The enormity of transforming an unjust, unequal global economic system
By Grahame Russell, May 2011
Not surprisingly, Goldcorp Inc. did not agree, at its annual general meeting in Vancouver (May 18, 2011), to a shareholder’s resolution to suspend the “Marlin” mine in Guatemala, as ordered by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
In defiance of this binding suspension order, Goldcorp continues to mine gold and silver in Guatemala; huge profits continue to flow north to company directors, shareholders and millions of other investors across North America.
Neither government of Guatemala or Canada has done anything to ensure respect for the suspension order. The OAS (Organization of American States) has again shown its weaknesses, doing nothing to insist upon respect for the suspension order.
A GOOD (NECESSARILY LONG-TERM) STRUGGLE
This is not a failure of education and activism work to put a stop to a long list of environmental and health harms, acts of repression and other human rights violations caused directly or indirectly by Goldcorp’s two open pit/ mountain-top removal, cyanide-leaching mines in Guatemala and Honduras.
THE ENORMITY OF GLOBAL INEQUALITY & IMPUNITY
Rather, it is a reminder of the enormity of the challenge of ending the impunity and immunity from legal accountability with which mining companies operate around the world and of transforming an often-times unequal and unjust global economic order. This impunity and immunity exist not only for mining companies, but also for many global industries producing fruits, ethanol based bio-fuels, oil and gas, textiles, tourism sites, dams, etc.
Moreover, this impunity and immunity are not narrow legal issues (ie, a lack of enforceable laws); rather, they are broad political, economic and social issues.
Reflecting on a struggle, now 7 years old and counting, to put an end to and hold Goldcorp accountable for harms, repression and other violations at its mines in Honduras and Guatemala, I find two major learning points.
Firstly, this is part of a long-term struggle to transform the often-times unjust and unequal global economic order. Goldcorp is a normal mining company operating in a normal way that brings huge benefit to some, and causes huge suffering to others. It is the very global economic model that needs transformation, with its inherent inequalities and injustices both inside and between nations.
Secondly, this remains an urgent struggle to reform laws in Canada and the USA so that enforceable environmental and human rights standards attach to all corporate and investor activities, whether at home or globally.
Any person or community from around the globe should have the right to file civil suit, or demand criminal proceedings in Canada and the USA if and when their rights and well-being are violated or harmed by Canadian or American corporate or investor actions.
The Goldcorp struggle is just one more example of the need to break the North American wall of impunity and immunity from legal accountability.
While Goldcorp continues its mining operation in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, generating great profits and harms, it is worth high-lighting that this struggle has served to inspire other communities across Guatemala, and elsewhere in Central America, to take actions (holding community based consultations; doing community education work; organizing peaceful resistance; etc) to stop mining in their communities before it starts.
DETERRING OTHER COMPANIES
This increasingly well-known struggle serves as a cautionary note and partial deterrent to other companies that, like Goldcorp, would love to operate mines in Guatemala or Honduras where there is little mining oversight intention or capacity, and where the companies leave no more than 1% of profits in country. Almost all the profits flow north, while all the harms, repression and other violations remain in these countries of the global south!
PUTTING A DENT IN THE IMAGE OF “CANADA THE GOOD”
Canada has long marketed the image of “Canada the good”, a peace-maker country giving “aid” to the poor. As Goldcorp and other Canadian mining companies continue to cause harms, repression and other violations in countries across Latin America and the globe, the veneer has been taken off this myth.
UNREGULATED GLOBAL INVESTMENTS
This struggle has served not only to better educate Canadians and Americans about what some of our corporations are doing elsewhere, but also of how our own investments are often benefiting from unjust, harmful corporate activities.
Many more Canadians and Americans now know that they are (via pension funds, private funds and even “ethical” funds) invested in Goldcorp - and in a long list of global companies -that can and do cause harms, repression and other violations as part of their corporate operations, and that there is no direct way to hold our investment institutions accountable to even a minimum set of environmental or human rights standards. Over and over, we are reminded that our investment managers have one fundamental responsibility and fiduciary duty – to maximize profits!
A CANADIAN/ AMERICAN PROBLEM
Essentially, this struggle to hold Goldcorp accountable has served to educate North Americans that our governments and ourselves, as investors and consumers, are ultimately the enablers and beneficiaries of these often times unjust and harmful corporate and investor activities.
WHAT TO DO
"There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: search for understanding, education, organization, action ... and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future."
Until we bring about legal, political and economic changes in Canada and the USA, companies and investors from our countries will continue to operate in ways, across the planet, that often benefit from harms, repression and other violations.
Slowly and steadfastly, more and more Canadian and Americans must get involved in this, and similar, global corporate struggles.
Support for local groups:
It remains imperative to directly fund and otherwise support community based groups in the mining affected communities who are leading the work (often at risk of repression) to put an end to the harms and violations. Delegations of concerned North Americans (including politicians, journalists, donors) must continue to visit the families and communities being harmed by mining, to learn from them, and to build direct solidarity alliances and partnerships.
Follow the money:
As stated above, whether we know it or not, most North Americans are invested in Goldcorp and many more companies that directly and indirectly cause harms, repression and violations around the world. North Americans should investigate whether their own pension fund, private investment fund and/or “ethical” fund is invested in Goldcorp (let alone a list of other controversial companies and industries) and then start demanding the implementation of binding environmental and human rights standards to all investor activities.
As policy, the governments of Canada and the USA work endlessly to expand North American investor and corporate interests across the planet, more often than not turning a blind eye to harms, repression and other violations that our investments and companies sometimes cause. This makes the harms, repression and violations our issues, and we need to hold our governments accountable to uphold the highest environmental and human rights standards in all of our international dealings.
Our media usually relegates corporate and investment issues to the business and financial sections of their coverage, more often than not ignoring the environmental and human rights impacts of businesses and investments. Across North America, we need to keep on challenging our media to properly do their jobs.
LA LUCHA SIGUE / THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES FOR ‘ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE’
Thank-you to all organizations and people who are involved in on-going efforts to hold Goldcorp accountable for the harms, repression and other violations it is causing and benefiting from, and who are involved, more broadly, in on-going efforts to create a just and equal global order.
We look forward to continuing this struggle over the years to come with people and organizations in Guatemala, Honduras, Canada and the USA.
Grahame Russell, Rights Action