By Samantha Ponting
“I was born and lived more than half my life in Lepanto, the location of the Lepanto Consolidated mine,” said Chandu Claver, an Indigenous land defender, in a recorded presentation to attendees of the April 19 virtual launch of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Toronto chapter (ICHRP-Toronto).
According to Claver, the Filipino mining company Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation has worked closely with the Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. over the past 20 years— and the environmental impact of their operations have been devastating.
“Abra River is now dead thanks to Ivanhoe and Lepanto,” he said. He added that tailings from the mine disposed into the river have had a harmful impact on fish, and heavy metals have poisoned agricultural lands.
But Ivanhoe Mines is not the only Canadian company operating in the Philippines. While Claver said corporate mining ownership has been difficult for civil society to track due to a “global practice of changing company names and using proxies and fronts,” other industry players have been identified.
TVI Pacific Inc., Besra Gold Inc. (formerly Olympus Pacific Minerals), and ExGen Resources Inc. (formerly Boxxer Gold Corp.) have known operations in the country, according to Claver. These companies are part of a global mining sector predominantly based in Canada and infamous for unchecked environmental and human rights abuses.
Indigenous resistance to mining
An Igorot native and former surgeon, Claver organized against harmful mining projects in the mountainous Cordillera region in the northern Philippines. He moved to Canada in 2007 as a political refugee after he and his family were violently attacked in response to his activism. The ambush resulted in his wife’s death, and left Claver and his daughter severely wounded. He is a national spokesperson for the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance.
Claver knows first-hand the dangers facing land defenders in the Philippines who resist mining and other industrial projects that are environmentally destructive and threaten the livelihoods of surrounding communities.
According to ICHRP-Toronto member Angela Asuncion, 60 percent of transnational mines in the Philippines are located in ancestral lands. Indigenous resistance to mining has garnered a violent response from state-sponsored forces. “Government responses on mining resistance movements have led to extrajudicial killings of Indigenous leaders, the classification of activists as terrorists, and the bombing of Indigenous schools,” Asuncion said.
From 2010-2016, at least 73 Indigenous peoples were killed in the Philippines. The Philippines is also dangerous for journalists, trade unionists, peasants and environmentalists. According to a report released by Global Witness, the Philippines had the highest number of killings of land and environmental defenders in the world in 2018. The same report found mining to be the deadliest sector globally for protesting land defenders.
And Canadian mining companies are profiting from this impunity. The Philippines Mines and Geosciences Bureau estimates that approximately 30 percent of its land mass, or 90,000 square kilometres, has high mineral potential. The Manila Times reports that the bureau estimates that the Philippines holds an estimated $840 billion USD in mineral deposits.
Mining companies have been keen to exploit these mineral deposits. With 75 percent of the global mining industry headquartered in Canada, the occupation of Canadian mining corporations has been felt across the Philippines.
While resource extraction has benefited elites, very few economic benefits are seen by the people of the Philippines. In fact, poverty rates are actually higher in provinces with large-scale mining projects, according to Asuncion.
Claver said that international mining companies have seen a warm welcome from the Philippine government. “By government policy, the Philippines is wide open to foreign companies, especially the extractive business of mining. The regime of the present president, Rodrigo Duterte, very actively promotes large-scale corporate mining in the Philippines,” he said.
“With the full force of the government behind them, companies feel that they can do whatever they want.”
He said that the ruling class – which controls government institutions, police, and the military – provide mining companies protection. “They work in concert to realize corporate interest and profit even in the face of people’s opposition.”
The presence of foreign companies in resource extraction is part of a long history of colonization in the Philippines that continues today, as Indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands by mining projects.
According to Claver, “It was this same wealth that attracted attention of colonizers and later on the mining companies in the last four centuries.”
“Historically, the Philippines Mining Law of 1905, which was made at the time that the Philippines was still a colony of the US, sets the tone for the way mining operations were done.” The law allowed for the occupation and commodification of public land by US citizens.
“It was only recently that the old mining act was replaced,” said Claver. He said mining operations are now governed by the Mining Act of 1995, which was influenced by mining corporations.
“The Philippines mining act was created with the help of a lot of mining corporations as well as government officials,” said Claver. The act “opens up the whole Philippines mining industry to the fullest level of control by investing foreign companies.”
“The belly of the beast”
There are some glaring reasons why so many of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada. It would be an understatement to say that the country’s political climate is favourable. Sydney Lang from the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network more accurately describes Canada – specifically Toronto – as “the belly of the beast.” It is the epicentre of the global mining industry, precisely because the systemic violence that plagues the industry not only goes unchecked, but is actively fostered through economic support.
According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2019, 621 Canadian mining and exploration companies operated in 96 countries abroad, with mining assets valued at $177.8 billion.
Lang said Canada has a long history of resource extraction both domestically and abroad. She describes why Canada is a hotbed for corporate human rights abusers.
“The Canadian mining industry is also upheld with government support for mining exploration through investments and financial services,” said Lang. “EDC [Economic Development Canada] is a crown corporation that provides billions of dollars each year in commercial loans to Canadian corporations operating in the international energy sector.”
She also pointed to the Canada Pension Plan, a public pension program whose asset managers she said invests in hundreds of Canadian corporations that have operations in extraction. According to Lang, “Most mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, which has listing and disclosure requirements that are pretty lax.”
Canada is a playground of deregulation for mining companies headquartered here. As both Lang and Asuncion asserted, corporate social responsibility guidelines within the industry itself have failed at preventing harm.
Asuncion defines corporate social responsibility (CSR) as “a company’s voluntary and self-regulated commitment to stay accountable to the socio-environmental impact of their operations in respect to the public’s expectations.”
But according to Lang, CSR language and initiatives “wash over” the violent practices within the industry. CSR becomes a tool to garner support for the industry, not prevent harm. She also sees companies use buzz words such as “community engagement” and “environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).”
“There’s a disconnect between what companies are telling their shareholders and investors, others in industry, and what’s actually happening on the ground,” said Lang.
Despite companies’ loud declarations in support of corporate social responsibility, self-regulation in the industry, as it exists now in Canada, has proven to be ineffective at preventing harm against impacted communities in the Philippines.
The Canadian government’s response to global mining injustice
Asuncion said that the Canadian government has used CSR to shift focus away from calls for legal reform. “Instead, Canadian mining policies have managed conflict by providing financial aid for CSR initiatives within developing nations.” She said that this is part of a trend to shift blame onto the weak governance systems in developing nations without recognizing Canada’s role in establishing these systems.
“The Philippines’ characterization as a weak governance state are the remnants of over four centuries of plunder and looting with mixed legacies of colonial influence,” she said.
But it is Canada’s absence of regulatory mechanisms for the industry that, in part, allows mining companies to cause harm on a systemic level.
“Canada’s leadership in the mining industry means government policies on dealing with environmental and human rights abuses abroad are critical for regulating the sector internationally,” said Asuncion. “To this date, no Canadian legislation exists which holds corporations accountable to their operations overseas.”
For decades, advocates have been calling for legally-binding regulation of the industry and accountability for human rights abuses and environmental devastation. But they are up against a very powerful lobbying group and a government with very little will to transform the industry.
In 2010, a private members bill was brought before the House of Commons that, if passed, would have established binding corporate social responsibility guidelines on Canadian mining companies operating overseas. Claver emphasized how powerful lobbyists in the sector were able to influence the vote.
“Earlier efforts here in Canada to enforce corporate social responsibility in the extractive industry sector have failed,” he explained. “The closest to a significant reform in Canadian law was Bill C-300, which lost in parliament by just 6 votes.”
“It’s all because of a powerful industry lobby. How else can you explain the positive second reading vote of 285 in favour, against 3 opposed, to a third reading of 134 in favour and 140 opposed?”
He notes that 26 Liberal members of parliament and 4 NDP members did not attend the vote.
The vote was a major political defeat for human rights advocates and a glowing victory for corporate players in the mining industry who profit from extrajudicial killings, environmental destruction and displacement.
Since the infamous vote, human rights defenders have continued the call for legally binding regulations on the sector. Pressure from civil society eventually produced a commitment from the Justin Trudeau government in 2018 to create an independent office that would be tasked with investigating and remedying alleged human rights abuses committed by Canadian garment, oil and gas, and mining companies operating overseas.
The government committed to providing the office with full investigative powers – including the ability to subpoena documents and call witnesses – in order to carry out this mandate. However this promise never materialized.
The office created, called the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), was not independent. It was instead housed under Global Affairs Canada. And it was not given full investigative powers, limiting its ability to make any meaningful interventions or policy recommendations on issues related to human rights abuses abroad. The name “ombudsperson” is largely a smokescreen.
“It does not have teeth at all,” said Lang.
The office’s operations are grounded firmly in the logic of corporate social responsibility, and leans heavily on dispute resolution and mediation processes. The office promotes responsible business conduct and it engages with stakeholders on a consultative level.
According to CORE’s website, “The Office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) believes human rights are best realized through collaborative approaches such as information sharing, mediation, and joint fact-finding.” This language is laughable considering the power imbalances that exist between Canadian mining companies and the communities impacted by their violent practices.
To add insult to injury, the government appointed former Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lobbyist Sheri Meyerhoffer as the office’s ombudsperson.
The Trudeau government has been clear during stakeholder meetings with civil society groups, including Mining Watch Canada, that regulatory binding legislation is off the table. The initiative to establish CORE is a maneuver that pays lip service to human rights principles without forcing change within the industry. As Lang points out, the Canadian government is heavily invested in the mining sector, which explains its lack of meaningful action on this issue.
It bears a striking resemblance to the Stephen Harper government’s Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, which, according to a Government of Canada website, was tasked with advising “extractive companies and other stakeholders on the implementation of CSR performance standards and guidelines.” In addition, the office offered dispute resolution support with an emphasis on “dialogue.”
What can be done?
Asuncion put forward clear policy recommendations that, if enacted, could potentially reduce the harm caused by mining companies. She encouraged people in Canada to call on the Canadian government “to empower the ombudsperson within the mining industry with judicial power that enables victims overseas to seek remedies in home states.”
She said that while there have been movements in European nations (such as France) to pass “human rights and environmental due diligence legislation” that would apply to the sector, she said that “the problem with this legislation is oftentimes it can be another public relations and impression-management type of thing.”
“So, it has to be implemented in binding legislation and enacted in law for it to actually work, and also they need to be working alongside local community members to ensure that the mechanisms that these processes are going through are actually benefiting and specific to the local demands, priorities and needs of the community where the mining is operating.”
She also pointed to the need for legislation that would apply to public institutions that provide financial support to mining companies, such as Canada’s export crediting agency Export Development Canada (EDC), the Canadian Pension Plan investment board, and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).
According to Corporate Accountability NGO Above Ground, 40 percent of EDC support in 2018 was given to companies in oil and gas, mining, construction, and infrastructure. And approximately 47 percent of mining companies in the world are listed on the TSX and the TSX Venture Exchange.
These policy changes are needed and could help reduce harm in the industry. Yet, the reality is the industry is firmly rooted in colonial practices that violate the right to free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, a principle recognized by the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Impacted communities across the world have called for resource extraction projects to be halted, not just “greened.” This includes the call of the Lubicon Cree to end the oil and gas industry’s occupation of their traditional territory in Northern Alberta, and the call from Secwepemc and Tsleil-Waututh land defenders, among others, to halt the Transmountain pipeline expansion project in BC.
The Trudeau government’s pandering to Canadian mining companies overseas runs parallel to its enthusiastic support for resource extraction projects in Canada.
According to Lang, “We have to focus on deep solidarity with impacted communities and detangling those tentacles and systems that give the industry its strength.”
This means acting in solidarity with impacted communities globally and with First Nations in Canada, who have been met with indifference, coercion, or criminalization by federal and provincial governments when voicing opposition to resource extraction projects on their territories.
This solidarity should be grounded in meaningful relationship building, and can take on many tangible forms— such as collective divestment from the oil and gas and mining industries (for example, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s 2020 investment portfolio included $4 billion in assets in the mining and oil and gas sectors); fundraising for impacted communities; and organizing public actions that educate about injustice and build pressure for change.
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