Action demanded on mining report

By 
  • April 3, 2008

{mosimage}OTTAWA - Catholic groups say Canada’s international reputation is jeopardized because the federal government has done nothing to ensure mining and oil and gas companies operate responsibly in developing countries.

The groups have expressed dismay the government has yet to respond to a groundbreaking consensus report on corporate social responsibility released one year ago. The report arose out of a 10-month process of roundtable discussions, bringing NGOs, civil society groups, government and mining company representatives together.

“We fear that the lengthy delay in implementing these measures harms Canada’s international stature, continues to allow detrimental change to the ecology of several localities where Canadian mines operate and creates social tensions in mining communities where local people have no adequate recourse to challenge the power of large Canadian firms,” wrote members of the Congregation de Notre Dame’s Visitation Province’s (CND) leadership team in a March 25 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“It’s time for action,” said Michael Casey, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s executive director, in a March 27 news release, urging the government to implement the 27 recommendations released last year in The Final Report of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries.

The landmark report recommends the development of Canadian corporate responsibility standards and the appointment of an independent ombudsman to ensure accountability. The report also recommends government sanctions for companies not complying with the standards.

“People living in the Global South are counting on Ottawa to ensure that Canadian mining companies are called to account,” Casey said.

Development and Peace co-ordinated a postcard campaign that resulted in more than 170,000 signed cards, urging the appointment of an independent ombudsperson. Development and Peace delivered the postcards to Ottawa last fall.

The Notre Dame Sisters reminded the government of Development and Peace’s postcard petition and their own previous two letters to the prime minister that asked for the implementation of the report’s recommendations. The congregation, which represents about 350 sisters in eight provinces and the Yukon Territory, has “direct experience working in Central American countries where Canadian companies have detrimentally affected local communities,” the order’s leadership team wrote.

Development and Peace has been active with Caritas Internationalis partners in many countries in the Global South, especially Honduras, where it helped co-ordinate a fact-finding trip last fall for NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough and two British MPs.

McDonough visited with a range of groups and politicians and toured the Entremares gold mine. Entremares is a subsidiary of Goldcorp, a Canadian company that the Honduran government has fined the equivalent of $50,000 for ecological damages. The company disputes the evidence and has not paid the fine.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez recently addressed the Honduran Congress on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, urging reform to his country’s 1998 mining law, which benefits transnational companies.

“We cannot continue to be indifferent and blind to the death and destruction of our natural resources to the benefit of a handful of people, as the gift of Creation that God has given us is destroyed, our water sources are poisoned and our population gets sick,” Rodriguez said.

While Hondurans work on toughening their own mining laws, Development and Peace’s Honduran partner Caritas Tegucigalpa’s deputy director Pedro Landa has said a Canadian ombudsperson would be a “powerful tool” in holding companies to account for “irresponsible behaviour.”

Harper spoke positively about the roundtables’ recommendations at the G8 Summit in Germany last June.

“Implementation of the recommendations from this process will place Canada among the most active G8 countries in advancing international guidelines and principles on corporate social responsibility,” he said in a statement.

But a year after the groundbreaking report, the government has still not responded officially. Though previously foreign affairs officials were responding to the file, it now seems to rest with the international trade department.

“The government is still developing its approach to corporate social responsibility,” said Michael O’Shaughnessy, an international trade department spokesman April 1.

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