You don’t have to dig too deep

Prologue:  As the freezing rain beat against the windows of her 15th floor walk-up, Your Working Girl was thinking on the brouhaha surrounding World Vision, Plan Canada, World University Services of Canada and their $7.7 million deal with Barrick Gold, IAM GOLD, Rio Tinto and CIDA (heaven rest its soul). For a sector that has expressed apprehension about the optics of an affiliation with the Canadian military, some of them have no such qualms about slow-dancing with the Canadian mining industry.  And, as Your Working Girl sees it, their activities overseas take place with a good deal less eyeballing and a great deal more strife.

Let’s put the facts on the table.  Canada is the biggest player in mining operations and financing in the world — by a country mile and then some.  Ninety per cent of all the financing of the world’s mineral equity happens on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange, making up nearly 40 per cent of the word’s mining capital, says iPolitics.

But the ewww factor is big.  Canadian mining companies are among the worst corporate human rights and environmental offenders in the world.  iPolitics reports that “hundreds of the projects financed in Canada experience local backlash that sometimes leads to violent clashes, costing money — sometimes lives.”

Just last week, CP reported that a Chilean court ordered Barrick Gold to “suspend their work at the Pascua-Lima gold mine after indigenous communities complained that the project is threatening their water supply and polluting glaciers.”

In a special to the CBC, Santiago Ortega Arango, a Colombian engineer and freelance journalist, reported “thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bucaramanga on March 18, 2013 to defend their water supply from Canadian-owned Eco Oro Minerals Corp.’

On March 9, 10,000 Greeks “protested in Thessaloniki against several gold mining projects owned by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold.  On March 21, Catholic priests marched with 5,000 locals in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, against a project owned by Vancouver-based B2Gold Corp.” 

According to Arango, Canadian companies have also been targeted in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Israel.

Why are Canadian international NGOs hanging out in the messy, deadly juke joints of the mining sector?  And how deep did it go?  Was it only the big three who were cut in on the CIDA deal?   Clearly, more investigation was required.

Let’s pick up the trail with a letter sent from the mining industry’s chief lobby group to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in March of this year.

“On behalf of the members of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC),” CEO Pierre Gratton writes, “I am writing to reiterate our support for the [government’s CSR] Strategy and to encourage support for its key components.  In particular, I would like to commend the government for the reappointment of Dr. Marketa Evans as the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor, and to share with you our thoughts on the important role this office is playing.”

Your Working Girl sat back in her chair. She thought some more.  The rain continued to pelt on the window and questions raced through her mind as quickly as the wind whipped around her weather vane.  Who is the intriguingly named Dr. Marketa Evans? Why does the mining industry love her so much?  What in the holy hot tamale is the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor?  What ‘important role’ is it playing?

Here’s what a quick surf around the world wide web turned up.  The Extractive Sector is named that way because it refers to a sector that extracts material from under the earth’s surface, materials like minerals, oil and gas.  The Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor was set up in 2009 to probe complaints about Canadian mining company abuses in developing countries.  And, on an optimistic note, to introduce the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility — CSR for short — to mining companies.  Supposedly. But what did mining companies like about it?  It just didn’t add up.

Your Working Girl pulled her keyboard close and did a quick 411 on MAC CEO, Pierre Gratton.   A balding man of average height, Gratton seems to favour business suits and ties.  He has a practiced smile… you know, the kind of grin people use when they want you to think they like you.  He looks like he’s spent his life above ground, more of suit than a prospector.  He cut his chops at doing ‘mining association’ work on the west coast.

He says he thinks the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor “contributed to a broader and deeper understanding of the expectations of the standards to which the Government of Canada expects the mining industry to conform” and “to an appreciation of the value of grievance and dispute resolution mechanisms.”

Whatever that means thought Your Working Girl.

Murray Klippenstein is a city lawyer with a neat trimmed beard and a bit of a haunted look. When he gets worked up, he’s like a dog with a bone.  The words Ipperwash and G20 are like please and thank-you to him.  He has a reputation around town.  Torontoist voted him a city hero in 2007.

Over the winter he was back in the papers, suing HudBay Minerals Inc on behalf of the widow of a dead Guatemalan man and 11 women who say they were gang-raped by mine security personnel in Guatemala.

Klippstein didn’t mince his words when he told the CBC, “the office is basically a whitewash .… It’s a bogus PR job, as a cover for business as usual.”

The United Steelworkers went on record as not being impressed.  They are calling for penalties on Canadian companies who commit human and labour rights abuses abroad.

Here’s a few facts:  The Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor has never processed a full complaint. In the three cases they started, the mining companies named refused to participate.  And get this.  They don’t have to if they don’t want to.

The CBC reported that “the first complaint landed on the desk of … Marketa Evans, in April, 2011when a Mexican mining union and mine workers accused a Canadian company of human rights violations.  Within six months … the office’s investigation into allegations against Vancouver-based Excellon Resources Inc.’s La Platosa mine project was closed when the company refused to participate any further in the process.”

That can’t be good.  But it still didn’t explain what kind of attraction the mining companies had on NGOs.

Maybe the woman in the picture could provide a clue?  This Dr. Marketa Evans?  Who was she?  What was her story?

With a little more digging, Your Working Girl discovered she has a PhD in political science from University of Toronto which explains the doctor part of Marketa Evans.  She went to a Harvard Negotiation program.  Queen’s University taught her the Basics of Geology, Mining and Metallurgy.   She has blonde shoulder-length hair and a smiling face. She looks like she’d be at home at a peewee hockey practice.

But here was a woman who could definitely skate in any rink.  For a decade, she ran the Munk Centre for International Studies at University of Toronto for Peter Munk, Chairman and Founder of Barrick Gold.

More recently, she was Director, Strategic Partnerships, at Plan International Canada, one of the big three in the CIDA deal.

According to her official wrap sheet, Evans also founded an outfit called The Devonshire Initiative.  Click, click.   A glance at the member section of their website showed a couple of dozen logos that fell into one of two groups — one group was mining companies, the other looked familiar to Your Working Girl.  It was a veritable treasure trove of the most well-known international development organizations in Canada – from AMREF to World Vision.  Your Working Girl had never seen them all together like that before, unless it was at fundraising conference.

But what were they all doing there?

“Enhancing in-country capacity to allow communities, regions and countries to more visibly realize the benefits of Canadian mining investments,” according to the website.

And there were benefits to being part of the “DI” (as it likes to call itself).

Number one benefit for NGOs — “evidence that working with the private sector positively impacts our constituent communities on the ground.”

The “DI” is ‘industry funded’, according to sources, although you wouldn’t know it from the website.  The mining companies are paying the piper and a part-time executive director.  And you know what they say about he who pays the piper …

At a “DI” CEO Summit held in September, 2011, the now disgraced, but then Honourable Beverley J. Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, announced four new projects to “help developing countries in Africa and South America manage their natural resources.”

No kidding.

So, Your Working Girl thought, is this where Marketa Evans made the introductions?  Maybe between the times she was working for Peter Munk and Plan Canada and The Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor?

Your Working Girl has been around the block enough times to know some non-profits are kind of naive.  They take money from heaven-knows-who because they are happy somebody cares.  They feel special when they get to hang out  with people who have power or money, or both.  They don’t understand what kind of a message it sends or the get the optics of the situation.

But Dave Toycen of World Vision, Rosemary McCarney of Plan Canada and Chris Eaton of World University Services of Canada know exactly what they’re doing.  They have a combined 50+ years in the sector, have travelled to scores of the poorest countries in the world many times, and run organizations that generated a combined revenue of $579.7 million in 2012.  Dave Toycen has his own Prayer Team for heaven’s sake.

They know that the people of South America and Africa, people who live outside Canada, are in the streets trying to save their countries from environmental devastation and their people from human rights abuses.

So how do they reconcile that while playing PR footsie with the mining industry?  Do they think they are going to change the practices of an industry whose sole raison d’être is to return money to their shareholders?  Are they choosing to put reality aside in an effort to form an amiable “partnership” with a wooly purpose?

But perhaps mining companies and the international NGOs who have climbed into the sack with them have more in common than meets the eye.

They both workshop at the altar of charity, but they fear social justice.

Both are in the hunt for investors — call them donors, if you like — right here, at home, in Canada.  That is, as marketing people say, their primary audience. They both have machines to feed.  And they’re both looking for people with money to feed it, especially now since the fundraising industry has a tracker beam on so-called ‘major gifts’.  It’s just business.

And it is the most disenfranchised citizens of other countries, the targets of their plans that are paying the price.

Your Working Girl heard the clock softly chime and looked out the window.  The bewitching hour had passed but the rain had now turned to snow.  It’s been a long winter … and she’s afraid it’s not over yet.

For a list of international NGOs who have ties to the mining industry, click here to get to Hi-ho, hi-ho (You don’t have to dig too deep part two).

 

 

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