MAC: Mines and Communities

Cozy with corporations

Published by MAC on 2005-10-15

Cozy with corporations

Ivan Morgan, Newfoundland Independent

9-15th October 2005 (Volume 3, Issue 41)

Ivan Morgan questions relationship between MUN and Inco, considering company's human rights record

What is innovative? What isn't? I recently read a series of press releases from a group calling themselves the Society for Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility - Memorial University of Newfoundland chapter.

I think they are an innovative bunch. They work towards making corporations better behaved towards human beings. They have made serious allegations regarding human rights abuses perpetrated by Inco in Indonesia, New Caledonia and Guatemala. How they have been treated by Memorial's administrations is as telling as it is troubling.

Memorial accepted a ton of money from Inco to build something called the Inco Innovation Centre, which officially opened recently. I went on MUN's website and found lots of great news about the innovation centre. It was written in that dreadful everything's-coming-up-roses style so favoured by communications weasels. They used the word innovation a lot. If you believed their press, the centre is a beacon of wonderfulness. Scott Hand, Inco president, was quoted as saying: "We believe that this centre will help to foster and promote the kind of partnerships and innovation that have made Voisey's Bay possible; not just technical innovation, but social, political and economic innovation as well".

MUN's president, Dr. Axel Meisen was quoted as saying "... the true value of the new building will come from the innovations that the centre will foster at Memorial..." Sounds great.

But there wasn't a word about the bold and bright young men and women who showed up with the innovative social and political questions for Dr. Meisen and Mr. Hand. Nothing about pointed questions they have regarding Inco's abysmal human rights record in other parts of the world. Nothing about their allegations of hired security staff (I actually prefer the term goons) Inco may have employed to intimidate protesters in Indonesia.

No reponse to their allegations that Inco is brutal to and contemptuous of people in New Caledonia and Guatemala.

Maybe their innovation is the wrong kind. Maybe the centre is for the innovative students who know where their bread is buttered and know when to shut up. Maybe that's the kind of student who makes Dr. Meisen and Mr. Hand happy.

I don't like how cozy MUN is getting with corporations. We pay for the university out of our taxes. Inco's only reason for existing is to make money for its shareholders. That's it. So when they act like they are helping us, and helping the university, I get suspicious.

Why are Dr. Meisen and the rest of th university hierarchy so quiet on these troubling questions? I don't know if these young people have a case, but if they do, shouldn't Dr. Meisen listen? Is he not in a leadership role? With his clout, he might actually be able to bring INco to heel on some of these issues. No harm in trying - or is there?

What is the cost of the Inco Innovation Centre? And I don't mean the dollars and cents Inco wrote off humouring us. I mean the cost to our university's reputation. Have we spent all these decades building a university only to have it develop a reputation for being easily bought?

A university is supposed to train people to ask questions - to challenge orthodoxies and debate issues. Aren't these young people doing just that?

Why are they marginalized?

The fact that corporations like Inco are brutal to people in Third World countries is old news. Isn't it innovative to force them to clean up their acts?

I understand Inco's behaviour. They have to make money for their shareholders. But is it the university administration's job to stifle their own students for fear of embarrasing their corporate clients? If these young students are misled, would it not be better to engage them in healthy debate? What does ignoring them prove?

Dr. Meisen, you seem to have ignored your own students. Can I ask you a few questions? Do you have a clear, unequivocal statement on the university's position on the human rights of the people of Indonesia, New Caledonis and Guatamala? What standards does MUN have in accepting money, continuing to accept money, or continuing to be associated with corporations who blatantly abuse human rights in other parts of the world? In other words, what would Inco have to do to make you take their name off the centre?

Or could you if you wanted to? Would you - in your role as leader of our university - ask Inco for a clear outline of their policies regarding the human rights of the people affected by their mining activities? Can we be innovative in encouraging Inco to adopt a solid human rights policy, based on Canadian standards, for its holdings in every country?

If your staff has trouble writing it, I would happily help - no strings attached and free of charge.

-- CESR -Society for Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility Memorial University of Newfoundland Chapter

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