Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Monitor’


Country Risk Alert

In October 2015, more than 700 Lumads—the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines—gathered in the capital city for a week-long protest against human rights violations in their territories. According to the UN, 14 Lumad leaders and activists were murdered in 2015 alone, with scores more killed in previous years.

Mindanao’s natural resource richness is cited as a key driver of conflicts, and some companies have been implicated, most notably Xstrata. Xstrata merged with Glencore in 2013, and subsequently withdrew from the country. Since then, the violence has continued, and Mindanao remains an extremely high risk place to do business.

Sources: Channel News Asia


New Political Landscape in Canada

Aboriginal voters turned out in record numbers to vote in Canada’s 2015 elections, and played a key role in the Liberal Party’s rise to power. New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised a “nation to nation” relationship with First Nations, and to review all existing federal legislation to ensure compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Trudeau also supports Canada’s resource economy, but has promised to cut carbon emissions and balance development with environmental concerns—a notably different perspective from his predecessor. If and how Canada’s new leadership acts on these commitments is yet to be seen, but it is clear that the country’s political landscape has drastically changed. Companies that pursue strong relationships with Indigenous Peoples one-on-one, rather than relying on governments to be the broker, are less vulnerable to the risk of shifting political and regulatory environments.

Sources: APTN


Transparency in the Supply Chain

Biosev, Bunge, and Cargill responded to allegations that they source sugarcane from landowners tied to violence against Guarani Indians in Brazil, covered in the last month’s Corporate Monitor. Biosev and Cargill deny the allegations, while Bunge asserts that they are based on outdated information; the company admits to sourcing sugarcane from the region in the past, but did not renew the contracts after they expired last year.

Another company, Alcoolvale/Unialco, did not respond. Regardless of whether these companies are to blame, industry-driven conflicts persist in Mato Grosso do Sul. Better supply chain transparency is needed to ensure perpetrators are held accountable and responsible companies are not falsely accused.

Sources: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre


Another Leader Killed in Guatemala

In September 2015, Rigoberto Lima Choc, an Indigenous activist who played a pivotal role in shutting down a polluting palm oil plantation in Guatemala, was assassinated outside a municipal courthouse in Sayaxché. The gunmen are believed to be linked to REPSA, the company that owns the plantation.

ActionAid alleges that on the day of the murder, three other leaders were kidnapped by REPSA’s employees, and released only after the judge agreed to reconsider the suspension. The use of violence and intimidation to upend a court order reveals major flaws in Guatemala’s justice system. A recent Global Witness report revealed the country to be one of the most dangerous for environmental activists, with Indigenous Peoples especially at risk.

Source: ActionAid


Grassy Narrows Lawsuit

In September 2015, the Grassy Narrows First Nation filed a lawsuit against Ontario to overturn provincial approval of clearcut logging on their homeland, citing violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Crown Forest Sustainability Act. The community has suffered from the long term effects of mercury poisoning since the 1960s when a paper mill dumped 9 tons of mercury into the Wabigoon River, and scientific research indicates that clearcut logging will release further amounts of mercury into their water supply.

The province denied the community’s request for an environmental impact assessment. The Grassy Narrows First Nation has fought clearcut logging for more than a decade, causing several companies to withdraw from their territory. Weyerhauser is currently the largest concession holder in the area and should expect continued resistance until the community’s grievances are properly addressed.

Sources: Grassy Narrows First Nation


Escalating Violence in Brazil

Violence against Brazil’s Guarani Indians is escalating. According to Survival International, “on 29 August Guarani leader Semião Vilhalva was shot dead one week after his community reoccupied part of their ancestral land. A one-year-old baby was struck in the head by a rubber bullet, and many others were injured. Less than a week later, on 3 September, 30 vehicles full of ranchers and gunmen arrived at the community of Guyra Kambi’y.

They fired repeatedly at the community, forcing the Indians, including about 50 children, to flee and hide in small pockets of forest nearby. They then set fire to the Indians’ homes, destroying everything.” The attacks are believed to be carried out by private militia hired by landowners who claim the Guarani are illegally trespassing on their property. A series of conflicting court rulings and reneged government promises have pitted bitter conflicts between Indigenous Peoples and landowners in Mato Grosso do Sul for years.

More than 290 Guarani and Kiowa individuals have been killed since 2003. The government’s latest plans to build an interoceanic railroad through the region is likely to worsen the situation.

Sources: BNAmericas, Indian Country Today, Survival International


Ensuring Sustainable Development

In September 2015, Shell pulled the plug on its offshore exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea, citing disappointing well results as well as “high costs associated with the project” and “the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.” Meanwhile, North Dakota’s Bakken boomtowns are experiencing layoffs and population drops for the first time in years as the number of active rigs falls by nearly half. These two examples fall within a broader trend of closures and cutbacks across the oil industry in response to the continued decline of oil prices.

They raise important questions about the sustainability of economic benefits brought by the oil industry, and whether affected communities will be left better, the same, or worse than before. The ability of a project to deliver tangible benefits throughout and beyond its life cycle should be a cornerstone of any CSR strategy. Some extractive companies—such as Newmont in Ghana and Freeport-McMoRan in Indonesia—have established or supported community foundations at certain sites to ensure this is the case.

Sources: New York Times, The Atlantic


Mount Polley Mine: ‘Indigenous Law’ Will Now Be Enforced

This article has been reposted from Triple Pundit, originally published February 23, 2015

By Jan Lee

The negative effects of extractive industry operations on indigenous communities have been obvious for quite some time.

Studies show that the rights of Native communities are often at risk in such settings, especially when hydraulic fracturing and other crude oil-related developments are being operated on or near their lands.

What is often less reported however, are the dangers that Native peoples face from overlooked mechanical or structural failures where materials or waste compounds are stored in remote areas.

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Mount Polley: Canada’s Worst Mining Spill

That danger was illumined in brutal clarity last August when a tailings pond in British Columbia, Canada failed, spewing 2.5 billion gallons of waste into nearby waterways. The Mount Polley Mine, located in B.C.’s vibrant Cariboo region sits amidst the province’s Fraser River watershed, an essential resource not only to the Vancouver Mainland, but to the Neskonlith Indian Band and nearby towns of the Cariboo. First Nations communities along the Fraser River and its tributaries depend on the rivers and lakes for food, water and livelihood. In many cases, access and the right to manage those resources are protected by treaty or another type of agreement with the government. In this case, sovereign rights of the Secwepemc First Nation (Shuswap First Nation in English), which includes the Neskonlith band, are protected through a reconciliation agreement with the Province of British Columbia.

The spill, reported to be the largest industrial accident of its kind in Canadian history, flowed into nearby waterways, polluting Polley Lake and creating a four-month-long drinking ban for local communities. Cleanup was estimated to cost $200 million.

This January, the results of the first of three investigations into the spill was released. The fact that the spill was caused by a failure of the pond’s earthen containment wall was visually evident from aerial photos. But the assessment of what caused the breach sent a chilling wake-up call to Native communities situated around North American ore mining sites.

“[The] dominant contribution to the failure resides in the design,” said the three-expert panel charged with determining the reason for the breach. “The design did not take into
account the complexity of the sub-glacial and pre-glacial geological environment” below the dam, which breached when stresses underneath it changed. For unknown reasons, the structural design for the containment pond had been changed at the last minute to an option that appears to have been “flawed.” The loading conditions of the pond didn’t take into consideration geological factors that would be essential to the long-term integrity of the containment walls. When the wall collapsed, the breach was sudden and unstoppable, creating a swath of heavy metals, mud and debris that penetrated nearby water systems.

Even before the cause of the breach was known, Native communities in other parts of the province began to speak out against mining operations on their lands.

“The spill’s ramifications rippled to Imperial’s Red Chris mine in northern BC, where elders from the Tahltan Central Council (with whom the company previously had a positive working relationship) established a blockade to voice their concerns about the potential of a similar incident in their territories,” stated First Peoples Worldwide in their Corporate Monitor post last September. In order to continue operations, the company was forced to sign an agreement that would allow third-party inspection of the operation under the band’s auspices.

Similar concerns were voiced in other parts of western Canada as well. In July, just days before the dam broke, Toronto-based Seabridge Gold obtained environmental certificate for its $42 billion KSM mining operation at the northwest corner of B.C. Weeks later, with news of the breach still in international spotlight, KSM bowed to pressure to allow third-party oversight for the life of the operation. Geologic studies suggest that the area possesses the same sub-glacial mining risks as the Mount Polley mine.

New Mining Policies for First Nations’ Lands

The provincial government has since delayed the release of the final report until 2017. The announcement, along with revelations of the avoidable cause of the breach, only heightened the frustration of Native communities in B.C.

Realizing that it would be essentially powerless to prevent any similar disasters without a conclusive report that could spur the industry and province into remedial action, the Secwepemc took what some might feel was a bold step: It invoked its rights as a sovereign First Nation of Canada and evicted Imperial Metals from its land. It also announced that it now had mining policies of its own, and would enforce from hereafter.

”One thing I want to make perfectly clear is this policy isn’t a wish-list,” said Jacinda Mack when the policies were announced. Mack serves as the the council coordinator for the Secwepemc Nation. “This is Indigenous law.”

The 55-page document spells out in specific terms the responsibilities of the mining company and the rights of the First Nation to oversee and enforce those guidelines. It invokes the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights to define the Native peoples’ right to “determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.” It also defines its right to close the mine and evict mining companies as it sees fit.

The policies were developed by a third party, the Fair Mining Collaborative, and is now available to all First Nation communities facing the question of mining on their lands.

“Indigenous rights can be defined as “flowing from Indigenous peoples’ historic and sacred relationship with their territories,” says Fair Mining Collaborative.  “These rights are derived from Indigenous laws, cultural practices, customs, and forms of governance.”

Chief Bev Sellars of the Soda Creek Band, which was affected by the tailings pond breach, explained the reason for the policies in more concrete terms. “Since mining arrived in BC First Nations have been ignored and imposed upon,” she stated in an interview with Canadian publication The Tyee. “With this mining policy we can no longer be ignored or imposed upon, and the province and industry can no longer claim they do not know how to work with us …”

Tailing Ponds Risks: A Worldwide Issue

According to studies released by the Center for Science in Public Participation and Earthworks, the conditions that affect the Mount Polley and KSM mining sites aren’t limited to British Columbia.

“There are 839 tailings dams in the United States and approximately 3,500 around the world, according the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations, respectively,” the organizations announced in a press release in February. There is currently no international oversight of such mines.

There also aren’t uniform laws protecting Aboriginal rights when it comes to mining operations. First Peoples Worldwide’s 2014 study of extractive industry operations around the world last fall illumined numerous gaps in international policies when it came to indigenous communities and their rights to water, food and other resources when it comes to mining operations.

“Our Indigenous Rights Risk Report identified 73 mining projects on or near Indigenous Peoples lands globally, of which 17 are on or near Native American lands in the U.S.,” said a spokeperson for First Peoples.

It is worth noting that while last fall’s assessment of U.S. mining operations near or on Native American lands suggested that their residents experience less risk from mining operations than in Canada, Native American rights are not necessarily as far-reaching as in Canada. The path to nation sovereignty and community oversight of mining operations is often slower in the U.S., where some Native American populations are still battling the courts regarding environmental justice and climate justice issues.

Mount Polley: Climate Change?

There are numerous takeaway lessons that can be extracted from the Mount Polley catastrophe. While it is geographically more than a thousand miles from Alberta’s Tar Sands, Mount Polley mirrors the very type of environmental disaster that ecologists feared would occur if the Embridge Pipeline were constructed across the watershed. The provincial government turned down the controversial oil pipeline two years earlier because it said it feared among other things, that the pipeline would put this breadbasket of resources at risk. It cited insufficient protections to ensure a spill of far-reaching potential wouldn’t occur. The initial report on the Mount Polley disaster suggests that far-reaching environmental spills can still occur in industries that have prevailed for years and settings that are actively managed, just as they can miles of pipeline that cross desolate terrain.

One question that the report did not address is why there was a shifting of the sub-glacial formation. It is to be assumed that such change can occur over years as a part of the natural ecology of the area, but was this unexpected shift due to melting of glacial formations, and could it be related to climate change? Is this why it occurred at the peak of the Cariboo’s warm weather, and is it a risk we’ll see again with the Northwest’s increasingly warmer and drier summer landscapes? The next two reports aren’t meant to address geologic factors, but with the lessons of the Mount Polley Mine disaster now at hand, and concerns about climate change that is increasing the prevalence of warmer temps, perhaps these are questions worth asking.

To learn more about Triple Pundit, visit their website.




Canada Delays First Nations Financial Transparency Act

Canada plans to unveil legislation requiring Canadian companies to disclose natural resource payments to foreign and domestic governments, but is delaying the onset of similar requirements for payments to First Nations, so that consultations with Aboriginal leaders can take place. This decision was welcomed by Aboriginal leaders, some of whom are concerned about the potential consequences of such requirements. Hayden King, Director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, predicts that “because of the likely superficial media reporting we can expect many to run with the popular ‘corrupt chief’ narrative…[and to] call for the erosion of treaties, end of ‘special’ Indian status, privatization of reserves, etc.” There are also concerns that the government will reduce funding for Aboriginal programs and services based on revenues coming from the private sector.Transparency of natural resource payments on Indigenous territories should be supported in principle, but must be approached in ways that strengthen, rather than erode, communities’ sovereignty over their lands and natural resources. The consultations will hopefully elicit a disclosure process that addresses the legitimate concerns of Canada’s Aboriginal leaders.

Sources: Globe and Mail, CBC

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


The Cost of Ignoring Cleanup

Nigerian communities are reportedly angered by speculations that Royal Dutch Shell is canceling construction of the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP), which would carry 180,000 barrels of oil per day to the Nigerian coast. The TNP would replace an older, ruptured pipeline that has caused repeated environmental damage. It would be routed to avoid areas where sabotage and theft have been common, equipped with monitoring systems to detect intrusions and leaks, and designed to enable quick access to all its sections. The communities believe the TNP would have environmental benefits and create jobs for local contractors and youths, and do not want the project cancelled.

Constructing the TNP with support from communities could be an opportunity for Shell to improve its legacy in the Niger Delta. On the other hand, cancelling the project could reignite local hostilities against the company. Shell should consider these factors before making a final decision about the project.

Sources: This Day Live

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.