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CIDA announces new projects for corporate responsibility

Maria Krause

On September 29th, Honourable Beverly J. Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, announced that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is launching four pilot projects in Africa and South America. The announcement was made at the Devonshire Initiative CEO Summit in Toronto, and highlights CIDA`s recent strategies to encourage Canadian extractive company practices that promote poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

In her address, Minister Oda outlined three projects being launched by CIDA in Peru, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. They are being piloted through partnerships between Canadian organizations and Canadian extractive corporations, and are aimed at strengthening the linkages between resource extraction, economic development and poverty reduction.

These projects will focus on areas such as clean water, education, and training of local workforces. For example, in Ghana, almost 400 young people will receive training to improve their employment skills. This project is being co-implemented by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and co-financed by Rio Tinto Alcan.

There are similar examples in the other two countries. In Peru, CIDA is collaborating with World Vision Canada and Barrick Gold Corporation to implement income generating agricultural projects for people living near the mining operations. In Burkina Faso, Plan Canada, CIDA and IAMGOLD will train teenaged boys and girls in skills related to the mining sector.

The fourth project announced by Minister Oda is the Andean Regional Initiative (ARI) for Promoting Effective Corporate Social Responsibility. ARI is being implemented in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and is intended to improve communication between local populations and extraction companies. The initiative will aim to aid local governments and communities in creating projects that encourage sustainable development for people living in and around sites of resource extraction.

These programs are being launched as a part of the CIDA's Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy and as part of Canada's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy. The former strategy was launched in 2010, and focuses on three key actions: constructing economic foundations, growing businesses, and investing in people.

The latter strategy, CSR, was launched by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) in March of 2009. It is intended to improve the relationship between Canadian companies and their regions of operation, and to increase their competitive advantage. This strategy is based upon four pillars that outline the government`s proposed methods to encourage ethical and successful practices by Canadian businesses in the extractive sector.

CIDA is partly responsible for the implementation of the first pillar of Canada’s CSR strategy. This pillar states that Canada will help developing countries manage the extraction and use of their natural resources so that these countries can benefit from them and use them to help alleviate poverty.

The CSR strategy was created after roundtable negotiations were held in 2006 with various contributors, including KAIROS, a partner of MCC. Although seen as a step in the right direction, this strategy has been widely criticized by civil society organizations (CSOs). These organizations state that the Government's CSR strategy has disregarded most of the Advisory Group's core recommendations, and lacks the mechanisms necessary to hold Canadian companies responsible for their actions.

While Government and Industry have lauded these CIDA projects as promoting sustainable development in resource-rich communities, CSOs are divided over the value and impact of such partnerships. CSOs in favour of the partnerships hope that these initiatives will help participating mining companies become better corporate citizens. However, many CSOs are concerned that CIDA's aid resources, supported by taxpayer dollars, are now being used to subsidize the CSR activities of the world's wealthiest mining companies.

In the third year of its Mining Justice Campaign, MCC will continue monitoring the Government's CSR strategy and other initiatives with the aim of promoting greater transparency and accountability in the Canadian mining sector.