Canadian Round-Table Process Ensures Continuation of Impunity

Canadian Round-Table Process Ensures Continuation of Impunity

Support our journalism. Become a Patron!
John Ahni Schertow
April 6, 2007
 

At the end of March, a report coming out of a ten month Canadian government-led roundtable was completed, which “lays out recommendations for a CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] framework of good conduct for Canadian mining, oil and gas companies operating abroad… If implemented, the CSR framework would establish standards and reporting obligations for Canadian companies. It would also create an ombudsman office to investigate and assess complaints, and to evaluate compliance with the standards. The report lays out procedures for withholding government services to companies in cases of serious non-compliance, while also supporting the development of tools to promote good practice in the extractive sector and adherence to the CSR framework.” (see here

The Report has been dubbed “Groudbreaking” – and is making its way through the media as an unprecedented development that can revolutionize Global Mining.

Grahame Russell of Rights Action, however, has taken the time to shed some light on the report:

Canadian Round-Table Process Ensures Continuation of Impunity for Global Mining Companies
By Grahame Russell, www.rightsaction.org, April 2007

In the exploited countries of the global south, peoples and communities harmed by multinational mining companies have no way to prevent or remedy environmental and development harms and human rights violations caused by mining. They have no way to hold the companies and investors accountable, neither where the harms and violations occur, nor in the home countries of the companies and investors.

These harms and abuses have been widely documented by non-government organizations and some media in the global north and south. In response, a Canadian Parliamentary Committee recommended in 2005 that legislation be passed so that Canadian mining companies could be held accountable for environmental and development harms and human rights violations caused by their mining operations.

And yet, after a year of cross country public discussions – National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries – the final report of the Advisory Group (comprised of industry, government, academics and civil society) does not recommend the passing of binding and enforceable criminal and civil legislation.

“The central recommendation in the report concerns the development of a Canadian Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Framework. Advisory Group members urge the Government of Canada, in cooperation with key stakeholders, to adopt a set of CSR Standards that Canadian extractive-sector companies operating abroad are expected to meet and that is reinforced through appropriate reporting, compliance and other mechanisms.” (Advisory Group Report, p. iii)

JUDGE, JURY & NO PROSECUTION
For decades, the global mining industry has governed itself (judge, jury and no prosecution) via this CSR Framework. Predictably, mining companies are rarely sanctioned in any way, in any country, despite the well documented harms and violations. The Advisory Group admits the CSR Framework is
deficient:

“In making these recommendations [for the CSR Framework], the Advisory Group recognizes that … the CSR standards and reporting frameworks recommended for initial application fall short of addressing the full range of issues of concern regarding the extractive industry, particularly with regard to human rights.” (Advisory Group Report, p. iv)

This constitutes a complete abdication of responsibility. Human rights, environment and development concerns were the very reason the Parliamentary Committee recommended enforceable legislation in the first place, recognizing that the non-binding, ‘soft law’ CSR Framework provides for effective immunity from any legal accountability.

Civil society participants that helped author the report pushed hard for binding legislation during the Roundtable process, but industry and government participants prevailed, arguing: “voluntary industry guidelines [are] sufficient to ensure compliance with basic human rights and environmental standards.” (p. 62)

To add insult to injury, the Advisory Group recommends that Canadian mining companies – already benefiting from some of the most favourable tax breaks in the world – get a new tax break for abiding by the non-binding CSR Framework:

“[It is recommend the government of Canada] establish a scheme within the Income Tax Act that provides refundable tax credits for CSR reporting using GRI Guidelines or their equivalent.” (p.vi)

DOUBLE STANDARDS: NORTH & SOUTH
This continuing lack of enforceable criminal and civil legislation is a hypocritical double standard. No North American citizen, let alone politician, mining company official or investor, would agree to live their lives under a regime of self-regulating, non-binding standards.

Imagine your home town or city was being environmentally or developmentally harmed by the operations of a mining company: many of your neighbours are forcibly evicted from their homes; your water sources are contaminated or severely depleted; your productive lands contaminated and exhausted; your forests stripped; there is a spike in air and noise pollution; the health of your children is compromised; you or your neighbours who protest these harms and violations are subject to repression (including killings).

No one would accept that the people, companies and investors causing or contributing to such harms and violations be accountable only to themselves and a weak set of non-binding guidelines. One would demand enforceable legal and political mechanisms to hold the wrong-doers accountable and to provide compensation and reparations for the suffering and loss.

These are fundamental elements of democracy and the rule of law.

Yet, the mining industry (and by extension investors like the World Bank, the Canadian Pension Plan, mutual funds, ethical funds) is governing itself by a model of non-binding, unenforceable ‘soft law’ – jury, judge, no prosecution.

DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE
Despite its failure to insist on basic legal safeguards for mining affected communities, accolades for the Report are widespread:

– “Groundbreaking report” writes the Mining Association of Canada and the Halifax Initiative Coalition;
– “… A move that could revolutionize the global mining industry … Canadian mining representatives have struck an unprecedented accord with environmentalists and human rights advocates” (Ottawa Citizen, March 29, 2007);
– “This is quite seminal, not just in Canada but also globally,” says Robert Walker, of the BC- based Ethical Funds Company and a co-author of the report.” (Ottawa Citizen, march 30, 2007).

WHAT KIND OF “DEVELOPMENT”? FOR WHOM?
The harms and violations caused by the global mining industry ultimately have less to do with the lack of enforceable criminal and civil legislation and much more to do with global inequality and injustice.

Aided and abetted by governments and the media, the global mining and investment industries, including the World Bank, and “aid” agencies like US-AID and Canada’s CIDA, have misappropriated the word “development”.

The privatized global mining and investment industry is not “development.” It is a profit driven, private business model of economic production that causes, especially in the exploited countries of the global south, serious environmental and health harms, and human rights violations.

Goldcorp – whose open-pit, cyanide-leeching mining operations in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are directly and indirectly causing environmental harm, water depletion and contamination, repression and undermining community-controlled development – is typical in its proud claim to be “the world’s lowest-cost gold producer” (www.goldcorp.com).

It is the nature of the business-investment imperative – companies do everything they can to attract investors by maximizing profits (most company officials being major shareholders in their own companies) and minimizing costs of production. The environment, community-controlled development and human rights are not their concerns and won’t be, unless insisted on by our underlying value systems and then legislated and enforced.

In a similar fashion, the Canadian Pension Plan (a major investor in the global mining industry) looks only at the bottom line: “It is important to understand that the CPP investment board looks at ESG (environmental, social or governance) factors only as they affect the potential risk and return of investments. We have a legislated and fiduciary duty to apply only investment criteria to our investment decisions.” (Donald Raymond, Senior Vice President, Public Market Investments, CPP Investment Board, Ottawa Citizen, November 8, 2006)

The term “developing nations” is mis-leading. In the unjust and unequal global nation system, there are, perhaps more aptly, “exploiter” and “exploited” nations. Together, many exploiter and exploited nations are not on their way to developing anything in the global south except more inequality and injustice.

Governments in the global north (primarily members of the G8) show little interest in legislating and enforcing strong laws because the harms and violations are occurring in far away places, against other peoples, while enormous mining profits flow directly and indirectly into economies of the global north countries.

Governments in the global south have little interest in enforcing strong laws. This type of “development” favours their economic elites as well as companies and investors from the global north. In those cases where a small country of the global south tries to enforce good laws, they are routinely strong-armed by countries and economic actors of the global north (including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund) to change their laws and enable unfettered access to their resources for the global mining industry.

The global mining industry is the anti-thesis of what “development” should be; privatized global business and investor’s desires should not be allowed to trump locally controlled and owned development.

WHAT TO DO
At a bare minimum, binding legislation – criminal and civil – must be passed in Canada so that persons and communities negatively affected by environment and development harms and/ or human rights violations can initiate civil or support criminal legal cases in Canada against the companies and investors. Anything less is a shameful perpetuation of a self-serving double standard.

From there, we need a much deeper and self-critical debate.

We need to listen to the voices of the communities and peoples whose lives are being harmed and destroyed by the voracious global mining and investment industries. As Canada tinkers with superficial changes to the CSR Framework, mining affected communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America are holding local referendums and saying no to mining, saying no to exploitative and harmful foreign companies. It is not that they want this “development” model better regulated. They know it is unfair, unequal and harmful and they say no.

As with any work for global justice, equality and environmental well-being, one has to have an underlying vision of what “development” ought to be based on: fundamental human equality and justice, and respect for all animal and natural life [la madre tierra].

Could mining be operated in a way consistent with this justice and equality-based notion of development? Perhaps. The mining-affected communities and peoples that Rights Action works with in southern Mexico and Central America are not “anti-mining” or “anti-development”. They might agree to consider mining as a development option:

– if peoples and communities to be affected by mining were the primary owners of the economic enterprise, becoming the majority beneficiaries of the direct and indirect economic benefits;
– if peoples and communities understood all the implications of mining, and came up with a resource extraction plan they fully prepared and consented to;
– if full protection, rehabilitation and long-term integrity of the environment were integral elements to their owned and controlled resource extraction enterprise.

This is not the “development” that global mining companies, investors and shareholders have in mind while they scour every corner of the globe for profitable resources. The Canadian Roundtable does nothing to promote and strengthen integral, community controlled development models.

Yet, this remains our challenge and responsibility – to understand and visualize, then fight for a global development model based on fairness and equality, environmental well-being and justice. There are peoples and organizations across the global north and south already fighting for this kind of development model.

Please take time and write your Member of Parliament and tell him/her that passing binding civil and criminal legislation is absolutely necessary with respect to Canada’s global extractive industries process.

To learn more about and to support locally designed, owned and controlled development projects in mining affected communities in Central America and southern Mexico, check out www.rightsaction.org or write us: info@rightsaction.org.

We're fighting for our lives

Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.

independent uncompromising indigenous
Except where otherwise noted, articles on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons License
IC is a publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (cwis.org), a 501C(3) based in the United States