‘Mining can undermine development efforts,’ Clark U. expert warns Canada lawmakers

Prof. Anthony Bebbington

Anthony Bebbington, Higgins Professor of Environment and Society and Director of the Graduate School of Geography, recently traveled to Ottawa to serve as an invited witness before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on “The Role of the Private Sector in Achieving Canada’s International Development Interests.”  The other witness was Brent Bergeron, vice president of corporate affairs at Goldcorp, Inc.

The meeting addressed the role that Canadian mining companies are playing in development partnerships as well as the general relationships between mining, development and poverty reduction; all topics that have been much debated and contested in the press in recent months.

In his opening statement, Professor Bebbington, who has worked throughout South and Central America, and most recently in Peru and El Salvador, drew on a decade of research exploring relationships among extractive (mining) industries, social conflict, governance, livelihoods, and development in Latin America. Rather than talk specifically about development projects funded by mining companies, Professor Bebbington focused on the ways in which mining can transform local and national societies.  He cited the prevalence of conflict in Peru as evidence that mining “can negatively affect communities and put alternative development options in jeopardy.” He also stated that mining often undermines the very institutions needed to enable development.

Read the minutes from the hearing of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Watch Professor Bebbington's address and supporting slides.

Professor Bebbington told the committee that he has spoken with Ministers and senior officials in Latin America who feel that Canada's foreign policy links with extractive industry have seriously undermined the country's credibility.  He quoted one Minister as saying “I don’t know if Canada has been quite so discredited in its history….. I don’t think they really care.”   At the end of his opening statement, he warned committee members, “If someone would say similar things about my faculty members or department then I would conclude that something was seriously wrong.”

Two Canadian newspaper articles have since included commentary from Professor Bebbington.  The first article questioned the corporate social responsibility standards of some Canadian companies who are supposedly “helping” Latin America (“At global mining conference, Joe Oliver is a rock star,” on March 7 in Parliament Now).  The second addressed the mining industry’s role in foreign policy (“Foreign policy is mining policy” on March 7 in The Ottawa Citizen).