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Gold in Venezuela
Here’s a novel idea
The people of Venezuela will keep control of their own gold.
And, more recently, some dirty laundry from the Canadian mining industry:
Canadian mines alleged to have paid off terrorists
Kelly Patterson, CanWest News Service, October 1, 2005
October 1995. The jungles of Mindinao in the Philippines are seething with communists, Muslim separatists and — most feared of all — Abu Sayyef, an Islamic terrorist group with direct ties to al-Qaida.
Abu Sayyef’s specialty: Extortion and kidnapping.
The area is so dangerous outsiders rarely venture there; foreigners are virtually unheard of.
With one exception: Canadians who have come here to mine the gold and copper that lie beneath these remote mountains.
Soon the terrorists come calling. One group demands ,000. Others want food, supplies, weapons.
And the Canadians pay up, according to Allan Laird, a former manager for the project, which was called the Kingking mine.
Food. Weapons. Medical aid. Money. For two years, the Kingking mine secretly funneled as much as .4 million to five different terrorist groups, including Abu Sayyef, Laird claims.
"I was told, ‘Go with the flow; this is the way you do business in the Philippines,"’ says Laird, who managed the joint-venture project by Echo Bay Mines Ltd. and Calgary-based TVI Pacific Inc. from August 1996 until it closed in 1997.
The FBI is investigating Laird’s allegations to see whether anti-terrorism laws were violated, the Ottawa Citizen has learned.
Former Echo Bay chair Robert Leclerc has called the allegations "absolutely insane," saying Laird is out for revenge after he was laid off in 2003.
"I never saw any reports regarding payoffs to any such groups," says TVI’s president and CEO, Clifford James.
"There is no way that I would have been a party to paying terrorist groups or to any other ‘questionable’ groups or individuals," he stresses.
Laird insists TVI senior staff were at meetings where he raised the issue, and received the reports in which he described the alleged dealings.
Echo Bay was absorbed in 2002 by another Canadian firm, Kinross Gold Corp., that also says it has no knowledge of the alleged payoffs.
The Kingking case is just one in a series of explosive controversies over mining ventures that involve Canada.
Relatively low-profile here, Canadian mining is a titan in the global industry: Canadian firms account for more than half of all mining companies globally, and 40 per cent of all mineral exploration in the world.
More than 1,000 mining firms are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange, more than in any other country. With a host of developing countries from the Philippines to Ghana counting mainly on their mineral wealth to lift them out of poverty, it’s small wonder Canadian mining is in the world spotlight.
The industry’s defenders say overall Canadian mining companies are a force for good in developing countries, bringing in millions of dollars in much-needed development money and millions more for charitable efforts.
But the list of countries where allegations of human-rights abuses have been linked to Canadian projects includes Guatemala, Peru, Romania, Philippines, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Ghana, Suriname, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, India, Indonesia, Zambia and Sudan.
One Canadian company is facing court charges of collusion in genocide; another faces allegations of complicity in a massacre in which as many as 100 people were killed. Both companies strongly deny the allegations.
"What we are seeing now is a cycle where extractive industries are feeding into a spiral of violence," explains Bonnie Campbell, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal who leads a research team on the impact of mining in Africa.
"The experience of the last 10 to 15 years has shown that . . . companies, for mere survival . . . (and) to protect their investments, get drawn in" to local conflicts, she says.
Such scenarios, she says, are almost inevitable in high-risk areas such as conflict zones — where many mining companies have been venturing as demand for metals raises the stakes in the hunt for buried treasure. Campbell argues companies need "strong rules and guidelines" in such cases.
In June, after a months-long parliamentary investigation, the Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade noted that "Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards," and recommended the government take action immediately. Amnesty International has also urged the government to heed the panel’s report.
Pierre Gratton, spokesperson for the Ottawa-based Mining Association of Canada, says his group, which represents most of Canada’s mining heavyweights, acknowledges there have been some "high-profile . . . conflicts" recently, and is working hard to find ways to help companies caught in "challenging local circumstances," he says.
However, the group disagrees that there’s an urgent need for legislation.
Most Canadian companies voluntarily follow rigourous ethics codes, Gratton says. "Overall Canadian mining has a very positive reputation internationally," he says.
Canada is a highly respected leader in corporate social responsibility, he maintains, adding that Canadian mining companies in developing countries typically kick in millions to community development projects.
Last year, the group unveiled an award-winning sustainable-development code. In a three-month investigation, the Citizen looked at the often lethal conflicts that have ignited around Canadian mining operations overseas.
Of these, the allegations surrounding the Kingking mine in the Philippines are perhaps the most sensational.
Allan Laird has e-mails, cash receipts and reports that he says show the mine was routinely paying off five different terrorist groups, two of which had ties to Osama bin Laden, and that mine staff even sheltered one notorious terrorist wounded in a firefight with government troops.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2005