MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada's bad mining - papering over the cracks

Published by MAC on 2010-01-19
Source: Toronto Star

The Canadian Government is dragging its feet on measures to reign in the abuses of Canadian mining companies, despite increasing pressure brought to bear on it by affected communities and their supporters.

It's obviously hoping that a new C$20 million fund "to help companies develop economically and socially acceptable projects abroad", plus a website, is sufficient to do the job...

No crackdown on mining; Ottawa creates website, fund for firms in wake of alleged abuses, but critics call effort 'insufficient'

Les Whittington, Toronto Star

14 January 2010

Despite years of alleged abuses by Canadian mining companies operating abroad, Trade Minister Stockwell Day says there's no need to compel multinationals to live up to high environmental and human rights standards.

At a news conference, Day brushed aside the long litany of allegations of wrongdoing against Canadian extractive firms in the developing world, saying most multinational mining operations help foreign communities where they do business.

Partly as a result of a series of articles recently published in the Toronto Star, the federal government is under mounting pressure to take action to deal with alleged abuses by mining firms in the developing world.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government hopes to accomplish this through voluntary guidelines and assistance programs for the industry.

On Wednesday, Day announced the latest of these initiatives.

Under the umbrella of promoting corporate social responsibility, the government set up a $20 million fund to help companies develop economically and socially acceptable projects abroad and launched a website with information on the topic.

But critics say the voluntary programs are half-measures that do little to ensure mining companies operating overseas are held accountable for their activities.

"It's a useful effort but it's wholly insufficient to deal with the scope of the problem," said Jamie Kneen, communications coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, which has been pressing for tighter controls on the extractive industry.

"We've seen, over and over again, that even when there are rules in place, there are companies that are willing to break the rules."

Liberal MP John McKay, who has brought forward private member's legislation to clamp down on mining abroad, said Day's announcement proves what industry critics have been saying all along - that "Canada has a serious corporate social responsibility problem.

"If we didn't have this problem," he said, "then we wouldn't need" the new website, which McKay called "Facebook for miners."

If passed, McKay's legislation, Bill C-300, would empower the government to investigate allegations against Canadian mining operations in the developing world.

While opposition parties generally support C-300, the Conservatives are adamantly opposed. The mining industry is fighting the legislation.

Day also said Canadian diplomats are helping Mexican authorities investigate the latest high-profile mining incident.

Anti-mining activist Mariano Abarca Roblero was shot and killed in November near the Guatemalan border.

Three people, all of whom had worked at one time for Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Ltd., were arrested.

Blackfire has denied being connected with the death.

Feds launch website for mining, oil-and-gas companies operating abroad

Canadian Press

14 January 2009

OTTAWA - The federal government has launched a website aimed at helping Canadian mining and oil-and-gas companies meet their "social and environmental responsibilities" while operating abroad.

Trade Minister Stockwell Day says the new website will be a one-stop shop with the latest information on corporate social responsibility rules, laws and best practices.

Day says the site will impart "timely, practical information and advice on foreign countries, local networks and relevant experiences of Canadian companies, civil society and other stakeholders operating abroad."

The website is hosted by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum and developed with the federal government and industry experts.

It will provide an inventory of experts, contacts, activities, reference materials, policies and regulations, and country profiles.

It will also provide a forum in which companies, experts and stakeholders can share experiences.

Feds failing to police mining companies: Critics

By PETER ZIMONJIC, Parliamentary Bureau

13 January 2010

OTTAWA - A website unveiled by the feds to help mining companies police themselves while operating abroad was slammed by critics as a toothless attempt to get corporations to be good corporate citizens.

"It won't do the job in and of itself," said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. "I think the information is a good thing, but what is needed is accountability and these codes and standards don't include accountability."

The new Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility website was launched Wednesday by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day as a part of the Tory's action plan on corporate social responsibility.

Canada is home to 40% of the world's mining, oil and gas companies. In recent years Canada has been singled out for failing to police how these companies operate abroad when it comes to human rights and environmental practices.

A private member's bill sponsored by Liberal MP John McKay that is working its way through Parliament would punish companies unless they obey the same human rights and environmental laws that exist in Canada.

But Day says the bill is too harsh and simply providing companies with information on how to be good corporate citizens will be enough to improve behaviour.

"One of the compelling factors that exists today is the very awareness that can be so easily transmitted if a company seems to be going offside in some area, shareholders demand that," said Day. "There is very little tolerance among shareholders for wrong practices."

But McKay dismissed the argument and accompanying website, insisting companies need to be compelled by law to respect human rights and the environment.

"The government could have had less of a response to the issue but I just don't know how," said McKay. "For companies that don't show good corporate social responsibilities there is no consequence what so ever."

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