In early May, MiningWatch Canada Communications Coordinator Jamie Kneen traveled to Colombia with Ben Lefebvre of CAW Local 599 (Falconbridge's Kidd Metallurgical Division in Timmins, Ontario) to take part in the third and final forum of the series "Mining, Environment, and Peace", organized by SINTRAMINERCOL, the Union of Minercol Workers (Minercol is the Colombian state-owned mining company).
The forums were held in response to an industry-dominated push to reform Colombia's mining laws. They brought together small-scale miners, mineworkers, human rights and environmental activists, legislators, investors, academics, and industry representatives in an effort to define criteria for new legislation that would allow the mining industry to thrive and expand, particularly in value-added and high-employment sectors, while at the same time protecting workers' rights, the environment, and communities' right to decide the course of their own development.
CAW and MiningWatch had been asked to participate for several reasons. SINTRAMINERCOL needed an international presence to make sure that their work would be taken seriously by international investors and by extension, the Colombian government. But they were particulary anxious to have the experience of other countries and communities in dealing with mining in a globalised economy, and especially Canadian workers, who have both benefitted and suffered. There is a direct connection, since the Devco coal miners in Cape Breton were thrown out of work specifically so Nova Scotia Power's lucrative coal contracts could be filled with Colombian coal, regardless of the labour and human rights conditions. We heard horrific stories of the conditions in the coal mines, where children are taken out of school to work in the mines, and union leaders risk their lives (and are often killed) for organising.
We were able to tell participants that Canadians would never allow the kinds of abuses that communities and workers suffer in Colombia, and that Canadian companies hoping to profit from Colombians' misery will face a rough ride. At the same time, there is ample room for responsible and ethical investment, and Colombia has ample natural riches to provide profitable opportunities for anyone who is willing to respect the communities and the environment.
An interview with a coal miner at one of Drummond's mines in Colombia shows how drastic the situation is.