City Guides » Green Halifax

Bad Moody

Mine exec gets an earful at Dal environmental lecture.

by

comment

It’s an interesting sign of the times when the chair of a mining company notorious for illegally evicting subsistence farmers to increase international coal exports is invited to lecture on “sustainability.”

Dalhousie University invited Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of AngloAmerican, the world’s second-largest mining company, to address a packed house about “Sustainability Challenges for Extractive Industries Operating Globally.”

“This company, through its stake in the Cerrejon mine, is responsible for forcibly displacing hundreds of subsistence farmers in northeastern Colombia,” says Bronwen White, a fourth-year international development studies student at Dalhousie, who passed out critical leaflets prior to the event.


Moody-Stuart is no stranger to this sort of controversy---as former head of Shell Oil’s Nigerian operations, he learned to handle tough questions.


Because of his work at Shell and the ensuing allegations of collaborating with Nigeria’s military to murder environmental activists, Moody-Stuart was featured in the popular documentary The Corporation---he served tea to radical environmentalists as they protested on his front lawn.


He doesn’t believe profit should be the driving force for corporations. “The ultimate goal of a company is to produce quality goods and services,” he told the audience. “There is not much trust in big business these days.”


Activists, however, weren’t buying what Moody-Stuart was selling. One audience member, a masters student at Saint Mary’s, accused him of “corporate green washing” while others held colour photos of Colombian families displaced by AngloAmerican’s operations.


The Cerrejon mine, owned by AngloAmerican and two other multinationals, is the largest open-pit coal mine in the world. Until recently, it supplied 17 percent of the coal burned in Nova Scotia. In 2001, bulldozers contracted by the mine smashed the village of Tabaco, inhabited by Afro-Colombians and indigenous Wayuu.


Students showed video footage of Tabaco’s destruction before Moody-Stuart’s presentation. In the video, a small girl with pigtails and pink overalls cries and pushes against the shields of Colombian riot police as bulldozers ram her family’s home.


“Cerrejon employs thousands of Colombians, paying high wages,” Moody-Stuart said before the lecture. “The original relocation , I think, was carried out in accordance with Colombian law.” However, he added, “we have always said that we don’t think was perfectly executed.”


Pressed about whether shipping coal, tainted by allegations of human rights abuses, from Colombia to Nova Scotia represents a sustainable business practice, he said, “We can stop producing coal, but your lights are going to go out.”


In 2007, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched an investigation of BHP Billiton, an Australian multinational with a stake in the Cerrejon mine, for the eviction of Tabaco. Moody-
Stuart thinks a similar OECD investigation of AngloAmerican is a realistic possibility.


In response to human rights concerns around AngloAmerican’s operations,
AngloAmerican has struck a committee, chaired by the President of Cape Breton University and consisting of NGOs from Chile, a Colombian economist and other notables to investigate allegations around Cerrejon.


That doesn’t console Garry Leech, a lecturer at CBU who interviewed dozens of farmers displaced by AngloAmerican’s mining operations. “Cerrejon has been harassing people living in , demanding that they leave the area,” he said, adding that the mine refuses to collectively negotiate with the nearby communities.


“Throughout history, people have had to move for industrial projects,” Moody-Stuart said. “The question is how you manage those displacements.”


“Everyone can make mistakes,” said Bronwen White after Moody-Stuart’s talk. “But it seems like AngloAmerican’s Colombian operations haven’t learned anything from the displacement of Tabaco. These aren’t just numbers: We’re talking about people’s homes and lives that will be destroyed.”

Add a comment

Remember, it's entirely possible to disagree without spiralling into a thread of negativity and personal attacks. We have the right to remove (and you have the right to report) any comments that go against our policy.