New institute promotes global sustainable mining

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SFU has joined UBC and École Polytechnique de Montréal in a joint venture to establish the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID).

Officially launched on Jan. 29, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) proposed the project in order to promote socially and ecologically responsible mining practices in less-developed countries.

Controversy surrounding the organization’s corporate and governmental ties has emerged among several student and public interest groups at UBC and SFU.

Bern Klein, executive director of CIIEID, told the Vancouver Sun that “the institute’s mission is to help national, regional and local governments to leverage mining and resource extraction into long-term, sustainable livelihoods.”

The joint proposal for the institute submitted by SFU, UBC, and EPM was awarded $24.6 million in federal funding by the DFATD this past November. The grant will be used to build and then run the institute for five years.

In addition to the grant provided by the DFATD, the three coalition members along with their strategic partners have agreed to commit $15 million in funding and in-kind aid towards the CIIEID. Strategic partners for the organization include NGO’s, international governmental and development bodies, and industry mining companies such as Stantec, Asanko Gold, and Goldcorp.

After the grant runs out, the Institute will search for funding from their strategic partners. Physical headquarters for the CIIEID will be on the UBC campus.

Daniel Shapiro, dean of SFU’s Beedie School of Business and member of CIIEID’s executive board points out that artisanal mining (small-scale mining operations that utilize traditional, non-mechanized extraction techniques) normally occurs without regard to environmental and social responsibility, which can create problems for the communities in which it occurs.

“These countries want to expand their extractive industries, and in some cases, the ways they’ve been doing it turns out okay; in other cases, the results will be disastrous. This is what we’re trying to work toward — preventing this,” Shapiro said.

Programming and outreach will be limited by the project’s mandate to areas that Canadian extractive corporations have already invested in. Klein points to mining organizations in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru as potential partners.

Some controversy regarding the motivations behind the project has sprung up among concerned students and community members; some worry that an association with corporate bodies may reflect poorly on the reputation of the academic institutions.

A group of concerned UBC students discussed the ethical concerns surrounding SFU and UBC’s involvement in the CIIEID on SFU’s radio station, CJSM 90.1, on Jan. 22.

“Canada does not have a track record of strong corporate social responsibility,” cautioned Sam Stime, a UBC graduate student involved with UBC’s Social Justice Society. He also raised concerns over the fact that several members on the CIIEID’s executive have had corporate mining ties in the past.

SFPIRG, a social justice organization on SFU’s campus, has also been vocal in raising concerns about the CIIEID’s structure.

Jennifer Moore, program director for MiningWatch Canada, told the Vancouver Sun that she worries that the independence of the CIIEID will be compromised by the fact that the majority of its funding comes from the DFATD.

However, Shapiro and fellow board member and SFU professor Carolyn Egri asserted that academic independence is tantamount to the CIIEID.

“There’s a really strong principle of academic independence and integrity running throughout the project,” said Egri, whose research focuses on corporate social and environmental responsibility.

Egri maintained that allowing corporate involvement in the CIIEID is important in tackling the problems at hand: “If there’s a problem, you have to solve it by including the people who are contributing to the problem. Excluding them won’t help at all.”

Shapiro added, “We are independent. We are all university people who cherish independence, so we are not an arm of the government in any way.”