June/July 2007

Explorers on the front lines

The truth behind human rights complaints and corporate social responsibility

By C. Odell and A. C. Silva

Women and children are often among artisanal miners working close to exploration and mining sites | Photo credit: Global Mercury Project, UNIDO*

In response to a parliamentary report on corporate social responsibility, the Government of Canada, led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), has recently hosted four roundtables on the practice of the Canadian extractive sector in developing countries. The roundtables were held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, from June to November 2006, and involved non-government organizations, industry associations, experts, and members of civil society. If you own or work for a Canadian mining or exploration company, this was definitely not the most comfortable place to be sitting. A majority of the presentations described miners as greedy, focused on the pay dirt, and at best uncaring (at worst criminally culpable) about the heinous impacts of their activities on impoverished local populations abroad. So what is the truth behind the headlines? What are the drivers of conflict situations involving Canadian companies overseas? The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) commissioned us to find out (Odell & Silva, 2006) and we present a summary of our analysis and results here.1

Our mission

Our mission consisted of scanning the Internet for the highest profile controversies and conflicts involving Canadian mining and exploration abroad, to devise a sample of 15 case studies that represented a variety of conflict drivers and a range of geographic locations.

We also ensured that case studies approximately paralleled the focus of the Canadian mineral portfolio abroad (Natural Resources Canada, 2005) and involved all development phases of the mine life cycle: exploration, permitting, construction, and operations.Time constraints led to our final sample including only 11 case studies, which are represented on the map.


For each case study, we weighted publicly available information from company websites with the reports of field visits and urgent actions of environmental NGOs such as MiningWatch, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and their local counterparts.We also found more independent voices in the form of reports from United Nations commissioners, European parliamentary observers, the World Bank’s compliance advisory ombudsman, and some less radical non-governmental organizations like Transparency International.

We summarized our findings and sent them to the companies for comment. The aim was to build a balanced view of each case study, contextualized in an understanding of the political, economic, and social situation including any relevant recent trends. Particular weight was given to independent sources that had gathered empirical evidence through talking to companies and communities in the field.

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