Imposing mines through trade agreements?

April 6, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

A number of mining companies have been filing for arbitration in international tribunals under trade and investment agreements to seek compensation for mines that governments decided should not go forward. That's correct: the elected government says "no" to a mine (due to community opposition, expected impacts, regulations, or other reasons), and the company then sues for compensation in the World Bank's International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID).

One such case was dismissed and another filed just in the last month. The hearing for a third -- the case of Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador -- has recently been delayed. These are the latest in an apparent series of cases of mining companies seeking to make money in international tribunals or impose their bad projects on countries that don't want them.

In a decision last week, the ICSID ruled that Milwaukee-based Commerce Group could not bring its case before ICSID under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) because the company had not halted ongoing court proceedings in El Salvador. The company had been seeking damages exceeding $100 million. The technicality spared El Salvador further proceedings for those claims, but the government of El Salvador is still required to pay massive legal fees.

Newmont planning to advance Akyem mine project in Ghana Forest Reserve

March 25, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

Colorado-based Newmont Mining announced today that they have approved funding to develop the Akyem gold mine project in Eastern Ghana. This destructive mine project would create an open-pit in a Forest Reserve, threaten water sources, and displace around nine thousand people from their homes, lands, or livelihoods.

Communities in Ghana have expressed great concern about the Akyem project, and their concerns have already stalled the mine project several times. WACAM and other community groups have protested over the company's plan to mine in a Forest Reserve, potential impacts on water supply, loss of access to land, and inadequate compensation plans for displaced communities. Newmont has already displaced some community members. In total, over a thousand people would lose their lands and homes, and thousands more would lose their agricultural lands. The mine would destroy approximately 340 acres (140 ha) of tropical forest and a quarter of the forest left in the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve. In 2009, the project gained notoriety when it caused Newmont to receive the Public Eye Award for irresponsible practices.

Companies skeptical about Taseko’s “Prosperity”

March 23, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

A few politicians in British Columbia may still be pushing for the mine that would destroy Little Fish Lake and threaten Fish Lake with contamination without the consent of First Nations. But some companies have doubts and concerns about Taseko Mines and its "Prosperity" project.

Credit Suisse downgraded their investment rating for Taseko Mines this week based in part on the prospects for "Prosperity." The bank noted that the "project is likely to require extensive review and consultation prior to environmental approval, and we believe this could take several years." Credit Suisse downgraded Taseko Mines from "Neutral" to "Underperform."

Earlier this month, groups also called on Credit Suisse to decline any Taseko financing requests for the mine at Fish Lake. Earthworks joined MiningWatch Canada in presenting the concerns of the Tsilhqot'in and others about the mine project. The groups wrote to Credit Suisse to explain that financing of the mine would cause unacceptable reputational risk for the bank.

Credit Suisse is not the only company taking a critical look at Prosperity. Rideau, a Canadian maker of gold medals, is "publically opposing the Prosperity mine" and wrote to Canadian officials to express the company's concerns and objections to the project.

Jewelry trade associations pushing for weak rules on Blood Gold

March 14, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) closed its comments period over a week ago on rules that would require companies to disclose their use of possible Blood Gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many jeweler comments are now posted online. Even as controversy continues to grow over recent DRC gold shipments smuggled through Kenya and possibly South Africa to Dubai, the comments reveal that several large jewelry associations pushed for loopholes that could allow gold mining to continue to finance conflict in DRC.

The loopholes that these trade groups -- Jewelers of America, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, the American Gem Society, and the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association -- are calling for include: delaying implementation of the SEC rules for two or three years, furnishing disclosure on special reports (rather than "filing" in annual reports), broad exemptions on scrap metals, exemptions for retailers that contract for or have partial control over manufacturing, and allowing companies to just say they are "unable to determine" the relation of their gold to DRC conflict.

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As corporations lobby for “Blood Gold” disclosure loopholes, will the SEC stand strong?

March 9, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

UPDATED with EARTHWORKS' comments to the SEC

Yesterday was the deadline for comments on the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require companies to disclose their use of probable "Blood Gold" from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Additional rules stemming from last year's Dodd-Frank Act will also require mining, oil, and gas companies to report on their payments to governments, and require mining companies to report on health and safety violations in annual reports.

Earthworks has requested the SEC to fully implement the law passed by Congress last year and finalize strong rules on these topics. A broad array of groups are supporting efforts to ensure that the rules are up to the task. These include Earthworks, the Electronics Take Back Coalition, the Extractive Industries Working Group, Global Witness, the Enough Project, Catholic Relief Services, the Publish What You Pay Coalition, World Resources Institute, the United Mine Workers, Calvert Asset Management and other investor groups, George Soros, and many others. A number of jewelers like the Ethical Metalsmiths, Fair Jewelry Action, and Toby Pomeroy weighed in in favor of strong rules on "Blood Gold" as well.

Meanwhile, dozens of companies and industry associations are weighing in to push for various loopholes in the rules. These range from mining companies (Anglogold Ashanti, Barrick Gold, Freeport McMoran, Newmont, Rio Tinto, and Vale) to gold miner associations (the National Mining Association and the World Gold Council), from oil companies (Anadarko, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell) and associations (American Petroleum Institute) to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

New lawsuit filed against Newmont in Peru over land rights

March 9, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

GRUFIDES, a sustainable development group in Cajamarca, announced yesterday the filing of a new lawsuit against Newmont Mining for taking people's lands when the company and its partner started up the Yanacocha mine in Peru in the mid-1990s. The community of San Andres de Negritos filed the suit yesterday against Newmont and the government of Peru for having taken more than 600 ha of their communal lands to build the mine.

This new lawsuit comes during recent and ongoing formal complaints and protests over a spill of acidic effluent contaminating communities' water supplies. The regional government of Cajamarca even issued a statement condemning the spill and taking note of protests.

Walmart should drop “Love, Earth” jewelry label — it’s dirty gold

February 26, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

A coalition of civil society groups today called on Walmart to suspend its "Love, Earth" jewelry label following further revelations that the line of jewelry is harmful greenwash.

An investigation in the Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times showed that Walmart's "Love, Earth" jewelry line comes at the cost of workers' rights, health, and safety, and at the cost of communities and the environment around the mines. The jewelry line claims to be from responsible sources but is made under oppressive labor conditions and with gold and silver from polluting mines in Nevada and Utah.

The Western Shoshone Defense Project and Great Basin Resource Watch joined EARTHWORKS in sending a letter to Walmart. The letter calls on Walmart to drop the Love, Earth label until the jewelry line has independent, third party verification that it complies with the Golden Rules for responsible sourcing, and has properly consulted with affected communities and civil society about responsible sourcing.

Certified “Fairtrade” gold — what is it really?

February 12, 2011 • Scott Cardiff

On Wednesday, UK jewelers announced the launch of "Fairtrade" gold jewelry.  Some jewelers have already been using gold from these same Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) mines, but two of the mines have recently been certified "Fairtrade."  What are these mines, and what does "Fairtrade gold" mean?

The mines, one in Colombia and one in Bolivia, demonstrate both the potential benefits and the problems of the Alliance for Responsible Mining/Fairtrade Labeling Organization certification standards for "Fairtrade" and "Fairmined."  The mining and certification may well benefit the communities on the short-term, and the Colombian Oro Verde mine does not use mercury or cyanide. On the other hand, reclamation and restoration standards are poorly defined at both mines, and the Bolivian mine allows mercury use and is located in a National Park. The Colombian mine is in the Choc , a department that has experienced significant armed conflict.