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RRSP Season: Investing for the common good

Jon Nofziger
February 1, 2010

 

Does your faith have anything to say to your investment decisions? Recently MCC has embarked on a mining justice campaign guided by principles that are rooted in the biblical mandate for justice and right relationships, as well as a commitment to be caretakers of God’s creation.
 
Why look at the extractive industry? One reason is that we all use, even depend, on the products of this sector. Metals are used in household wiring, medical equipment, wedding rings, computers and cell phones. Oil is used to get us to work, school and church, transport food to the supermarket and provide long distant travel for business or holidays. Potash is used in agricultural fertilizers and soap production.
 
Meanwhile, public money is invested in Canadian mining interests around the world through the Canada Pension Plan. Many individual RRSP funds will have Canadian mining companies in their portfolios. Even some ‘socially responsible’ or ‘ethical’ mutual funds invest in mining operations that may be shunned by others.
 
OK, but why put mining under the microscope? Canada is a particularly strong player in the global mining sector. Canadian financial markets are the world’s largest source of equity capital for mining companies undertaking exploration and development. In 2008, over 75 per cent of the world’s exploration and mining companies were headquartered in Canada. These 1,293 companies had an interest in some 7,809 properties in Canada and in over 100 countries around the world. [1]
 
Canadian mining operations in other parts of the world are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, mines provide essential products, jobs, boost the economy, and may contribute schools, clinics and similar supports to communities. But there is another side.Jobs are often short-lived and the financial benefits to the local economy are meager. Frequently, the people who occupy the land – often, indigenous peoples – are not adequately consulted. Sometimes, Canadian mining operations contribute to the displacement of people, environmental degradation, human rights violations, contamination of water supplies, violence and armed conflict.
 
Communities both here in Canada and around the world are reporting that practices of some Canadian mining companies are contributing to their suffering. They remind us that we are part of the problem in that we are complicit with these activities through our growing demand of mining products and our investments.
 
In the fall of 2008, a Honduran Mennonite pastor and MCC partner who had long worked in researching the environmental impact of specific mines and advocating for stricter mining regulations was granted political asylum in the United States. This partner became aware that his name was on a ‘black list’ of human rights advocates and environmentalists. (A colleague had earlier escaped an assassination attempt.) He relates how his story points to a systematic attempt by powerful groups, including Canadian mining companies, to silence opposition and protect their interests.
 
In the summer of 2009, MCC staff was invited by the Tanzanian Mennonite Church to visit in response to ongoing conflict. Although the conflict is multi-layered, a complicating factor is the presence of a Canadian-owned mine which displaced both villages and small-scale mining operations of local people. In addition, there have been reports of water contamination caused by the mine’s operations.
 
In January 2010, a controversial mining site west of Williams Lake, BC was awarded a provincial environmental assessment certificate. The assessment report concluded that “the project is not likely to result in any significant adverse effect, with the exception of the loss of Fish Lake and Little Fish Lake.”[2] Fish Lake has cultural significance for the Xeni Gwet’in people indicated by numerous archaeological inventory sites along the lake shore.[3] Opponents of the mine proposal state that even if the company would construct an adequate reservoir, that would only address the technical replacement of fish habitat and does nothing to address the irreparable loss of cultural values associated with the lake. In assessment decision making, it appears that corporate and tax interests are given more weight than indigenous culture and rights.
 
Back to the question - Does faith inform our investment portfolios? As Christians, we should consider how our investments and purchases link us to mining activity and whether these activities align with our faith and the teachings of Jesus. Do our investments promote the well-being of global neighbours, not only our returns? Are our investments helping build right relationships with creation? As Christians blessed with financial resources and instruments to plan for the future, let us use the opportunity to share ‘good news’ through our investments.
 
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Jon Nofziger is the Peace and Development Education Coordinator for MCC B.C.


[1] Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada; Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector March 2009
[2] BC approves controversial 20-year open pit mine; Vancouver Sun; 15 January 2010
[3] http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/miningwatch-intervenes-federal-environmental-assessment-controversial-prosperity-project