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Canadians and Mining: the ugly truth

   
 


Student Juan Francisco Durán Ayala was murdered on June 4, 2011 after hanging posters in protest of poor mining practices. (Photo from the KAIROS Canada)

   

July 15, 2011
-Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, MAN. — Juan Francisco Durán Ayala’s body was found shortly after midnight on June 4th. He had been shot twice in the head. When the Medical Examiner declared his body ‘unidentifiable,’ he was buried in a common grave in San Salvador.

The following week, the Environmental Committee determined the whereabouts of Juan Francisco’s body, and on June 14th, Juan Francisco’s father positively identified his son.

On June 2nd, Juan Francisco Durán Ayala, a thirty-year old linguistics student at the Technological University in San Salvador, was hanging posters in the city of Ilobasco, in the department of Cabañas. The posters were part the Cabañas Environmental Committee (CAC) campaign which calls for the approval of a law against metal mining in El Salvador and for the Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining to leave. The next day, Juan left for classes in the capital city and was not heard from again.

Juan Francisco’s murder is part of a pattern of violence in Cabañas province which community members believe is linked to the presence of and ongoing dispute with Pacific Rim Mining. His death comes two years after the murder of community leader and activist Marcelo Rivera. In December of the same year, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto, who was pregnant, were also assassinated. In recent months, local journalists at Radio Victoria in Cabañas have received persistent threats. Francisco Piñeda, chair of the Cabañas Environmental Committee and winner of this year’s Goldman Environmental prize, now lives with around-the-clock armed guards to ensure his safety.

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining has filed a $77 million lawsuit against the Salvadoran government, arguing that the government’s failure to issue a mining exploitation permit in 2009 due to environmental concerns violates the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Recently, the United States government supported El Salvador in the trade dispute, which is currently being heard by an international tribunal at the World Bank.

KAIROS joins the Cabañas Environmental Committee (CAC), Juan Francisco’s family and human rights organizations in El Salvador and Canada in calling on the Attorney General of El Salvador to carry out an exhaustive investigation into this murder and to protect the lives of all human rights and environmental activists in El Salvador. (For more information see http://tinyurl.com/65e7lft.)

Canada’s culpability

Allegations of the mining industry’s bad behaviour are grave: vast environmental destruction, unjust treatment of workers, collusion with para-military groups, contracts with mercenaries, violence, and even the murder of those like Juan Francisco Durán Ayala who interfere with or protest mining activities.

In a speech at the Mineral Economics Society 11th Symposium in (Toronto, 1999), Vivian Danielson, former editor of the Northern Miner, urged the industry to promote itself as a “progressive, socially and environmentally responsible corporate citizen.” In 2006, the headline “Ugly Canadians” characterized the exploitation of Canadian mining operations overseas (Ted Alcuitas, The Philippine Reporter ).

More recently, attendees at the Canadian Ecumenical Conference on Mining (May 1-3, 2011, Toronto) learned that Canada is “home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies, and its stock exchanges trade 40 per cent of the world’s mineral exploration capital” (Marites M. Sissons, Anglican Journal).

To what degree the mining industry is responding to its scarred international reputation is hard to determine. The main stream media have often universally and eagerly accused the industry of greed – a charge that easily gives rise to defensiveness and muddies the waters of clarity. Regardless, the industry’s dirty laundry has resulted in a quickly fading Canadian reputation overseas as well as a growing credibility problem at home.

So far, this has not inspired large-scale changes in behaviour – but Canada’s level of investment in the mining industry comes with leverage. Can the persistent, reasonable, and responsible but few voices of conscientious investors influence the industry?

Public awareness Irene Sosa is a senior analyst with Jantzi-Sustainalytics, a research firm specializing in environmental, social, and governance research analysis. Sosa, who focuses on the mining and extractive industry, said in an email interview that there is presently no single agreed upon screen for corporate social responsibility (CSR) for international mining operations – though there are some specific initiatives that offer “good guidance.”

Sosa says that mining companies need to be alert to factors that increased CSR risk, such as operating in conflict zones, countries with a poor human rights record, a weak rule of law, competition for adequate water resources, and conflict with local artisanal miners. Her firm’s role is to assess to what degree companies have implemented management systems to address such risks.

An increased public demand for CSR among mining companies could create pressure for change, but the reality is that the influential retail consumer is far removed from the mineral extraction industry. The supply chain from gold nugget to gold necklace is a long one.

But there is some action to strengthen the link between raw minerals and the jeweler’s shop. Sosa points to the Initiative for Responsible Mining and the Responsible Jewelry Council, “which also envisions creating some certification mechanism.”

The problem, says Sosa, “is gaining enough credibility from all the stakeholders involved. The Responsible Jewelry Council [RJC] is the furthest ahead on the certification effort, but does not have a lot of respect from the NGO community.” The RJC, launched in 2008 as an industry association, is primarily comprised of mining companies with the objective of advancing ethical, social and environmental practices throughout its supply chain. Sosa expands the list of actions directed toward raising awareness: the NGO-driven “No Dirty Gold” campaign, launched in 2003, has over 70 participating jewelry retailers; the Kimberley Process (a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative) was launched over ten years ago to stem the flow of diamonds fuelling conflict in Africa; in February 2011, Fairtrade International (FLO) and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) launched the Fairtrade and Fairmined Standard for gold extracted by artisanal miners; the recently passed USA-based Dodd-Frank Act has provisions on conflict minerals.

“Some of the companies that we consider relatively good and are part of our Jantzi Social Index include Kinross Gold, Inmet Mining, and Teck Resources,” added Sosa.

Can awareness and consumer pressure do for conflict minerals what it has done begun doing for the coffee industry?

A new reality

Vivian Danielson, in her 1999 address to the Mineral Economics Society 11th Symposium, urged the industry to be proactive and take some risks: “Being proactive means accepting new realities and new ideas if they make sense. It means welcoming the contributions made by environmentalists and labour leaders to a better society, and accepting the fact governments have an important role in creating and maintaining the institutions necessary for a fair marketplace, and in protecting citizens and the environment from those who do not take their responsibilities seriously.”

Many more years before Danielson’s remarks, the French Catholic priest, Charles de Foucauld, was assassinated for taking risks. He was shot to death in 1916, just outside of a retreat he built for the Tuareg people of Southern Algeria as they struggled in the midst of World War I, French colonial power and regional famine. Prior to his death, de Foucald said “The absence of risk is a sure sign of mediocrity.