Canada lax in support of efforts to ease corruption abroad – by Don Cayo (Vancouver Sun – September 9, 2011) (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative)

Canada is less enthusiastic than it ought to be in support of a high-level attempt to shine light into the oftenmurky world of international mining and oil extraction, says the head of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

And Canadian companies drag their feet worse than our government, says Clare Short, the former U.K. cabinet minister who made her country a leader in effective international development and is now the chair of the decade-old initiative launched by former British prime minister Tony Blair and supported by the G8.

The federal government endorses the initiative and has a representative on its board, and seven major companies – Vancouver-based Goldcorp and Teck, plus Barrick, Kinross, Rio Tinto, Talisman and Vale – have signed on to abide by the principles of the initiative.

But Canadian companies punch far above the country’s weight in international mining – Short says Canadian miners are the biggest single international player in Africa, for example – and she thinks many more should be on board.

Compliance isn’t complex. The initiative requires companies that operate internationally to report how much money they give to the governments they do business with. This may sound like a very basic level of transparency – and it is – but it can be transformational. Because when people in a country riddled with corruption finally learn how much has been put on the table, they can start to effectively question where and how it’s being spent.

Short says the initiative is signing up countries as well as companies, and investors as well as miners and oil producers. The investors are most enthusiastic. Eighty firms representing trillions in investment have signed on because they know transparency promotes stability, and thus protects their investments.

Although companies that extract resources reap the benefits of stability as well, they’ve been slower to sign on. There are just over 50 to date, including biggies like Shell and Exxon Mobil.

A harder challenge is to sign up developing countries, especially because the ones that need it most – those with entrenched corruption – have the most reasons to resist. But a dozen countries have cleared the hoops to be full participants (although Yemen is suspended due to the unrest there) and 23 more are seeking to join.

Countries sign up, she said, because they fear they’ll lose out if investors favour other countries that are already on board. When a country does sign up, it effectively answers the big question that’s left hanging every time a company agrees to play fair, even if some of its competitors don’t.

“That’s a big concern,” she said.

“People say, ‘What about the Chinese companies? What about the Indian companies? What about the small companies?’ “But if a country joins the initiative, then everyone who operates there has to report. The Chinese companies are included, the small companies are included.

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