for how we use them. Ownership always involves responsibility. The two cannot be separated.
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