MAC: Mines and Communities

Inco Affected Communities to Protest Inco's Abusive Mining Practices at Annual Shareholders' Meeting

Published by MAC on 2004-04-19

Inco Affected Communities to Protest Inco's Abusive Mining Practices at Annual Shareholders' Meeting

For Immediate Release - Environmental Defence, MiningWatch Canada

April 19, 2004

Inco's Newfoundland and Labrador Track Record to be Highlighted

St. John's, Newfoundland - Inco’s deplorable environmental and social track record will be emphasized once again at the Canadian nickel mining company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday, April 21st. Representatives from New Caledonia, Guatemala, St. John's, Newfoundland and Port Colborne, Ontario impacted by Inco's operations will attend and take the opportunity to question Inco CEO, Scott Hand, about the company's poor environmental and human rights track record, and to demand real action and justice for their communities. A colourful demonstration is planned on the outside of the meeting location, the Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street, Toronto.

In June 2002, an agreement was struck between Inco and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador after six years of struggle between Inco and government bodies, the Inuit and Innu communities, and other Newfoundland and Labrador residents concerned about the impacts of Inco’s Voisey’s Bay nickel project and Argentia hydrometallurgical processing plant.

Today, Inco has already broken at least one agreement, the Industrial Employment Benefits Agreement (IEBA), which requires Voisey's Bay Nickel Company Limited (VBNC) to give first consideration to local companies and not contract work outside the province if there are qualified local firms able to perform such work on a cost competitive basis. In February 2004, it was made known that a portion of the steel fabrication contract will be let outside the province. VBNC is claiming that the local firms cannot complete the work in time but critics say that VBNC did not let local companies know in a timely manner of these work opportunities, which they are obliged to do in the agreement. Provincial Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne blames loopholes in the previous government’s agreement and has stated that VBNC only has to make best efforts to ensure benefits accrue locally. This has led to the current provincial opposition party, the former governing Liberals, calling for the Minister's resignation.

Inco’s Argentia demonstration hydrometallurgical processing plant quietly received an exemption from environmental assessment requirements in December 2002 even though the project will involve experimental technology, and the use of hazardous substances on an already contaminated site. Hydrometallurgical processing has yet to be operational in temperate climates and has experienced numerous failures at pilot sites in Australia. The conditions to which the project received exemption included several environmental documents, some of which have not been made accessible to the public despite frequent requests.

Memorial University of Newfoundland students are another group unhappy with Inco. The university and Inco have entered into a partnership that involves the establishment of the Inco Innovation Centre in the heart of the university campus. Several toxic hearts have been painted on the construction wall surrounding the soon to be Inco Innovation Centre stating, "don't make Inco the heart of our campus." Concerned students and faculty have asked that the university put into place ethical safeguards to stop the solitication and acceptance of funds from unethical corporations like Inco. In February, the first annual "Inco Have a Heart Day" was held where a box full of Valentine messages signed by students was sent to Inco asking the company to act on one of their many bad practices. Memorial students also participated in the October global day of action against Inco with theatre depicting Inco's relationships with some of the most brutal and corrupt political figures of recent history, a vigil for those impacted by Inco, and a film showing of Inco's impacts in Port Colborne.

Today, people in Port Colborne and Sudbury, Ontario are fighting a daily battle both in and out of the courts to get Inco to clean up their contaminated properties. Last year, demonstrators from Port Colborne handed out "Inco dirt bags" outside of Inco's meeting. The bags were filled with Inco's legacy, soil contaminated with nickel oxide, a carcinogen. In other areas of the world, Inco has and continues to operate in corrupt and conflict ridden areas of Guatemala, Indonesia and New Caledonia.

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