For Immediate Release – April 21, 2004
Toronto, Ontario – Inco’s poor environmental and human rights track record is being targeted by representatives from communities around the world both inside and outside the mining giant’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Toronto today.
Representatives from areas such as the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, Guatemala, Newfoundland and Labrador and Port Colborne, Ontario are attending the annual shareholder’s meeting to question Inco CEO, Scott Hand, about the company’s failure to deal justly with local communities impacted by Inco’s operations. Shareholders are being greeted by demonstrators with information highlighting Inco’s shortcomings around the world. They are also being joined by First Nations drummers and dancers from the Algonquin First Nation performing traditional dance and drumming in solidarity with visiting Indigenous communities affected by Inco.
“Inco refuses to listen to many community concerns. This causes unnecessary damage, particularly to the environment, public health and to native communities’ rights. Shareholders need to know that Inco’s inaction is costing money, and will continue to until Inco starts acting more responsibly,” said Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defence Canada.
Inco, the world’s second-biggest nickel producer, may be one of Canada’s worst corporate citizens. Based on data collected by independent rating service Michael Jantzi Research Associates, Inco was recently sited in the Report on Business magazine for its “poor community relations record at home and abroad.” Calling corporate social responsibility “the most important issue of the century so far”, the magazine gave Inco a failing grade of 46 out of 100, almost at the bottom of the mining companies surveyed. “It’s very disappointing to see Inco earning huge profits from a rising nickel market, but not be willing to invest more wisely in the communities it impacts,” said Smith. “In fact, Inco’s stated goal is to cut costs and spending even further.”
In addition to attending Inco’s AGM, numerous strategic planning sessions and tactical meetings are also taking place during the week in Toronto, Port Colborne and Ottawa. “This week has evolved into an international first, as a summit of major environmental and human rights groups, Indigenous and community leaders from every key area where Inco’s future lies,” said Joan Kuyek, National Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada. “It’s great to see the opportunities that are coming together as organized opposition to Inco meets and starts to network and plan.”
Inco’s Goro nickel project in New Caledonia is facing further delay as the local Indigenous community continues its strong opposition to development, and international support builds to have the island’s coral reef system declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which could significantly limit mining development. “Inco's refusal to recognize the rights of the Indigenous people of New Caledonia is a denial of the fundamental rights of the Kanak people,” said Senator Dick Meureureu-Goin, member of the Customary Senate of New Caledonia. “We do not understand why Inco has such a discriminatory attitude vis-à-vis the Kanak people when the mining company has signed agreements with the Indigenous People of Labrador.”
In Indonesia, Inco is pressuring the government to reverse its forestry legislation that bans open-pit mining in protected forests. Almost half of PT Inco’s contract of work area in Indonesia – 47% – lies in protected forested areas. PT Inco is also facing major new Native land claims which could restrict the company’s operations.
Indigenous communities in Guatemala are challenging Inco’s agreement to sell its former operations, currently under its subsidiary Exmibal SA, to Skye Resources Inc. based in Vancouver, B.C. The agreement is conditional on Exmibal SA’s soon-to-expire mining concession being renewed, a move opposed by more than 50 Indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya communities who are demanding full consultation with government and mining representatives for activities on their land. “Renewed mining in the area could ruin Indigenous lands and destroy their culture,” said Daniel Vogt, Director of the Asociación Estoreña Para el Desarrollo Integral (AEPDI). “Inco must respect the communities’ rights.”
In Port Colborne, the Community Based Risk Assessment process initiated by Inco in 2000 is now years behind schedule, with cost overuns of more than $10 million. “Inco says it’s all in the name of good science, but it’s now apparent they had no idea what they were getting into,” said Diana Wiggins, co-chair of Neighbours Helping Neighbours. “As each month and year passes, the delays and excuses from Inco sound less and less credible.” A proposed $750 million class-action lawsuit filed by residents for decades of pollution is still making its way through the courts with individual lawsuits against the company to follow if a class proceeding is not approved. See www.incowatch.ca for details.
In Newfoundland and Labrador (Voisey’s Bay), Inco’s demonstration hydrometallurgical project received an exemption from full environmental assessment even though it is still an experimental technology that will use hazardous substances on an already contaminated site in Argentia.
“Inco has issues around the world. It can keep trying to convince people things are fine. Or it can recognize there are better ways to do business if it truly wants to be viewed as a company that understands how to work with and respect communities,” said Smith.
NOTE: Representatives attending on behalf of communities in New Caledonia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Port Colborne, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador are available for interviews after the Inco annual shareholders’ meeting.
About Environmental Defence: Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, safe food and thriving ecosystems. Nationwide.
About MiningWatch Canada: MiningWatch Canada responds to threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mining policies and practices in Canada, and by Canadian mining companies around the world.
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For more information, or to arrange interviews with community representatives contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence Canada (416) 323-9521 ext. 232 or (647) 280-9521 (cell)
Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada (613) 569-3439 or (613) 795-5710 (cell)