Miner issues, major problem
March 9 marked the end of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC)’s 84th annual Convention, the largest mining event in the world. This convention creates a space (in our city) for mining companies, investors, and government officials to meet, plan, make deals, and praise the extractive industry and its impact on the Canadian economy.
Over the course of four days, PDAC’s array of trade shows, workshops, and programs attracted key industry players (along with 22,000 other attendees) to discuss pressing issues surrounding development, finance, law, and the future of the international mining industry. They even discussed what the next 10 years of extraction and development might look like at the Technical Program’s keynote session. There, Chris Lewicki, President and CEO of Planetary Resources, discussed the feasibility of asteroid mining and intergalactic capitalist expansion in a session titled, “Asteroid mining: Expanding the economy into the solar system.” This should be a comforting message to developers and investors: “We’ve almost destroyed the Earth in its entirety, but don’t worry, there’s always outer space!”
And if that doesn’t make you feel better, PDAC does create a space to talk about the social impact of the company's mines abroad (on Earth), through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (a form of corporate self-regulation or, essentially, self-decided ethics). A session last Monday was titled, “Corruption and bribery: using an effective compliance program to manage risk.” The workshop informed companies about the risks of corruption and bribery, as well as “what acts constitute bribery and corruption (not as obvious as one might think).” The fact that this industry needs to host a workshop on corruption and bribery in the first place should be alarming, let alone their need to actually explain what counts as misconduct.
Locally, PDAC hosts an Aboriginal Program to promote “greater understanding and cooperation between Aboriginal communities and the mineral industry in Canada.” Note that half of the sessions are framed around development projects and joint business ventures, focusing on how the industry can further capitalize on Indigenous land and people through “collaboration.”
Yet at the end of the Convention, PDAC circulated a press release stating, “Optimism and opportunity abounded at the PDAC 2016.” This attitude, in fact, was exuded throughout the entire Convention. White men in suits stood laughing and sharing a beer, having discussions in the media room about "What … the better investment [is], gold or real estate?" Women in "cultural" outfits, meaning Caribana attire, worked the trade show, dancing in front of the booth of a company opening a mine in Mexico and taking photos with those same white men in suits.
Not only has the sector continued to “demonstrate its resiliency” throughout economic challenges, but it has also continued to ignore and actively deny its human rights and environmental violations around the world.
A protest was held on Sunday, March 4 inside the trade show, where activists from the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network held a vigil for those who have been killed while resisting Canadian mining operations abroad. This is particularly timely after the assassination of Honduran environmentalist and Indigenous movement leader Berta Cáceres, who had been resisting the Agua Zarca Dam development project in the community. Although only 35 names were read at the vigil, murder, assault, and violence against women, including gang rape, are the realities of most Canadian mining sites around the world.
And if you think that most mining injustices and abuses are far from home, think again.
About 75 per cent of all mining businesses worldwide are Canadian; our economy profits from these industries. And as U of T students, we should be especially concerned. Our beloved Munk School of Global Affairs has been funded entirely by Peter Munk, founder and chairman of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company, infamously known for robbing and destroying Indigenous land, abusing human rights, undermining attempts for corporate accountability, and having close ties with governments and dictators around the world. Barrick has also been recognized as one of the least ethical companies in the world (ranked 12th by HuffPost Business in 2010). As U of T students, we profit from this industry that still seems to see itself as resilient and thriving.
Around 22,000 people entered PDAC this year, which means 22,000 people actively chose to support the practices of the mining and extractive industry, and endless others remained complicit through their silence. Canadian mining kills and PDAC promotes a world where corruption, murder, environmental destruction, and exploitation are hidden under the guise of collaboration, a strong economy, and development.
Why aren’t we talking about this?