Its 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 worlds 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 Oils Nigerian operations, he learned to handle tough questions.
Because of his work at Shell and the ensuing allegations of collaborating with Nigerias 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 doesnt 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, werent buying what Moody-Stuart was selling. One audience member, a masters student at Saint Marys, accused him of corporate green washing while others held colour photos of Colombian families displaced by AngloAmericans 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 Tabacos destruction before Moody-Stuarts 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 familys 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 dont 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 AngloAmericans 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 doesnt console Garry Leech, a lecturer at CBU who interviewed dozens of farmers displaced by AngloAmericans 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-Stuarts talk. But it seems like AngloAmericans Colombian operations havent learned anything from the displacement of Tabaco. These arent just numbers: Were talking about peoples homes and lives that will be destroyed.