Catholics call mining companies to a roundtable
Environment, human rights targeted by groups
Catholic organizations working to ensure Canadian mining companies operating overseas respect the environment and human rights can celebrate a small victory.
On March 29, the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility advisory group released a ground-breaking report endorsed by industry and civil society representatives that could make Canada a leader in this area if its recommendations are adopted.
"We're really very pleased with this. It's a major step, part of a long ongoing process," said Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. "It's important to realize this is only the first step."
Calling to account
Last fall, Development and Peace began the action campaign Calling Canadian Mining to Account, to encourage the Canadian government and Canadian mining industry to adhere to the same standards in developing countries as they do at home, Casey said.
Development and Peace sent postcards to parishes across Canada for parishioners to send to foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay who launched the roundtable process last year to investigate ways of improving mining practices overseas. These roundtables were held in major cities, starting in Vancouver, last June.
Move the yardstick
Development and Peace and Kairos-Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives have played an active role in the roundtables through their participation in the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA).
In addition, Development and Peace made a presentation at every single round table.
"This is a stunning example of how nongovernmental organizations like Development and Peace and others working to bring forward an issue for many, many months, and working in harmony with the mining industry, social investment organizations, academics and government can move the yardstick forward on an important issue," said Joe Gunn, coordinator of the office of justice, peace and integrity of creation of the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND) - Visitation Province.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) social affairs commission had also written Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay on the mining issue.
"We must move towards a vision of corporate social responsibility, which cannot be reduced to corporate voluntarism alone, but must be complemented by a social responsibility regulated by the state and national organizations," wrote Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ebacher in a Feb 12 letter.
That letter was followed by one from the CND Sisters, who wrote in a March 12 letter: "Our sisters work in an area where Glamis Gold Ltd., (subsequently bought by Goldcorp) began to mine gold and silver in spite of the opposition of the local indigenous community.
"Canadian sisters have worked for decades in this country and have been well-accepted, but it has become difficult to feel proud of the way this project by a firm linked to our country, and supported by our embassy, has proceeded," said the letter signed by the CND leadership team.
CNCA is urging the Canadian government to immediately adopt the recommendations, which include establishing an ombudsman to handle complaints arising from overseas mining practices and a Compliance Review Committee to follow up on the ombudsman's findings and recommend appropriate responses.
The report recommends the government withdraw financial support for companies that continue to fail to comply with corporate social responsibility standards.
"Canada's extractive sectors are committed to improving their social and environmental performance and adhering to best practices wherever they operate," said Gordon Peeling, president and CEO of The Mining Association of Canada in the advisory group's news release.