Mining industry representatives and development NGOs respond with righteous indignation to ongoing criticisms of their CIDA-funded collaborations stating that these are "not about the money" but about "doing the right thing" for poor people in developing counties hosting Canadian mining companies (RE: "Mining and NGOs need more collaboration," and "Mining partnerships the right thing to do," Feb. 15).
The mining industry is singularly adept at externalizing costs onto communities, environments, and governments. However, CIDA's recent funding of corporate social responsibility projects represents value for IAMGOLD, Barrick Gold, and Rio Tinto Alcan that far exceeds the substantial financial contribution provided by CIDA. Contrary to the protestations of Pierre Gratton of the Mining Association of Canada, CIDA's subsidizing of CSR projects does lower the costs of mineral extraction.
Frank acknowledgements at the birth of the Devonshire Initiative in 2007 provide insight into what participating mining industry and development NGOs identified as "interest alignment." Industry defined as "challenges:" "getting and keeping approval for projects;" "access to land;" and "managing opposition to projects." "Common challenges" both sectors identified included "managing reputation." Participating development NGOs — including World Vision and Plan Canada, now collaborating with Barrick Gold and IAMGOLD, respectively — identified as challenges: "diversifying source of funds;" "money (staying alive);" and "legitimacy (especially northern NGOs)."
For the industry, collaboration with development NGOs and CIDA is about gaining access to land and managing conflict at the local level and about strengthening relationships with developing country governments increasingly skeptical about the benefits of mining.
Studies have shown that conflict-free community relations are worth millions to a mining company. Being able to step into government offices not merely as a mining company, but as a "development partner" with development NGOs and CIDA in tow, is priceless.
For Devonshire Initiative NGOs, collaborations with mining companies have achieved the goal of diversifying funds—even leveraging additional CIDA funds not to mention political goodwill—but the costs are high as the ethics of the development NGOs and their mining partners have become inexorably entwined.
In the meantime, Canadians are left wondering why taxpayer dollars are funding billion-dollar mining companies while 'poor people' increasingly oppose mining to protect their development futures.
Research Coordinator, Asia-Pacific Coordinator