Mining companies besieged by environmentalists say doing business abroad in countries where poverty and armed conflicts persist is more complicated than activists can understand."As far as we're concerned," says Cliff James, CEO of Calgary-based miner TVI Pacific, "these groups (who would criticize us) have no credibility at all."
TVI is among a number of companies that have come under the gun from MiningWatch Canada and others recently. It's been targeted for its involvement in a Philippines gold-mining operation where company security forces are charged with assaulting indigenous people.
"This is a volatile area politically," James says of the Mindanao territory where the mine is located. "There's banditry going on."
Montreal-based human rights group Entraide Missionaire recently came back from Tarkwa, Ghana, criticizing the work of the Planning Alliance, a Canuck outfit hired to "resettle" 20,000 people to make way for a mine.
Alliance president Jon van Nostrand brands charges that native Atuabo villagers were being bulldozed from their homes "outrageous." He says the company negotiated with locals for 18 months and that those moved were compensated, on average, to the tune of $3,000 to $7,000 each.
"I'm not claiming it was perfect," says van Nostrand. "But it was done scrupulously."
No one mentions that the $25 million the company spent resettling people bought villagers new homes with running water and electricity, complains Joseph Conway, CEO of Repadre Capital, a T.O.-based outfit with a 19-per-cent stake in the Tarkwa project.
Enter Placer Dome, the Vancouver-based giant that has been mining on Marinduque Island in the Philippines since 1971.
Farmers are still trying to get compensation for the devastation caused in 1996 by a massive spill at its Marcropper site that contaminated a 26-kilometre stretch of the Boac River. The company has effectively washed its hands of the matter after contributing $1 million to a fund.
Three spills Says corporate affairs manager Brenda Radies, "We left it to locals to decide who should get the money."
Cameco Gold has experienced three spills at its mountaintop site in Kyrgyzstan. Company honcho Len Homeniuk calls the incidents "unfortunate" and says if people were hospitalized "it was as a precautionary measure. We take full responsibility."
Cameco's critics, he says, have neglected to mention that the government cleared the company of any wrongdoing. So, says Homeniuk, "we end up with a PR nightmare."
TVX Gold's Carl Hanson snickers at the mention of those who wanted to put an end to his company's mine because it's reputed to be near the birthplace of Aristotle in Greece. The town is said to have been destroyed and then rebuilt in honour of Aristotle by Phillip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. "If you drive out there, there are probably three other towns claiming the same thing," he says.
More difficult "This is Greece. It's 3,000 years old. You can't have an area that hasn't been mined."
Norm Bedard, a spokesperson for Montreal-based Cambior, says it's becoming more difficult for resource companies to stay in business. Everywhere mining companies turn, he says, there are protestors and regulations.
"They want the minerals, but they don't want the mine," says Bedard, before mentioning that Cambior won an environmental award for its work in Alaska.
In 95, however, the company was in the middle of South America's worst mining disaster, at Omai in Guyana.
"Everybody thought it was the end of the world."
But it's not only mining companies feeling the heat for their controversial involvements abroad.
The taxpayer funded Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Export Development Corporation (EDC) are financing projects that give human rights advocates and ecologists fits.
These include dams in Senegal and Colombia. The auditor-general's office has been dispatched to review the EDC's environmental review framework.
EDC spokesperson Rod Giles says its critics have gone overboard. "In a lot of the projects that tend to get mentioned, the EDC's involvement is minuscule."