“Our land, our rights, our peace”

Nenita Conduz is small in stature and pregnant with her third child. She is also courageous and defiant.

This tiny mother is leading her Subanen people in the struggle to defend their ancestral land in the southern Philippines, where a Canadian owned mining company is harming their land, their community and their way of life.

Because of her commitment to speak truth, Nenita lives under constant threat.

Nenita Conduz

Nenita Conduz. Photo courtesy Antonio Nercua Ablon

Nenita recently visited Canada, as one member of a delegation of 5 leaders from the Philippines, bringing a message of how Canadian mining companies are harming their land and their communities. The delegation met with government officials on Parliament Hill and did a speaking tour of major cities, calling for respect of “our land, our rights, our peace.” I heard Nenita speak in Winnipeg.

The delegation’s visit was sponsored by KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice coalition, of which MCC is a member. KAIROS has been advocating for years for accountability mechanisms for Canadian extractive companies overseas as part of a wider Open for Justice campaign. Canada is a global leader in international extractive industry; but has very weak mechanisms to hold mining companies to human rights and environmental standards.

The Subanen people – one of numerous Indigenous groups in the Philippines – lives on the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao Island in the southern part of the country. Zamboanga is rich in natural resources; it is also one of the most militarized regions in the country.

The Subanen have received certification of their ancestral domain, with the attending right of free, prior and informed consent to any extractive activities on their land. But this has not stopped foreign corporations from accessing the mineral resources or for using armed force to put down the resistance of the Subanen people.

Nenita focused her critique on Calgary-based TVI Pacific and its Philippine subsidiary TVIRD, which is extracting copper from Subanen land. According to her testimony, as well as the findings of a KAIROS delegation to the Philippines in 2014, the company began its operations without the due process of free, prior and informed consent.  Moreover, its arrival in the community coincided with the cancellation of business permits for small scale mining operations, the deployment of armed “security” personnel, and the escalation of widespread human rights violations.

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Philippine delegation with KAIROS hosts. Photo/KAIROS

The reported human rights violations include: extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, kidnappings, destruction of property, homes and livelihoods, forcible eviction, as well as threats, harassment and intimidation. Thousands of people have been affected.

Nenita herself is continually being watched and harassed and is currently not able to return to her home because of fears she could be assassinated.

But this courageous woman refuses to be silenced. “Defending our ancestral land is of prime importance to us,” she says. “We cannot live without our land.”

She notes that land is not just a place for the Subanen people to live. The land defines their life, their health, the social fabric of their community, and their very identity.

Nenita is aware that the struggle of the Subanen people is part of a global struggle by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect lands that are coveted by governments and corporations for their forests, waters and minerals.

“We are calling for respect for Indigenous peoples rights,” she insists. “We hope our efforts to expose what is happening in the Philippines will touch people’s hearts and minds and lead to support for the global struggle.”

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDThe Open for Justice campaign, which MCC supports, urges the Canadian federal government to take action in two specific ways:

  • to appoint an independent ombudsperson mandated to monitor Canadian extractive operations overseas, to investigate complaints and to take action where needed to uphold human rights (current mechanisms are voluntary and ineffectual); and
  • to allow access to Canadian courts for non-Canadians who have been harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies.

The recently released federal budget failed to allocate funds for the creation of a human rights ombudsperson.

We owe it to people like courageous Nenita – and Indigenous peoples everywhere – to support their call for “our land, our rights, our peace.”

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office

Another effort to hold mining companies to account

Rumour has it that the federal budget may come down sooner rather than later. Civil society organizations are hoping to see some positive policy signals when it’s tabled—from more money committed to international development, to the establishment of a federal ombudsperson for the extractives sector (the mining, oil and gas industry).

Establishing an ombudsperson with the power to investigate Canadian mining companies implicated in wrongdoing abroad is something experts have advised the government on since 2007.

Liberals supported the idea of an ombudsperson while they were in Opposition (in fact, four of the five political parties have supported it), and there has been chatter around Ottawa for the last few months that they’ve been “seriously reviewing” the creation of such a position.

This is welcome news.

Home to the majority of the world’s mining companies, Canada is a superpower in the global extractives industry, with thousands of active projects in more than 100 countries.

Marlin Mine

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. MCC photo by Anna Vogt

Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies have a mixed record. While mining has the potential to bring socioeconomic benefits to a host country, jobs are often short-lived, financial benefits to the economy meager (particularly in mining-rich areas), and communities not consulted. As our partners have told us, mining often displaces communities, destroys agricultural land, contaminates water, exacerbates social tensions, and leaves long-term ecological damage in its wake. What’s more, people who defend their rights often lack protection and are even targeted by threats of violence.

To promote the industry, the Canadian government provides strong diplomatic and financial support to mining companies in a variety of ways. And although the government has now implemented mandatory revenue disclosure requirements for mining, oil, and gas companies—something MCC actively supported—most of the accountability mechanisms in Canada are entirely voluntary in nature.

For this reason, Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy has been widely critiqued by civil society actors (and the UN) as falling short of what is needed to hold mining companies accountable to human rights, labour, and environmental standards.

How do people harmed by the overseas operations of Canadian extractive companies seek redress?

Currently, Canada has two mechanisms that can receive complaints by local communities—the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (2009), and the OECD National Contact Point (2000).

From the outset, these mechanisms have been widely criticized as being toothless—lacking in independence, investigatory powers, and the ability to recommend sanctions for non-compliance. And, given that neither mechanism can obligate companies to participate (a rather significant problem!), they have not proven effective in resolving cases or curbing corruption.

Enter the Open for Justice Campaign—an initiative of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), KAIROS, Development aopen-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDnd Peace, and others. This campaign calls for the establishment of an independent extractives-sector ombudsperson, as well as legislated access to Canadian courts for people seriously harmed by overseas mining operations (which is really gaining steam, thanks to recent high-profile court decisions).

Last spring, over 50 Canadian civil society organizations, including MCC, became signatories to a public statement that echoed these calls.

An effective ombudsperson—operating at arms length from the government—would have the power to investigate complaints, recommend the suspension of government support to companies found in non-compliance, and be mandated to perform these functions regardless of a company’s willingness to participate.

In the fall, the CNCA even launched model legislation—the Global Leadership in Business and Human Rights Actto provide the blueprint for creating such a non-judicial grievance mechanism.

Not only would this provide access-to-remedy for affected communities, but it could benefit companies in the long-run (we’ve even seen some pro-ombudsperson commentary from industry!). When extractive projects generate conflict, unless community grievances are effectively resolved, companies risk operating delays and negative publicity.

Through this, and other effective mechanisms that put human rights at the centre of the government’s approach, Canada can help facilitate an operating environment where responsible business practices are recognized and rewarded.

Of course, a more comprehensive review of the government’s CSR strategy would be welcomed. Given Canada’s status as a global mining power, it ought to be part of a rigorous foreign policy debate.

In the meantime, please let your MP know that you support the establishment of an independent and effective ombudsperson office to oversee Canadian mining, oil and gas projects abroad

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Director

A new era of accountability in Canadian mining, or business as usual?

Change often comes slowly, if at all. At least that’s what we’re told, especially when it involves the impact of advocacy on government policies and practices.

Ken Battle, President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, coined the term “relentless incrementalism” to describe the often slow-moving nature of advocacy. Advocacy is often a laborious task requiring endless patience, as we often see only little droplets of change at a time.

But what happens when it is clear that a government has no intention of moving forward on particular legislation or actions that would bring about change?

This appears to be the case when it comes to enacting tougher accountability laws and standards for Canadian companies operating at home and abroad—something civil society advocates have long been calling for.

Marlin Mine

Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

In terms of global business, Canada is, by a wide margin, home to the majority (75%) of the world’s mining companies. In Latin America, specifically, in the last 10-15 years the proportion of Canadian companies active in exploration and extraction has increased significantly. According to MCC coalition partner the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), in the five years between 2002-2007, the proportion of Canadian mining companies operating in the region jumped from 30 to 50 percent. Within certain countries, these numbers are up to 70 percent. Over 500 Canadian companies are active within Latin America, with investments of over $40 billion.

In many of the contexts in which Canadian companies operate, mining activities play a role in fueling violence and exacerbating tensions, damaging the environment, negatively impacting health, and causing community displacement.

In many mining-heavy contexts such as Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, countless communities, civil society groups, and human rights defenders have also been threatened or targeted for speaking out against mining projects, particularly when the government has a vested interest in the profits.

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Citizens of Bucaramanga, Colombia defend their water supply from a Canadian-owned gold-mining project, 2013. Photo courtesy Pastor Virviescas Gómez / CBC.

Further, in many countries legal and illegal armed groups have a stake in the mining industry, either because they offer direct security services to mining companies or because they profit from the trafficking of natural resources. There have been many notable instances—Hudbay Minerals’ abuses in Guatemala, for example—in which the local security forces hired to protect mining projects are accused of carrying out violence and human rights abuses against nearby communities. When it comes to trafficking, in a context such as Colombia there have been reports that some illegal armed groups have abandoned the production and trafficking of illicit crops as a means to fund their operations in favour of controlling mining projects instead.

Companies fall under the laws and regulations of the countries in which they operate. Proponents of tougher corporate social responsibility, however, point to the weaker legal frameworks of host governments when it comes to things like environmental protection, working conditions, and transparency of financial reporting. And, even when the laws exist on paper, the lack of robust enforcement and broken judicial systems make them virtually meaningless.

Most of what the Canadian government has put in place when it comes to corporate social responsibility standards has been voluntary in nature and ineffective for holding companies accountable.

For instance, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, a position established in 2009 under the previous government to assess and mediate complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses abroad, has been widely criticized as having a mandate with little-to-no power. In addition to the process being entirely voluntary for companies, the counsellor has no civil or criminal powers of enforcement, nor can he/she impose remedy or issue sanctions against a company.

Reportedly, this mandate apparently will remain unchanged under the new Liberal government, despite earlier promises to the contrary.

In light of these realities, many civil society organizations such as Development and Peace, Mining Watch Canada, KAIROS, and Publish What You Pay are calling for a more robust system of corporate social responsibility in Canada.

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDOne campaign, named “Open for Justice,” calls for a number of changes to Canada’s framework. This includes an independent ombudsman with the power to monitor, investigate and impose economic and legal sanctions on Canadian mining companies that violate clearly-established environmental or human rights standards. The campaign also demands that Canadian courts be open to hearing and processing complaints from communities where Canadian mining companies are accused of abuses and local judicial systems are broken.

During the fall election campaign, the Liberals promised to establish such an independent ombudsman. This is apparently no longer the case. Will they consider reassessing Canada’s CSR strategy overall to ensure better accountability for the extractives sector?

If Canada’s CSR standards remain unchanged, one has to wonder what kind of impact mining operations will continue to have in Latin America and around the world.

Do we dare to expect, or even hope to see, change on the horizon when it comes to the actions and consequences of Canadian mining operations abroad? Given how important the extractives industry is to Canada, how will values of justice, human rights, and sustainable development play against economic gain?

By Bekah Sears, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

“Do you know?” Canada, mining and the global cry of the people

“Do you know?” asked Jennifer Henry, the Executive Director of KAIROS at a recent symposium entitled Mining Extraction and Justice: The Global Cry of the People. It is a question that has been deliberately directed to her as a Canadian, time after time, by KAIROS’ global partners.

“Do you know:

  • about the prominence of Canadian companies among mining corporations all over the world?
  • about the extent to which mining is impacting our water, health and physical environment?
  • about how the expansion of mining operations has resulted in countless forced displacements and greatly increased danger to community leaders who speak out against the industry?”
A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

These questions hit home for participants in the two-day conference, which tackled  Canada’s prominent role in the mining industry, the impact of mining on the daily lives of affected people at home and around the world, and the possibilities for advancing mining  practices that promote human dignity and care for creation.

One of the principle messages expressed at the conference was the need to humanize the process — and to put a human face at the centre of mining policy and practice. This message was repeated by panelists including representatives from national and international NGOs, churches, communities directly impacted by mining in Canada and abroad, the mining sector, parliamentarians, and academics. Through their presentations, we encountered the human face from Asia to Africa to Latin America and back to Canada.

Having just returned from an MCC term in Latin America, where mining is a contentious issue to say the least, I thought of my own interactions with the stories and the faces touched by mining. During a short stint in Guatemala I visited the Marlin Mine in the western highlands, owned and operated by the Canadian-owned Goldcorp, where I experienced my own “Do you know?” moments.

We met community groups organizing protests to shut down operations due to unfulfilled promises, the lack of development programs and degrading health. We also met a family who had refused to leave their traditional lands and, as a result, were at risk from contaminated water and constant tremors from the mine. In both visits, when the local people requested international action and advocacy, everyone looked at me. I was, after all, the Canadian.

“Do you know?” Do we know about the extent of Canada’s role as a major player within the world of mining? If the answer is yes, we must then ask: “What are we doing about it?”

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDConfronting the injustice perpetuated by the mining industry can overwhelm us, and make us feel both angry and helpless. But in this Advent season, as we celebrate the coming of Christ and the hope Christ brings, we can look to words of hope from the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 40, Isaiah speaks of God’s promise to comfort his people who are suffering. We also look to Luke 4 where Jesus claims the promises expressed in Isaiah 61: to embody the one who will bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.

These promises of hope and comfort also call us to action — to draw strength from and find our place within the many initiatives and campaigns already underway to work for mining justice.

Development and Peace, KAIROS and others groups, through the Open for Justice Campaign, are calling for more accountability of mining companies, and the ability of impacted communities to raise concerns publicly, safely and effectively through an ombudsman with real authority to enforce corporate social responsibility. In line with this campaign, and as a reminder of the personal responsibility of consumers, KAIROS invites all of us to join an Advent Campaign, “All I Want for Christmas is Mining Justice.”

AA-14-11-AllIWantForChristmasThe Canadian Mining Association, which was also represented at the symposium, is standing with Canadian NGOs like Publish What You Pay and Oxfam in petitioning the Canadian Government for more open and robust policies to eliminate corruption and help communities in mining areas around the world access promised financial and social benefits.

And then there are the countless efforts, projects and movements directly supporting local communities in mining areas as they demand truth and justice from mining companies and respective governments.

Together, let’s be inspired and stand with The Global Cry of the People, here in Canada and around the world.

Rebekah Sears is policy analyst with the Ottawa Office.