A group of African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is calling on the Canadian government to regulate the overseas activities of exploration and mining companies based in Canada. They are calling for the federal government to “develop mechanisms that will influence and regulate companies – which are reportedly perpetuating gross human rights violations.”
The joint communiqu was released on Oct. 9, 2006, over the signatures of the African Initiative on Mining, Environment and Society (AIMES) (www.TWNAfrica.org/aimes.asp) and representatives from Cameroon, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The communiqu followed a meeting hosted by Environmental Rights Action (www.ERAction.org) in September in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
AIMES acknowledges that most Canadian mining companies adhere to voluntary codes of conduct when working on foreign soil. But the group wants our federal government to make laws and regulations that will require compulsory compliance.
Let’s put aside the slippery legal question of whether or not the Canadian government can or should regulate mining in foreign countries. It doesn’t do so at home. In this country regulation of the mineral industry is primarily a provincial responsibility.
We know that foreign mining companies operating in Africa and elsewhere rely on voluntary compliance with the notion of “best practices”. For example, Mining Association of Canada members must adhere to the organization’s guiding principles of sustainable development wherever they operate, if they want to remain MAC members. Operators of foreign projects that receive funding from the World Bank are bound by the bank’s code of human rights conduct.
For the most part, I believe that voluntary compliance has the desired outcomerespect and fair treatment of indigenous populations. The largest mining companies devote millions of dollars to creating economic and social opportunities for people living near their projects.
I suspect the companies with the worst human rights records are small and lack the monetary resources to create far-reaching social and economic programs. Instead, these companies rely on local laws and regulations to define their conduct.
And here is the problem: Local laws and regulations in developing countries are not necessarily adequate to ensure that social and economic benefits flow to their own citizens.
I believe that AIMES should make the same request for government regulation to the leaders of their respective countries. Respecting human rights begins at home.