Filipino field technicians work in Lafayette Mining's open pit multi-mineral mine at Rapu Rapu island in the central Philippines, 350 km (217 miles) south of Manila.
ERIK DE CASTRO/REUTERS
Les Whittington Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA—Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world, according to a global study commissioned by an industry association but never made public.
“Canadian companies have been the most significant group involved in unfortunate incidents in the developing world,” the report obtained by the Toronto Star concludes.
“Canadian companies have played a much more major role than their peers from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States” in these incidents, says the Canadian Centre for the Study of Resource Conflict, an independent, non-profit think tank.
The problems involving Canada’s mining and exploration corporations go far beyond workplace issues. “Canadian companies are more likely to be engaged in community conflict, environmental and unethical behaviour, and are less likely to be involved in incidents related to occupational concerns.”
The research surfaced as a long, fierce political battle over legislation to tighten federal government scrutiny of Canadian mining operations abroad comes to a head. Bill C-300, a private member’s bill put forward by Toronto Liberal MP John McKay, will be voted on in the Commons next week.
The proportion of incidents globally that involve Canadian corporations is very large, according to the report. “Of the 171 companies identified in incidents involving mining and exploration companies over the past 10 years, 34 per cent are Canadian,” the Centre found.
It said the high incidence of involvement of Canadian companies is in line with the Canadian industry’s dominant position in global mining and exploration.
But “this does not make the individual or corporate violations any more ethically acceptable, especially considering the efforts in recent years taken by industry and government to improve” the practices of the Canadian industry, the Centre said.
The Centre’s research was paid for by the Toronto-based Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). It was completed in October 2009 but was not publicly released.
The study said the leading causes of incidents involving Canadian mining companies were related to community conflict, including “significant negative cultural and economic disruption to a host community, as well as significant protests and physical violence”.
The second most common cause of incidents involved environmental degradation, followed by unethical behaviour, which the Centre defines as operating in a state that is under embargo or careless disregard for human rights or local laws.
The report notes that the Canadian government and the industry have devoted considerable time and money to instilling principles of corporate social responsibility in the mining sector.
“However, when one examines the current empirical reality, the results reveal a less than ideal picture of corporate social responsibility in the Canadian extractive sector.
“Clearly, the Canadian mining and exploration community needs to shift its current strategy if it is to improve its relationships with communities, governments, civil society and risk mitigation.”
Of the incidents reported, gold, copper and coal mining were most often involved. The four “hot spot” countries with the most incidents were India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Regionally, however, Latin America had the most incidents, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
The Centre said the majority of incidents arose from reports by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many in the Canadian mining industry accuse some NGOs of harbouring an anti-mining bias that has led to exaggerated and unsubstantiated allegations against Canada’s companies operating in developing countries.
Bernarda Elizalde, PDAC’s director of sustainable development programs, said, “These are allegations and they aren’t proven cases.” She also noted that the incidents involving Canadian companies work out to only six a year.
The research, Elizalde said, did not provide any fresh information. “There’s nothing new because we know there are some things we need to improve” in the industry’s operations abroad, she said in an interview.
The study showed that what are often seen as human rights problems are actually problems arising from a company’s interaction with the community where it is operating, Elizalde said.
“So what we’re trying to do is provide the tools to the companies to understand how they can start improving their relationship with communities and how they can be more inclusive and be respectful and it’s an awareness that we’re creating but it’s a step-by-step process.” Improvements will take time, she said.
The report was commissioned as part of the industry’s research arising from consideration of Bill C-300, she said. But, once PDAC received the study, it was decided not to make it public because more research was needed, Elizalde said.
On Tuesday, supporters of McKay’s legislation to tighten regulation of Canadian mining firms operating abroad will be on Parliament Hill to lobby for passage of the bill. First introduced in May 2009, the bill has made it further along in the legislative process than most private member’s proposals. But the final vote on Oct. 27 is expected to be very close.
The bill’s supporters say it is needed to curb a long history of abuses in the developing world involving Canadian mining companies. But the industry has waged an all-out campaign against legislation it says would damage its commercial interests, subject it to unfair accusations and attempt to enforce Canadian policy in sovereign nations.