Mining is one of the biggest contributors to the Canadian economy. In 2015, it contributed $56 billion to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over the last decade (2003-2012), the federal and provincial governments have received over $71 billion in taxes and royalties. Canada is a global leader in the mining industry. It is home to 75% of the world’s mining companies and ranks amongst the top 5 when it comes to the global production of major minerals and metals.
But here is the deal: there are a lot of irresponsibility, ignorance, injustices from a lot of these mining corporations when operating abroad, many that are hidden from the public’s eye. The global leadership is lacking when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility; not to mention the never-ending list of human rights abuses.
In the documentary “Silence is Golden,” which takes place in a small town in Western Ghana, we yet again see the trend of Canadian mining corporation’s lack of Corporate Social Responsibility. The mining company lied to the local inhabitants about ensuring economic and environmental sustainability. The mining company representative even admitted, “Everyone has to make a profit in a business otherwise it is not worth operating.” But a profit shouldn’t come at the expense of somebody else’s rights. They lied about where the factory was going to be built and the extraction method chosen used cyanide which has been scientifically proven to be detrimental to the ecosystem and human health. The profit of the resources extracted from that country was going abroad. Employment wise, locals only made up for 10% of the workforce.
There have been reports of gang rapes and other violent abuses at Barrick Gold mine in Papua New Guinea. “None of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had reported the alleged rapes to the local authorities or to the company. Some said their assailants had told them they would be arrested if they tried to complain. Compounding matter, Barrick did not have any safe channels of communication that community members could use to report abuses.” There have been complaints against this same company in Tanzania as well. Villagers have lost their land and are suffering from food insecurity due to open pit mines. When locals tried to protest against them, they were silenced with gunshots.
Two of the biggest Canadian agriculture fertilizer companies, in which even the Canada Pension Plan invests, are involved in illegal resource trade from Western Sahara. This illegal resource trade actually turns into a barrier of Saharawi people trying to gain independence since the resources are unlawfully exploited by the Moroccan government.
These cruelties would never be allowed on Canadian soil because we have strong legislation regulating these businesses. There are the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1990) and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations under the Fisheries Act protecting us. But the problem is that these legislations are limited within the border. There are no laws that specifically govern the activities of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. The Government of Canada respects the sovereignty of foreign states and does not generally apply its domestic laws to other jurisdiction.
The reason why Canada is an attractive spot for mining businesses to call home is because they are not bound by the law to respect human rights outside the country. There have been efforts to pass laws such as the Bill C-300 to better regulate Canadian businesses overseas but sadly they never get passed. The countries these companies go to either have no legislative protection or economic power to refuse these proposals.
The Canadian government must pass laws that require Canadian mining businesses to respect human rights no matter where they are in the world. They must be held accountable for their actions. If an individual does not have the authority to take away someone else’s rights, a business does not either.