On March 1, seventy-seven national and international human rights and environmental groups from the Philippines, New Zealand, El Salvador, the United States, Canada, and Australia released a statement calling for their respective governments to “halt, shut down, or support or uphold bans impacting OceanaGold mines.”
The OceanaGold mining company is headquartered in Brisbane, Australia and registered on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Since the company lost its $250 million lawsuit against the Salvadoran government in 2017—and thereby helped provoke the country’s historic metals mining ban—the Australian-Canadian firm has increased its production elsewhere to reap new profits. Currently, OceanaGold has interests in the Philippines, New Zealand, and the US. The company has also maintained its Salvadoran subsidiaries despite the mining ban, even increasing funding for Dorado Exploraciones since 2017, seemingly in the hope that the government of Nayib Bukele will soon overturn the ban.
In 2022, OceanaGold reported net profits of $133 million and a 30 percent increase in gold production. This increase relied upon strong production out of New Zealand, where the company operates the country’s largest gold mine, and the “successful ramp-up” of the Didipio mine in the Philippines.
OceanaGold claims that the Didipio mine offers “significant socio-economic benefits” to local peoples, but unsurprisingly, this attempt at branding buries a long history of resistance to the project. As the March 1 statement outlines, the company’s operations in the Philippines have polluted water systems and endangered locals’ access to healthy farmlands.
Furthermore, resistors of the Didipio mine face many threats to their personal safety due to the widespread practice of “red-tagging” opponents of government-backed projects (publicly labelling them communists and thereby marking them for harassment, intimidation, or murder).
"We make this urgent appeal in the name of present and future generations," say groups including @focussouth, @MiningWatch, @mininginjustice, and more.— Institute for Policy Studies (@IPS_DC) March 1, 2023
"These documents & studies present a damning case of widespread human rights and environmental abuse." https://t.co/U6omM8CVPb
In El Salvador, similar violence was associated with Canada’s Pacific Rim (now a wholly owned subsidiary of OceanaGold). In the northern Cabañas department, Pacific Rim allegedly influenced local police, judicial structures, schools, and even churches to support its extractive aims. When the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment still denied Pacific Rim an exploration license, violence ensued. Locals allege that intimidation campaigns were organized against opponents of mining and resistors were criminalized. On top of that, four anti-mining activists were murdered—including Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto, who was eight months pregnant.
As Vidalina Morales, President of the Santa Marta Association for the Economic Development of El Salvador, explains: “Canadian mining companies have a history of conflict in our country.”
In June 2019, OceanaGold’s 25-year permit for its Philippines operation expired. Locals, backed by the provincial government, protested the continuation of the Didipio mine, but the Duterte administration came down on the company’s side. The operation continues to this day.
Previously, OceanaGold had come into conflict with Philippines authorities over a 2017 plan by former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez to heavily restrict mining operations and move toward sustainable low-carbon development. Lopez’s ten months as minister saw several important gains, including a ban on open-pit mining and the suspension of numerous mining agreements, but the mining lobby struck back, leading to her removal, the overturning of the open-pit ban, and the approval of the halted projects.
This February, two communities erected barricades against mining companies in the Philippines, including OceanaGold. They called for stricter mining standards, respect for locals, and a public commitment on the part of the Marcos governments to “a low-carbon development pathway.”
The following month, dozens of human rights and environmental groups around the world released their statement calling for their respective governments to take action against OceanaGold. The statement notes that twenty-eight groups in the Philippines are calling for OceanaGold’s mine to be shut down and for impacted communities to receive reparations.
In the US and New Zealand, groups are calling for a complete halt to the expansion of OceanaGold operations. The company’s proposed expansion in New Zealand would affect the Coromandel Range, an area of conservation land noted for its high biodiversity. It would also totally contradict the government’s supposed commitment to reducing climate emissions and impacts.
At its Haile Mine in South Carolina, OceanaGold has exceeded the legally allowable emissions limit of toxic chemicals on four occasions and been fined as many times by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Any expansion by OceanaGold in South Carolina must be halted,” the statement reads.
In El Salvador, human rights and environmental groups are urging the Bukele government to uphold the historic 2017 mining ban and to “establish accountability and restitution for both the violence and murders associated with the company’s mining project [and] for damages that exploratory drillings caused to community water sources.” The statement also calls for the release of the five water defenders arrested by Salvadoran authorities in January.
Additionally, signatories are calling for Canada and Australia to enact “mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation,” or mHREDD. Specifically, they are calling for Ottawa to implement Bill C-262, a private member’s bill backed by most parliamentarians on the international human rights subcommittee. Among other things, the bill proposes the implementation of mHREDD legislation.
It must be noted that the Canadian government has a long history of ignoring proposals for more oversight of the mining industry’s actions abroad. In October 2010, the extremely modest Bill C-300, or An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, was voted down in Parliament. The bill, which had proposed the creation of new mechanisms to hold transnational companies accountable for human rights and environmental abuses abroad, was defeated by the reigning Conservatives with the help of the opposition Liberals, thirteen of whom did not show up to the vote (including party leader Michael Ignatieff). The bill was shot down 140 to 134.
Before coming to power, Justin Trudeau acknowledged national and international concerns over Canada’s support for the mining industry by promising to create an independent ombudsperson on mining. After winning the election, he postponed the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) for four years. Following its establishment, he ignored all its recommendations, leading all fourteen union and NGO advisors to the CORE to resign.
The statement by human rights and environmental organizations regarding OceanaGold’s activities around the world is an important call for industry accountability and sustainable development in the relevant countries. It is hardly surprising that, so far, nobody in the Trudeau government has acknowledged its publication.
Owen Schalk is a writer from Manitoba. His book on Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan will be released by Lorimer later this year. To see more of his work, visit www.owenschalk.com.