Catherine Coumans is the research co-ordinator and Asia Pacific program co-ordinator for MiningWatch Canada. She is the author of Whose Development? Mining, Local Resistance, and Development Agendas.
Mining companies’ branding of themselves as bringers of development needs to be critically examined against the burgeoning ‘resource curse’ literature that links mining to deepening national impoverishment in mining-dependent developing countries
The Canadian International Development Agency’s funding of Corporate Social Responsibility projects mostly near mine sites is intended to help Canadian mining companies compete for access to lucrative ore bodies in developing countries in the face of increasing local opposition to mining.
As I write this, thousands of Cajamarcans in Peru are protesting Newmont Mining Corp.’s proposed Conga mine that will destroy four lakes they depend on for their water supplies and livelihoods.
Last month an estimated 10,000 people marched at the governor’s office in La Rioja, Argentina calling for the cancellation of Osisko’s gold mine agreement citing fears that the water they need for their world-class wines, olives, and nuts would be depleted and polluted.
There are at least 10 provincial and 32 municipal moratoriums on large-scale mining in the Philippines leading to a resolution tabled in the House of Representatives in 2010 calling for a moratorium on large-scale mining in the country as a whole, noting that local government units “are not convinced of the claimed development benefits of mining” (House Resolution No. 528).
In Latin America, communities are increasingly carrying out consultas, or referendums, to demonstrate their collective opposition to mining, invariably citing the need to protect the natural resources they depend on for their food security and future development.
Community-level opposition to mining, often by poor and marginal peoples at great cost to themselves, is increasingly taking place before a mine has received its permits, as even remote communities have become aware of the severe and long-term risks mining poses. Local-level opposition and conflict is a serious problem for mining companies seeking to secure stable access to ore bodies. The industry recognizes this when it speaks of needing to secure a “social licence to operate.”
CONFLICT COMES HOME
In Canada, encounters between parliamentarians and people who travelled from afar to relate the harm they suffered as a result of Canadian mining operations led to a groundbreaking parliamentary report in 2005 recommending that the Canadian government “establish clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations associated with the activities of Canadian mining companies.” This report led to government-mandated Corporate Social Responsibility Roundtables on the extractive sector in 2006 and a greatly increased awareness among Canadians of the negative impacts associated with mining in developing countries.
As a participant in the multi-stakeholder advisory group of the CSR Roundtables I heard mining industry participants repeatedly decry the reputational damage the industry was suffering as a result of heightened attention in Canada on the industry’s problems overseas. I also heard industry pleas for greater support from the Canadian government to ensure continued competitive advantage for Canadian mining companies operating globally.
In particular, industry participants asked for unprecedented support from CIDA directly at mine sites where companies often face fierce community opposition. The industry was strongly opposed to any mandatory accountability measures by the Canadian government that would enforce better social and environmental performance overseas.
For the rest of this column, please go to the All Africa.com website: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202101082.html