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The Board that controls the pension investments of the United Church of Canada, Canada’s largest protestant Christian church, is refusing to put into practice a vote in August 2015 that would see the Church divest from Goldcorp Inc. This was the third motion presented to the General Council around divestment from the gold mining giant since 2009, when members of the church, through a group called Mining the Connections, acted on a call from community and church partners in Guatemala and El Salvador to do so. While the controversial Marlin Mine is at the heart of the call for divestment, Mining the Connections has also pointed to the lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent around Goldcorp’s Cerro Blanco mine and the violence-ridden Escobal mine, which Goldcorp had a major stake in developing.
“The church has a responsibility to denounce all of the injustices committed by the mining company. We must work to defend life, not make more money. We're convinced that monetary wealth destroys life and for those who only think about making more and more, they don’t care about how they get it,” says Sister Maudilia Lopez from the Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, where the Goldcorp Marlin Mine has been operating since 2005. She adds, “It’s not enough for only us to speak out. We have said so much, but we aren’t given credibility. Investors should know the damage their money causes us. If the church believes that their money is doing something good, they’re wrong. On the contrary, you are killing us."
Every employee and every body of the United Church that offers employment invests in the United Church of Canada Pension Plan. On August 11, 2015 the General Council, which represents the membership of the church in its broadest sense, voiced that their will was to divest from Goldcorp, with a 78% positive vote on a combined motion that was forwarded to General Council by four conferences from regions across the country.
At a meeting this weekend in Toronto, the Pension Board will give its reasoning to the General Council Executive for not complying with decision made in 2015, based on the recommendation of its Responsible Investment Working Group. Instead, they have pledged to continue shareholder engagement with Goldcorp through SHARE.
Mining the Connections is critical of this decision. "Management engagement by SHARE and other management engagement groups over almost a decade has not changed the devastating impacts. Nor do SHARE and Sustainalytics have the mandate and/or capacity to investigate and address many of the most egregious impacts. In addition, many of the most important Human Rights Assessment recommendations mentioned in the Pension Board Appendix have not been implemented," they write in their response to the decision.
"When you take away from a community all that is life giving and sustaining and then add back the bare essentials for its existence, how can you possibly justify that as a positive contribution?" notes Dave MacPherson, a member of the Mining the Connections committee. "Our church and our society teaches us that we must not turn a blind eye to abuse and yet we continue to enable Canadian mining companies to abuse our neighbours in the global South," he adds.
In its letter to the Pension Board, Mining the Connections points to the allegations against former Goldcorp Senior Vice President for Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, and his connection to a massive corruption and bribery scandal that broke in June 2016 linking illegal campaign funding to government payoffs in Guatemala. In addition, the group asks the Pension Board to report on how SHARE is holding Goldcorp accountable for its remediation and reclamation plans and its post-closure monitoring program due to concerns for future generations.
A recent report released by Osgoode Hall Law School's Justice and Accountability Project (JCAP)points to three Goldcorp projects in Latin America where serious human rights violations have been reported in the past 15 years. Murders, kidnappings, disappearances, injuries and arrest warrants issued against members of opposition is detailed at Goldcorp mines in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
"In addition to the long-term impacts caused by violence around the mine, the communities are also suffering from ground and surface water contamination, homes collapsing near the mine and the destruction of sacred site," says Lisa Rankin, Coordinator of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, a partner of the United Church of Canada. "As the company winds down operations and looks to sell off the Marlin asset, communities have expressed concerns about the medium and long-term environmental and social risks."
In their correspondence to the General Council Executive, the Pension Board notes that its fiduciary duty won't allow it to divest from Goldcorp and that its engagement with the company has been more positive in the long run for the communities. They also note that arbitrary divestment from Goldcorp would establish a precedent mandating divestment from other companies groups object to.
"Members of church and union pension plans have huge challenges in holding their pension plans accountable as they have their own governance and are minimally accountable to the plan members," says Kathryn Anderson of Mining the Connections. "Divesting from Goldcorp is hardly opening the flood gates. This was a grassroots process that took us seven years of documentation, communications with partners on the ground and education of our members. Of course people aren't going to present a motion at the General Council meeting, which only happens every three years, unless there is a very strong reason to do so. We aren't talking about individuals writing in, asking for divestment. A General Council motion has been passed. The Pension Board is defying the will of the United Church of Canada with their decision."
The plenary of the General Council Executive is expected to hear the Pension Board's stance on Saturday. "Churches and other social justice organizations evolved in spite of the law of the day not because of it. I challenge the church to take the moral high ground and divest," says MacPherson.
To learn more, visit: www.unitedforminingjustice.com/divest
- Kathryn Anderson, Mining the Connections
(902) 657-0474 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lisa Rankin, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
011 + 502 4906 5626 email@example.com
- Jackie McVicar, United for Mining Justice
(902) 324-2584 firstname.lastname@example.org