The image of Canada's mining companies needs a makeover and Marketa Evans thinks she can help.
Canadian mining businesses have a bad reputation internationally according to a report commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. The findings were so damning that they never saw the light of day until Miningwatch.ca got a hold of them. The embarrassing details of the report reveal that Canadian mining companies have four times the abuses of their nearest competitors in Australia and India.
These abuses range from human rights violations and environmental damage to social conflict.
Not to worry, Evans has a solution. “Corporate Social Responsibility is a key business tool in this new operating environment; well applied, it gives local communities a stronger voice in mining projects in their area while offering companies a greater degree of certainty.”
Corporate social responsibility is not new: it has rehabilitated tarnished corporate images for decades. Sometimes the results are even laudable as when companies convert to fair trade products.
Others only use CSR as window dressing; an attempt to distract from bad business practices and unhealthy products; to pre-empt government regulation of their industry. CSR has been given a bad name by the tobacco industry and British Petroleum.
Evans, counsellor for the Government of Canada's extractive sector, is optimistic that CSR can buff up the tainted image of mining. “CSR is often misunderstood. It is not about philanthropy or ‘doing the right thing’ or random acts of kindness; it is about fully understanding and systematically mitigating social risks. Poorly managed social risks result in destruction of shareholder value and negative impacts on communities and human rights," she writes in the Vancouver Sun.
Miningwatch Canada is less optimistic. They found that the mining companies with the worst violations have CSR policies in place. These policies are cynical attempts to sweep dirt under the carpet. The government of Canada could bring sanctions against these global blemishes to Canada's reputation but haven't.
One attempt was Bill C-300 that went before Parliament in 2010. It was backed by a wide spectrum of supporters: villagers affected by mining, unions, the UN and human rights advocates. Proposed by a Liberal MP, the bill would have set international human rights and environmental standards for the activities carried out by Canadian companies in developing countries and punish those who didn't. Regrettably, under intense lobbying by the mining sector the bill was narrowly defeated.
As Kamloopsians are keenly aware, mining can be a messy business in your back yard. No less so in other countries occupied by indigenous people where regulations are poor to nonexistent. Mining companies need to go above and beyond the laws of the countries they operate in, says Evans: ". . . simple compliance with the law is no longer enough. To deal with low levels of public trust and the need for secure access to land, miners have to work harder to foster stakeholder trust and to build robust engagement and relationships."
Our mining companies are the global face of Canada. What they do reflects on us all. Failure by our government to force them to act responsibly tarnishes our reputation. I used to proudly wear a maple leaf and display the flag on my luggage. Now I worry about being called an "ugly Canadian."
David Charbonneau is the owner of Trio Technical.