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New watchdog to investigate Canadian companies for human rights abuses

Hilary Beaumont | Vice News | January 18, 2018

The Canadian government is creating a new watchdog to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas, fulfilling a Liberal campaign promise.

Canadian companies have long faced accusations of human rights abuses abroad, including gang rapes by security guards at a mine in Papua New Guinea operated by Toronto-based Barrick Gold, and the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 workers who were making clothes for Joe Fresh, a brand owned by Canadian company Loblaws.

Canadian companies employ workers in developing countries to make clothing and mine materials that end up in electronics, but these mines and factories are often subject to lax regulations. When human rights abuses arise, there can be little recourse for complainants due to police corruption and weak justice systems on the ground, and lack of access to remedies through Canada’s courts.

‘RIGHT THING TO DO’

The new ombudsperson’s office will independently investigate abuse allegations against businesses operating overseas, including in the mining, textile and oil and gas sectors. The ombudsperson will have the power to request documents from companies and the power to gather testimony from witnesses. Canada’s trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said the ombudsperson will have “all the tools and resources to ensure compliance.” The watchdog’s recommendations will be made public, and the ombudsperson’s office will have the ability to withdraw government funding from companies.

There will also be a multi-stakeholder body to advise the ombudsperson and the government. That advisory body will include representatives from the mining, oil and gas and apparel sectors, as well as human rights and labour advocacy organizations, and an Indigenous representative.

“I’m adamant that Canada is to be second to none when it comes to business and human rights,” Canada’s trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday. “This is not just the right thing to do, but that’s what Canadians expect from us.”

Advocacy organizations have waited more than a decade for this announcement, calling it “long overdue.” But critics are pointing out that the ombudsperson’s mandate will not include investigating environmental violations, which are often wound up in human rights abuses.

ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS

Liberal MP John McKay, who has pushed for mining industry oversight for years, stood next to the minister as he made the announcement. McKay’s private members bill to create a similar ombudsperson’s office was killed in 2010. It was only six votes short of passing.

Similar to the new ombudsperson’s office announced Wednesday, McKay’s bill called for the ability to withdraw government support and funding to companies found to be breaching human rights.

“The only significant difference is that they’re not going to do environmental investigations,” McKay told VICE News of the new ombudsperson. “Not quite sure why they arrived at that decision, but there’s a lot of interaction between environmental rights and human rights.”

Everlyn Guape, who was brutally sexually assaulted by security guards near the Barrick Gold mine in Porgera, Papua New Guinea, told VICE News she wanted to thank everyone who fought for the creation of the ombudsperson’s office.

Locals near the mine have also accused the company of contaminating their river. Guape added that “humanity depends on the environment,” so environmental abuses should also be investigated.

“This coexistence cannot be deliberately ignored by Canadian corporations and the government of Canada,” she warned.

‘INDEPENDENT AND EFFECTIVE’

Reacting to the government’s announcement, Barrick Gold said it supports the “additional accountability mechanism for Canadian businesses operating overseas, focused on dialogue and conflict resolution.”

“We look forward to engaging with the ombudsperson in a transparent and constructive manner, to assure Canadians that mining activities continue to generate economic and social benefits for host communities and governments, while respecting human rights.”

Advocacy organization Mining Watch Canada has been pushing for an effective ombudsperson since 2005, Catherine Coumans, the group’s research coordinator, said in a statement.

“We will continue to press the government to ensure that the ombuds office is independent and effective, and has adequate resources to do its job.”

Coumans added that additional measures still need to be taken, including allowing complainants access to Canadian courts to sue Canadian companies for rights violations overseas, and allowing communities free, prior and informed consent before new resource projects go ahead.

In a Canadian Network on Corporate Responsibility survey before the 2015 election, the Liberals stated they would “set up an independent ombudsman office to advise Canadian companies, consider complaints made against them, and investigate those complaints where it is deemed warranted.”

The Liberals also committed to act on the recommendations of a 2007 National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries.

But they have not committed to making Canada’s courts open to legal action from complainants in other countries.

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The writing is on the wall for Solwara 1

Former Attorney General of Papua New Guinea:

The writing is on the wall for Solwara 1 – PNG should withdraw its investment before it’s too late.

Deep Sea Mining Campaign | Scoop NZ | 17 January 2018

Amid financial strife and looming litigation, Sir Arnold Amet, former Papua New Guinean Attorney General and Minister for Justice advises the PNG Government to terminate its joint partnership agreement with Nautilus, recoup its 15% stake in the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project and decline to renew the licences for Solwara 1.

For Nautilus Minerals a miserable Christmas has just flowed into an unhappy new year. A series of gloomy end of year investor updates confirmed Nautilus is unable to raise the funds necessary to complete equipment for its Solwara 1 deep sea mining project.

Then came the final blow for 2017 – affected communities launched legal proceedings in a bid to obtain key documents that will reveal to them and all Papua New Guineans whether Solwara 1 was approved lawfully and what the true environmental, health and economic impacts of the project will be.

Shortly after, Company Chair Russell Debney resigned. This is in spite of his long association as a board member since the company listed on the stock exchange in 2006 and the chair of the company’s predecessors, Nautilus Minerals Niugini Limited and Nautilus Minerals Oceania Limited.

Due to the high-risk nature of the project, financiers have declined to bail the company out, suggesting the efforts of Nautilus’s two largest shareholders have been in vain. The best they have been able to come up with are bridging loans of USD 7 million to meet immediate needs whilst desperately hunting for another USD 350 million.

Sir Amet stated:

“Investors, financial institutions and even the former chair of Nautilus can see the writing on the wall for Solwara 1. By the company’s own admission the project is an experiment with unknown environmental and social consequences and uncertain profits. The past few months have really shown the extent to which financiers and our own communities in PNG reject this project.”

“This high-risk project is a foolhardy investment when our country has so many pressing needs. In order to acquire our 15% equity, the National Government obtained a loan in 2014 from the Bank of the South Pacific of almost PNG K400 million. It’s also likely that the Government has provided Nautilus with generous incentives, which would further limit the potential to raise revenue from this project.”

“This is irresponsible in the context of our country’s ever-increasing debt bill”, continued Sir Amet. There is little likelihood of a positive return from this project to the balance sheet of the economy. The recent bridging loans for the project are a drop in the ocean – only 1/50th of the total funds required. With an interest rate of at least 8% and a lucrative 5% cash commission going to a previous director of Nautilus, this loan represents yet another expensive debt burden for PNG – especially as the loan is secured against PNG’s equity.”

“These bridging loans are from existing Board directors through a new private investment company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Such financial structures are commonly known as ways for minimising tax. And because the loan is from a related party, there was no need to even consult the PNG Government as the minority equity holder. If we stay in this deal, it will be the people of PNG who will have to pay.”

“The best course of action now is for the PNG Government to terminate its joint venture agreement with Nautilus before our investment ends up sinking to the bottom of the ocean along with the company. In addition, Nautilus’s licences are renewed every 2 years. The environmental uncertainties surrounding this project call for the Government to decline renewal. Indeed, given the poor financial record of the company, the government should consider suing Nautilus for the recovery of the full K400 million investment as its 15% equity stake is now virtually worthless.”

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Police Officers shot at Porgera

George Kakas

TWO reservists from the police unit at Porgera in Enga Province are in hospital after they were ambushed and shot by gunmen on Sunday, police said.

PNG Industry News | 17 January 2018 

The National newspaper reported that Enga’s acting police commander chief superintendent George Kakas said one of the reservists was shot in the leg while the other suffered a stroke when they were attacked near Wali Creek, a few kilometres from the Porgera gold mine’s township.

The reservists in five patrol cars were going to investigate the aftermath of a violent confrontation between two tribes when they were attacked with automatic weapons, but no major injuries or fatalities were reported, Kakas said.

He said a bullet presumably fired from a high-powered rifle penetrated a patrol car and injured the officer’s leg. The other reservist suffered a stroke during the incident.

The men were flown to Wabag hospital and are now recovering, The National reported.

Kakas said the incident had culminated from a stand-off between two tribes who were claiming ownership of the Mount Kare land where the Pogera mine is situated.

The Porgera joint venture is an open pit and underground gold mine about 130km west of Mount Hagen.

Barrick Niugini is the 95% owner of the Porgera joint venture, and is the manager of the operation. Barrick Gold Corporation and Zijin Mining Group each own 50% of Barrick Niugini. The remaining 5% interest in the Porgera joint venture is held by Mineral Resources Enga and is divided between the Enga provincial government (2.5%) and local landowners (2.5%).

A tribe embroiled in this feud allegedly attacked villagers from a neighbouring tribe, setting fire to some houses at Wali Creek. 

Kakas said the reserve police officers and mine security personnel were dispatched to check on the safety of power pylons and water supply facilities when they were ambushed by gunmen from the surrounding mountains.

A peace and good order meeting was convened on Monday involving the provincial government, police and representatives of the Porgera mine.

Barrick Niugini was approached for comment yesterday but had not responded before this publication’s deadline.

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Mercury kit study work for small-scale miners

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

ONE PNG  | 15 January 2018

A recent mercury research study conducted at the small scale mining branch in Wau, Morobe Province is a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) through its small scale mining branch and the University of Kyoto-Japan through the leadership of Professor Takaiku Yamamoto, has released its findings.

The use of mercury has become very popular among artisanal and small scale miners because amalgamation is known to efficiently extract fine particles of gold from concentrates obtained by panning and sluicing operations. Gold alloys with mercury to form an amalgam from which the gold can subsequently be separated by evaporating the mercury.

The simplicity of the technique, low investment costs and its comparatively high gold recovery rate has made the mercury amalgam method an integral part of the artisanal and small scale gold mining operations.

In Papua New Guinea, most of the gold deposits worked by the artisanal and small scale gold miners are alluvial deposits in which the gold particles are liberated from gangue particles. It is customary to use riffled sluice-boxes to recover the liberated gold particles.

However, some of the gold particles, particularly the fine gold, does not settle in the riffle compartments but flows over to be discarded as tailings. In the hope of trapping these fine gold particles the artisanal miners frequently place some mercury in between the riffle compartments.

Then in recent years some semi-mechanised and mechanised alluvial mining operations used grinding mills or amalgam barrels for amalgamation of concentrates derived from their recovery systems before putting it through the knelson concentrators or shaking tables for cleaning.

Due to shear force between centrifugal force and drag force in knelson concentrators or the stratification action of the shaking tables, mercury is easily dislodged from the gold and is lost to the tailings. This is because the bonding mechanism holding gold and mercury together is weak and doesn’t require much force to sever the gold particles from the mercury, and because of size and density differences, mercury ends up in the tailings and eventually in the river systems.

However, by far the most dangerous practice adopted by the miners is the gold recovery process from the gold mercury amalgams. Gold is recovered by evaporating the mercury from the amalgam over an open fire

This process is commonly known as “cooking.” The mercury vapour, which includes fine globules, is partly inhaled while the remainder is released into the atmosphere, which returns as part of the “mercury cycle.”

Methods introduced to avoid the practice of releasing mercury into the atmosphere and which can reduce the mercury loss to less than 0.1 per cent are available but have not been so popular amongst miners due to the discolouring effect on the gold after distillation in a retort.

This discolouration is caused by the presence of iron and arsenic compounds and results in a lower price being offered by gold buyers for the product.

One such device is the “Mercury Retort” which evaporates the mercury in a closed cycle and recovers it by condensing the vapour with cooling water.

Mercury is toxic and an environmental pollutant which drew world attention in 1953 after it was reported that a large number of people living in the Minamata bay area in Japan developed symptoms of disease which affected their central nervous system after consuming fish.

The fish in the bay were contaminated with methyl-mercury as a result of mercury being released into the bay by the Chisso Corporation, a chemical company operating on the shores of the bay. The mercury poisoning was responsible for a variety of clinical symptoms which included speech impediments, failure of muscular coordination, and contraction of visual fields in the eye, disturbance in smooth eyeball movements, enteral hearing loss and unbalance of body. The disease is now commonly known as the “Minamata Disease.”

The recent study conducted at theMRA small scale mining branch in Wau was a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the University of Kyoto-Japan and the small scale miners in Wau/Bulolo was to trial a an Amalgam retorting machine from Kyoto University-Japan.

The objective was to test run the Japanese mercury recovery kit, a prototype amalgam retorting machine for the recovery of mercury and critically assess the overall performance, its efficiency and ease of operation of the device.

The promotion and use of the retorts would be very beneficial in the long term as they are capable of reducing discharge of mercury vapour into the atmosphere and the environment. It can also recover bulk of the mercury for recycling which would be a potential economic gain for the small scale miners and the chances of them being poisoned can be minimized through the establishment of central facilities in alluvial mining active areas which will alleviate the more dangerous practice of ‘cooking” amalgams.

A batch of mercury gold amalgam samples were provided by the miners from around Wau/Bulolo mining areas for over a period of one week to conduct the research activity by retorting them in the furnace at four different temperatures (300-500 OC, 300-600 OC, 300-700 OC ,300-800 OC) and the mercury recovery results observed ,recorded and calculated.

From this activity, it is noted that mercury which was emitted during the process was mostly trapped in the condensers 1 and 2.

The carbon filter indicated zero mercury which concludes that the air released at the vacuum pump has zero mercury vapour.

From the results obtained, the research team concluded after careful assessment of the overall performance and efficiency of the mercury recovery kit that it is an appropriate technology and should be promoted and used in Papua New Guinea’s artisanal and small scale gold mining industry for mercury and recycling recovery.

MRA managing director, Philip Samar, who was instrumental in introducing the technology, said the purpose of this collaboration was to reduce and mitigate the increased use and disposal of mercury into the environment and increase alluvial gold production, resulting in the health of both the environment and people plus improving the wellbeing of ordinary PNG alluvial miners.

The MRA through its small scale mining branch in Wau would like to thank its research partners for the collaborative work undertaken.

This has set a milestone in being proactive in reducing and controlling mercury contamination to the environment and the users in the artisanal and small scale mining industry.

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Mining exploration in Bougainville led by LOs

Cedric Patjole | Loop PNG | January 15, 2018

Landowners in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville are partnering with investors to conduct mineral exploration in areas sanctioned by the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

Prospecting has started since the introduction of legislation allowing landowners complete ownership of customary land, and the lifting of the moratorium on specific localities for mineral exploration.

However, the ABG is making sure the exploration is done in the best interest of the people.

ABG Treasury and Finance Minister, Robin Wilson, said currently there is a moratorium on Panguna Mine due to its history and sensitive nature, which is being carefully addressed.

However, exploration has been allowed in other parts of the island.

“So far we have lifted the moratorium on three areas in Bougainville. That’s Mt Ore, Isina in Central Bougainville and the Arawa-Panguna area,” said the Minister.

“So this are the areas where mining activities are going on, and it is driven by the landowners themselves. It’s not government-driven.

“It’s the landowners and the investors they found and have brought them over.

“We are just making sure the investors are genuine investors. We’re making sure that they are not coming up with contracts or agreements that will make the landowner suffer.”

The Minister said the lead taken by landowners follows legislation giving LOs complete authority and ownership over clearly de ned customary land.

He said by giving the power back to landowners, they can either accept or reject the prospects on their land.

“The landowner now owns everything. In terms of alienated land the government still owns the resources. But where it’s clearly customary land, it is landowner-owned.

“So we believe that by giving the power back to the landowners, the landowners now have a say in whether exploration happens or mining happens,” Wilson said.

“In that way we are not forcing the issue on them. The landowners have to accept the development prospects that happen on their land.”

Wilson revealed that currently the island has been tagged as a high risk area by many international observers.

However, he said with any successful explorations and discovery, this could trigger more investment in future, as the ABG aims to rebuild the island’s local economy.

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Bougainville clans regain power over mining rights

Bougainville Finance Minister Robin Wilson

The National aka The Loggers Times | January 12, 2018

Bougainville landowners own all the resources on their land and the Bougainville government only facilitates resource development, says Bougainville Finance Minister Robin Wilson, pictured.

“Unlike the rest of Papua New Guinea, landowners in Bougainville have the power to allow or disallow exploration and extraction of minerals on their land,” he said.

Wilson was speaking when handing the province’s 2018 Budget of K254 million to national Treasurer Charles Able in Port Moresby yesterday.

Wilson said Bougainville has lifted the ban on mining in Panguna, Mt Tore and Isinai and mining activities in those areas are now being driven by the landowners.

“We introduced a law that is unique to the rest of the country where in terms of mining we have made the landowners the owners of resources,” he said.

“If there are resources in an area the landowner will give consent on, whether or not exploration will take place and if exploration has found minerals, the landowner will again give consent to whether it will be extracted or not.”

In regard to the PNG Mining Act, Able said the Act states that any resources below six feet (about 2m) under the earth belongs to the government, but the ABG has done away with that provision – only for Bougainville.

Abel said the PNG government’s ownership of mining resources was to ensure that profits were equally distributed throughout the country.

Meanwhile, to continue to strengthen relations between Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea government, Wilson is providing quarterly reports to the government on how money it provides is spent on Bougainville.

“The accountability of the grants will not be an issue anymore. I have provided those reports throughout last year and am committed to do it in this term,” he said.

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Bougainville imposes moratorium on Panguna mine over fears of civil unrest

The Panguna mine, located in the east of Papua New Guinea in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, was at the centre of Bougainville’s decade-long civil war.

In dramatic policy turnaround, government determines people feel Bougainville Copper Limited doesn’t deserve a social licence to run the controversial mine

Helen Davidson | The Guardian | 10 January 2018

The Bougainville government has enacted an indefinite moratorium on renewing the licence of a controversial mining company over fears it could reignite violent civil conflict.

In December Bougainville landowner groups were called to vote on allowing Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to renew their mining licence and potentially reopen the Panguna mine, but the vote was split.

“If we went ahead now, you could be causing a total explosion of the situation again,” the Bougainville Autonomous Government (ABG) president, John Momis, told the ABC on Monday.

The Panguna copper mine was central to the civil war and blockade in the 1990s that killed tens of thousands of people. Conflict escalated after landowners protested environmental damage by the mine and the lack of economic benefit for local people.

The Rio Tinto-owned BCL was forced to close the mine, and discussion in recent years about reopening it has sparked hostilities in the nearby communities.

In June protesters blocked Momis and other political leaders from accessing Panguna to sign an agreement with landowners, which the ABC reported would have opened the way for BCL to work towards returning.

Legislation passed in 2015 gave traditional landowners greater ownership over resources as well as powers over the establishment or reopening of mines, but confusion and division remains.

At the time of the BCL vote local journalist Aloysius Laukai reported Momis said mining by any company would be “untenable” under the circumstances. However on Monday Momis told the ABC the moratorium only strictly applied to BCL, not other potential operators.

The moratorium is a dramatic turnaround in policy from the ABG, which determined people felt BCL didn’t deserve a social licence to run the mine.

The ABG owns a 36.4% share in BCL, and has consistently said reopening Panguna was essential for the island’s economic self-sufficiency if it is to become independent.

Luke Fletcher, the executive director of an Australian-based NGO, Jubilee, said it wasn’t clear if the turnaround was “a temporary retreat or a permanent change of direction”.

“It could be they’re just biding their time for another couple of years, or they’re considering opening Panguna with other operators,” Fletcher said. “It does seem the intention is still to reopen the mine.”

The Papua New Guinea government is the only other major shareholder after Rio Tinto left in 2016. It has said it will give its 17% share to Bougainville, making the ABG majority shareholders of a company that has just one project – a mine over which the ABG has now placed a moratorium.

BCL is yet to be officially informed of the moratorium, but learned of it through media reports.

The company’s Port Moresby general manager, Mark Hitchcock, said it had sought further clarity, as it still “firmly believed” it had strong support among landowners.

“Hitchcock said previously held community forums led by the ABG had also demonstrated strong majority support and this reflected the company’s own experiences on the ground,” a spokesman told Guardian Australia.

“He stressed that BCL was a local company majority owned by the people of PNG, including Bougainville and had always acted in good faith after being invited to enter a new process for the redevelopment of Panguna by the ABG and landowners.”

BCL claimed it had support from eight of the nine landholder groups, as well as the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association. It said minority elements – and competing mining interests – were disrupting consensus.

There were disputes with the association’s chair, Philip Miriori, BCL said, citing a letter from 367 authorised customary heads who disputed Momis’s characterisation of the vote as a “narrow divide”.

The customary heads told PNG’s Post Courier the meeting was given a submission signed by 320 of the heads giving their support to BCL.

As the resource-rich country moves on from civil war and towards independence, it is increasingly looking to mining for its economic future.

West Australian company Kalia Ltd recently announced it had signed a land access agreement with north Bougainville landowners, allowing the start of a “full-scale exploration program”.

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