Canadian companies are major drivers of economic growth in the global South. With 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies headquartered here, Canadians have a heightened responsibility to ensure these companies are helping and not hindering community development when they operate in poorer countries.
The reality is that mining companies are expanding their operations into complex environments where development agencies like ours – Plan Canada, World University Service of Canada and World Vision – have worked for decades. These companies are already significant development actors in their own right, but complex development problems cannot be solved through routine approaches. Innovations and new partnerships between non-governmental organizations and the private sector offer unique avenues to help ensure that major Canadian economic investments translate into a development pattern that benefits all.
As development aid organizations, we have chosen to partner with mining companies because our missions call for us to engage in the complex realities of the communities where we work. Even so, this choice has garnered its fair share of criticism. However, sitting on the sideline is not an option when foreign investments, and mining in particular, are at the heart of a developing country’s own economic development plans. Our goal is to see that maximum benefits accrue to the communities where we work, while also working diligently to mitigate and prevent harm. This can only happen if we are part of the conversation, passing on the lessons learned from more than 75 years of development experience with a human-rights framework as our guiding principle.
To be clear, agreements between mining companies and non-governmental organizations are not about money. We would continue our work with or without corporate dollars. However, these partnerships present a serious and added opportunity to leverage resources and realize significant improvements in the lives of people affected by mining operations. They go above and beyond the mining footprint, using money from mining to invest in priority areas identified by local governments themselves. Some examples from the projects that have recently been criticized:
• Barrick Gold Corp. has supported World Vision Canada’s work in Peru for nearly a decade, affecting thousands of families by increasing children’s access to education and proper nutrition. This latest project is the first time World Vision Canada has partnered with both Barrick Gold and the Canadian International Development Agency; it will provide loans for small businesses and training for community leaders. It will also empower people, especially women and youth, to be more informed and involved in their community development planning.
• Through its project with IAMGOLD Corp., Plan Canada is working with Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education to improve vocational and technical training, and to enable new employment opportunities for the country’s poorest youth and families.
• WUSC is working in Ghana, in partnership with Rio Tinto Alcan, to ensure that communities secure sustainable benefits from mining operations in their district. This means strengthening their voices in articulating their needs and priorities to government and mining firms, and strengthening the delivery of education, water, sanitation and youth services.
These three projects, funded by CIDA, are consistent with the mission and goals of our organizations. They draw on decades of experience and work with local communities.
Mining is a constant reality in developing countries. There are between 400 and 600 active exploration licences in Burkina Faso, for instance – gold will be a major source of revenue for the next generation there.
As long-term partners of local communities and governments in such countries, WUSC, World Vision, and Plan are sharing well-developed best practices with mining companies and local developing country governments. Moreover, by engaging mining companies at the highest levels, we are working to help raise the bar on corporate social responsibility standards for future mining operations.
Chris Eaton is executive director of World University Service of Canada. Rosemary McCarney is president and CEO of Plan Canada. Dave Toycen is president and CEO of World Vision Canada.