Former Langara peace and conflict studies instructor, Federico Velasquez sat on the panel for the 15th session of PeaceTalks on Feb. 5
Velasquez currently works at one of the world’s largest mining companies, Anglo American.
A discussion on peace, human rights and the mining sector at The HiVe on West Hastings Street attracted a notable turnout of interested Vancouver residents. PeaceGeeks, a global non-profit, volunteer organization, and British Columbia Council for International Cooperation hosted the event.
Mining companies under fire
According to the PeaceGeeks website Canadian mining companies have faced a recent rise in criticism from non-governmental organizations “about their human rights records and the social impact of some of their operations.”
“There are a number of companies, and perhaps most of the bigger ones, that really care for their reputation, whether it is for good reasons or bad, I’ll leave that up to you, but the reality is they do care for their reputation,” Velasquez said.
Good turn-out for mining sector forum
The forum was open to anyone interested and brought out an enthusiastic crowd.
Sebastian Merz, co-host, who moderated the discussion said, “I’m pretty pleased with the event overall, we had a really good turnout. Usually when we have these kinds of events we have like 15 to 25 people.”
Merz said this time there was close to 70 people and that the talk “definitely struck a nerve with people seeing as it was an important issue.”
The forum raised awareness on human rights protection in the extractive industry and discussed how the private sector and non-governmental organizations can work together to provide environmental and economic sustainability.
Velasquez, a member of the governance team in the Mining Assocation of Canada, said he was there to represent personal views and not those of his company, stating it was a gathering for everyone to have a “good discussion.”
Impacts of mining
Mining industries have both impacts and benefits, and communities may be driven by another political agenda as to deciding whether or not the company is needed, said Velasquez.
“When we say that communities are not wanting mining companies…we need you ask ourselves also, is the community speaking for themselves,” he said.
During a question period following each speaker, the crowd wasn’t shy in challenging the panel and voicing their opinions. A UBC student enquired passionately about veto powers of communities asking what if “this is not our idea of development and we don’t want to be a mining community?”
Glenn Sigurdson, Chair of the Responsible Minerals Sector Initiative explained the difficulty of respecting rights of different people in different communities with diverse perspectives.
“We need to understand that powers are always part of the reality of the world around us and when we respect each other’s power, we’re going to get somewhere,” he said.
The panel and audience agreed about the fact that there needs to be improvement in human rights activities in mining companies, locally and internationally.
Reported by Karly Blats