Tag Archives: Human rights

Safety first: Investors take action on mine tailings disasters

A rescue worker walks between destroyed houses after another dam disaster in Brazil.

Payal Sampat | EarthWorks | June 12, 2019

In late January 2019, the collapse of two tailings dams at Vale’s Brumadinho iron ore mine in Brazil killed hundreds of workers and local residents in the state of Minas Gerais. Even more horrifying, the Brumadinho catastrophe was a tragedy foretold, with unheeded prior warnings from mine inspectors and Vale’s own workers. This disaster came on the heels of other tailings disasters, notably at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine in Canada and the BHP-Vale owned Samarco iron ore mine in Mariana, Brazil.

How did one of the world’s largest mining companies, Vale, ignore the risks identified by workers and mine inspectors, and fail to learn from its previous tailings disaster?  How many more ticking time bombs around the world are endangering communities, workers, and ecosystems at this very moment?

Independent research that analyzes decades of data on mine waste dam failures has shown that these catastrophic tailings dam failures are occurring more frequently and are predicted to continue to increase in frequency. This is attributed to multiple factors, including inadequate tailings facilities design, age of facilities, unanticipated weather conditions due to climate change, and mining companies tapping lower grade ores, resulting in larger volumes of mine waste.

And yet, very little is known about these tailings storage facilities (TSFs) – their location, size, scale, ownership, even how many exist around the world.

This is about to change.

In April 2019, the Church of England pension funds and the Swedish Council of Ethics, representing a group of 96 investors with over $10 trillion in assets, launched the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative.  They sent letters to 683 mining companies, asking detailed questions about ownership, operating status, physical size, construction and independent risk assessment at their TSFs. These companies were given 45 days to respond, and were required to post this information publicly on their websites.

This is the first time that investors have demanded transparency and disclosure of mining companies on this scale – and this may well be the game-changing move that’s needed to understand and mitigate risks at TSFs.

The investor action has lit a fire under some of the world’s largest mining companies, many of whom have swiftly responded, publishing their disclosures to meet the June 7 deadline.  The Swiss mining company Glencore’s disclosure indicated that 14 of its facilities carry “extreme risk” in the event of failure – many in Peru – and another 100 are considered high-risk. Australian miner BHP, the world’s largest mining company, disclosed that five of its tailings dams were at “extreme consequence of failure,” and has set up a tailings task force to improve safety.

In May, the investor group, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), took another important action. PRI, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which published a rapid response assessment on tailings dam safety in 2017,  and the International Council on Mining and Metals, an association of 26 of the world’s largest mining companies, launched a Global Tailings Review process. At UNEP’s invitation, Earthworks agreed to serve on the multi-stakeholder advisory panel to the Global Tailings Review, which is chaired by Professor Bruno Oberle, former Swiss Secretary of State for the Environment. Other advisory panel members include IndustriALL Global Union, Munich Re, the International Finance Corporation, and the Columbia University Water Center.

Earthworks believes that the strongest outcomes will result from a process co-governed by civil society members, particularly mining-affected communities and workers representatives. We support processes that embody this commitment to co-equal governance, such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA). But this is an all hands-on-deck moment – and we will willingly pitch in to advance efforts that will shore up tailings dam safety, increase transparency, and protect people and the environment.

The world can no longer bear the costs of dragging feet, making excuses, or putting shareholder returns before people’s lives. Without exception, safety must be the leading priority at tailings dams and storage facilities around the world. Mining companies must act on the findings of their TSF reviews and ensure that risks to communities, workers and ecosystems are mitigated and managed as soon as possible.

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Bougainville: Australia positions itself as chief new coloniser ahead of referendum

The controversial Panguna mine which land holders are fighting to stop being re-opened for foreign profiteers.

Susan Price | Green Left Weekly | June 14, 2019

A spokesperson for the Bougainville Hardliners Group has called on the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to explain why the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were at the controversial Panguna mine site in central Bougainville on June 5.

AFP officers were seen taking GPS readings at the abandoned copper mine site. James Onartoo, a former leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, said the community has a right to know why they were there and what they were doing.

“I think the public is owed an explanation as to what is happening,” said Onartoo. “To the best of my knowledge the AFP were ousted in 2007 on suspicion of spying on the ABG and the people of Bougainville by the former President, late Joseph Kabui.”

He suggested that their presence could be linked to the mine’s controversial reopening.

“Their presence at Panguna, which is the site of so much controversy and disagreements plus issues of sensitive nature stemming from proposed reopening by ABG, raises serious questions considering the fact that, in the past, Australia has always supported military intervention by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to regain control of the mine.”

Onartoo said if the AFP can raid the ABC, “they are capable of anything”, including gathering intelligence “for the purpose of regaining control of Panguna and restarting the mine with use of force”.

The June 11 ABC Radio Pacific Beat said the AFP confirmed that members from the Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership did visit the site to “undertake an assessment of capability development for support to the Bougainville Police Service”.

Onartoo said Australia’s interest in the mineral deposits at Panguna has never declined. He has criticised Australia’s advice that the ABG prioritise mining over agriculture, tourism, fishing and other sustainable industries.

Several companies, including of Australian origin, are vying to reopen the Panguna mine, which was shut down in 1990 after a brutal battle against mostly indigenous landholders who received none of the huge profits generated by the mine. More than 20,000 people were killed during the 10 year civil war.

The Bougainville Hardliners Group has been actively resisting attempts by the ABG to weaken the Mining Act to give foreign companies exclusive rights to large-scale mining. It opposes further large-scale mining in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region, saying the focus should be on sustainable alluvial mining.

Bougainville is scheduled to hold its independence referendum in October under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement. The referendum outcome then has to be ratified by the PNG parliament.

The ABG has expressed its desire to reopen the Panguna mine.

Legislation to amend the Mining Act is currently being debated in the PNG parliament. According to landowners, the proposed amendments would effectively remove customary ownership of minerals and remove landowners’ veto rights over mining projects.

Onartoo has said that Bougainville’s 350,000 people do not need large-scale mining, and that the changes being proposed are in breach of sections 23 and 24 of Bougainville’s constitution as well as the Mining Act which provides protection from a repeat of “the ownership of minerals on the island by colonisers”.

A report by Papua New Guinea Mine Watch in January said Australian businessperson Jeffrey McGlinn of Caballus Mining is pushing for the act to be amended. A Radio New Zealand report said McGlinn “wanted to shortcut a number of what it calls complicated requirements in the act to fast track vital infrastructure development in Bougainville and boost employment ahead of the referendum”.

However, other reports suggest that he is more focussed on seizing control of major mineral deposits across Bougainville ahead of the referendum.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group has referred the government’s mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

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Filed under Australia, Bougainville, Financial returns, Human rights

B’ville Mining Changes For Benefit Of Caballus Mining

Philip Miriori and the SMLOLA are not happy with proposed changes to Bougainville’s Mining Act (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Post Courier | June 13, 2019

As the Caballus/McGlinn deal comes under intense scrutiny and criticism, the pressure is on Bougainville’s Department of Mineral and Energy Resources.

Philip Miriori, chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association (SMLOLA) said the department head now has to justify the deal, as it has been exposed for what it is.

He said the department head now claims that the proposed mining changes are not designed and targeted to favour anyone.

“This is even though the department head acknowledges in writing that McGlinn’s lawyer was involved in the drafting of the proposed Bills to change the Bougainville Mining Act.

“The Caballus/McGlinn presentation to the ABG specifically demanded all these changes to the BMA as a condition precedent to his purported investment, and which they are now trying so desperately to deliver.

“It is completely absurd to claim the amending legislation is not designed and targeted to favour Caballus… when Caballus even ends up with a 40 per cent free interest, while also admitting Caballus/McGlinn cannot develop Panguna,” he said.

The landowner’s who now enjoy freehold ownership of the minerals and an array of other protection, will lose everything and become subservient to those in question if this new law is passed.” said Mr Miriori.

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Filed under Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Canada falling behind on corporate accountability

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Penelope Simons* | The Guardian | 12 June 2019

Earlier this year, Canadians were given a behind-the-scenes view on attempts by the Liberal government to ensure that SNC-Lavalin would escape potential criminal liability under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. What may be less clear is that the government’s stance in this case is reflective of its broader approach to corporate accountability.

The Liberal government’s tendency to overlook corporate malfeasance threatens to sink an innovative initiative – the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) – with the potential to make real change.

Canadian companies are implicated in credible allegations of wrong-doing worldwide. In addition to charges of corruption, the Canadian private sector is linked to human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

The extractive sector is of particular concern. Canada hosts a majority of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies, and a significant number of medium and large-sized oil and gas companies, many of which operate overseas. These companies raise billions of dollars on Canadian stock exchanges. They have also been implicated in grave human rights abuses perpetrated by their security forces in many countries around the world, including Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Eritrea and Guatemala, among others.

A study by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at Osgoode Hall Law School found that between 2000 and 2015, 28 Canadian extractive companies had been associated with 100 incidences of violence in Spanish-speaking Latin America.

In 2017, the UN body charged with promoting respect for human rights by the private sector visited Canada to assess compliance with a set of guiding principles endorsed by the Canadian government. The UN experts expressed concern that Canada lacked a coherent policy framework to fulfil its legal duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses. They raised concern that the victims of human rights abuses struggle to obtain adequate and timely remedies against Canadian businesses.

It appeared that the Trudeau government would begin to address these serious shortcomings with its announcement in January 2018 of CORE, a ground-breaking complaint mechanism charged with investigating allegations of harm caused by Canadian extractive and garment corporations operating abroad. The government committed to equipping the independent office with robust powers – including the power to summon witnesses and compel the production of documents.

What’s happened since then?

The Order in Council (OIC) that formally established CORE, created its mandate, and appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer to the position, was released this past April. It shows that the government has not only backtracked significantly on its original promise, but it appears to have established instead a slightly modified version of the toothless and now defunct Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor. Notably, the government has so far failed to grant CORE the investigatory powers it needs. At the press conference, Minister Carr stated that he was “seeking external legal advice” on “the appropriateness” of giving the ombudsperson powers to compel witnesses and documents under the Inquiries Act and that the decision on this issue would be announced in June.

The government has also charged the office with investigating parties who allege corporate wrong-doing – in other words, investigating the victims of alleged human rights violations and/or those supporting victims in bringing a complaint.

This surprising inclusion will surely make it more difficult for victims to have legitimate complaints of corporate-related human rights abuses heard. It is also likely to place human rights defenders, whose physical integrity is often at risk, in even greater peril.

In April, two years following his mission to Canada, the chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Surya Deva, returned to this country. He warned that Canada is falling behind other countries, such as France and Switzerland, that are passing laws to hold their companies to account when they cause harm overseas. Dr. Deva cautioned that Canada’s international reputation would be damaged if it failed to provide the ombudsperson with real investigatory powers.

While the Trudeau government may position itself as a champion of human rights and the rule of law, its new complaint mechanism speaks a different narrative. More important than the reputation of the government, however, is the fact that the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities in other countries are at stake. This will remain the case until the Canadian government takes meaningful steps to incentivize Canadian companies to change the way they do business abroad.

* Penelope Simons is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa.

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Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights

MPs call for delay on Bougainville mining amendment

Radio New Zealand | 12 June 2019

A Bougainville parliamentary committee wants controversial legislation on mining to be delayed until after the autonomous Papua New Guinea region’s independence referendum.

The Bougainville government wants to amend the Mining Act, and two other bills, to give it greater control over mining activity.

The autonomous government said these changes would give landowners more control over their resources but there has been widespread opposition across Bougainville.

The plan to set up a company called Bougainville Advance Mining in association with newly set up Australian business, Caballus, sparked an outcry.

The Speaker of the ABG Parliament referred the matter to a Committee on Legislation, which undertook public consultations, before reporting back this week.

The committee says the Mining bill raised a lot of issues around landowners’ rights.

It worried about the creation of monopolies and the impact of the bills on the Constitution and the Peace Agreement.

It said all three measures needed further consultation before being re-drafted and submitted after October’s referendum.

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Caballus Deal Is ‘Smoke And Mirrors’

Jeff McGlinn of Caballus Mining giving a presentation in Bougainville

Post Courier | June 11, 2019

The McGlinn Caballus presentation to the Autonomous Bougainville Government totally contradicts the Bougainville Mining Minister’s recent statement that appeared in the Post-Courier (May 7, 2019) that Bougainville Advance Mining Limited, is not McGlinn’s Caballus.

The original draft bills introduced to the House of Representatives and sponsored by the Bougainville Mining Minister Raymond Masono, specifically referred to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited.

Searches of the Registry of Corporate Affairs in the British Virgin Islands confirms that the Bougainville Advance Mining Limited was approved for incorporation on August 8, 2018, and the Certificate of Incorporation was issued and dated August 9, 2018.

The incorporation certificate confirms the BVI Company Number for Bougainville Advance Mining is 1988673.  The directors and shareholders were not disclosed.

The off shore company is incorporated by Intershore Consult (BVI) Ltd.

Their web site interestingly states that Intershore is a wealth management firm specialising in tax planning, virtual offices and nominee services, among other things.

Philip Miriori, the chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association – the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA) asked the question, as to why is the Mining Minister Masono now trying to hide the fact that Caballus is behind Bougainville Advance Mining Limited?

“Everyone knows this is a McGlinn incorporated shelf company and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has undertaken to give McGlinn 40 per cent in this entity and Panguna for free.

“The ABG has told everyone including our ABG MPs for months this.

“While the BEC – Special Meeting No.2 of 2019, Decision No.3 of 2019, dated January 28, 2019, confirms the BEC formally endorsed the assent of the bills and the issuance of a Special Bougainville Mining License to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited in respect of the whole of Bougainville.

“Similarly, the Bougainville Executive Council special meeting No. 1 of 2019 dated January 24, 2019, recorded the formal approval of Bougainville Advance Mining Ltd (BAM) for the purpose of carrying out all mining activities in Bougainville, approved the establishment of BAM.”

SMLOLA advisor Lawrence Daveona also chimed in to say that it is totally unacceptable to be trying to steal Panguna from the customary owners.

And further transfer Panguna to this highly secretive off shore BVI entity. “This Caballus deal is smoke and mirrors.” he added

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Proposed Bougainville mining law change referred to Ombudsman

Radio New Zealand | 11 June 2019

A landowning group at the site of Bougainville’s Panguna Mine says it has referred the government’s controversial mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group said amendments to the Mining Act, due for consideration in parliament this week, would effectively reverse customary law on the ownership of minerals.

Bougainville’s government has argued that what it is planning, in conjunction with Australian businessman Jeff McGlinn, will ensure landowners are better off.

But the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association said this amounted to an abuse of executive power, the Bougainville Constitution and the PNG Constitution.

Osikaiyang chair Philip Miriori said the group would never allow others to “steal our land, our minerals and both our future and our heritage”.

The amendments are defective and the people pushing them, such as Mining Minister Raymond Masono, are breaching the Leadership Code, which is the basis for the appeal to the Ombudsman, Mr Miriori said.

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