Investing for the common good
Does your faith have anything to say to your investment decisions? Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) recently embarked on an informational campaign about the practices of Canadian mining companies which may appear in your investment portfolio. This mining justice campaign is guided by principles rooted in the biblical mandate for justice and right relationships, and a commitment to be caretakers of God’s creation.
Why examine 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 cellphones. Oil is used to get us to work, school, and church, to transport food to the supermarket, and to provide long-distance 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 mutual funds deemed “socially responsible” or “ethical” invest in mining operations shunned by others.
Canadian mining sector
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, more than 75 percent of the world’s exploration and mining companies were headquartered in Canada. According to a Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada report released March 2009, these 1,293 companies had an interest in some 7,809 properties in Canada and more than 100 other countries.
Canadian mining operations in other parts of the world are a mixed blessing. Mines yield essential products, provide employment, boost the economy, and may contribute social 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 the practices of some Canadian mining companies contribute to their suffering. They remind us that we are part of the problem. We are complicit with these activities through our growing demand for mining products and through our investments.
- In 2008, a Honduran Mennonite pastor and MCC partner who was researching the environmental impact of specific mines and advocating for stricter mining regulations was granted political asylum in the U.S. after he became aware that his name was on a black list. (A colleague had earlier escaped an assassination attempt.) His story points to a systematic attempt by powerful groups to silence opposition and protect their interests.
- In summer 2009, due to ongoing conflict in their region, the Tanzanian Mennonite Church invited MCC staff to visit in response. Although the conflict is multi-layered, a complicating factor is the presence of a Canadian-owned mine which displaced villagers 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, B.C., 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.” But Fish Lake has cultural significance for the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, indicated by numerous archaeological inventory sites along the lake shore. Construction of an adequate reservoir would only address the technical replacement of fish habitat and does nothing to address the irreparable loss of cultural values associated with the lake.
Back to the opening 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.