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Loose Cannon: Better Planet becomes a bitter pill

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

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Written by Greg Beneteau

The University of Guelph’s $200 million fundraising campaign, known as the Better Planet Project, has been opposed by a group of students who argue that our post-secondary institutions already accept too much corporate cash.

I was one of the people who scoffed at their arguments – until I heard about the establishment of the Kinross Chair in Environmental Governance.

Funded by a $1 million donation from Canadian mining company Kinross Gold, the rotating chair is intended to “translate research into meaningful partnerships, programs and initiatives that encourage sound environmental policy and practice at all levels,” according to a press release by the University.

I stand apart from the opposition in that I do not oppose financial partnerships between universities and corporations. In an increasingly competitive and globalized environment, I don’t believe it’s practical for institutions of higher learning to isolate themselves from players on the world stage, which includes for-profit corporations.

I don’t oppose the Kinross donation on the grounds that it’s corporate money. I don’t buy the claim that the donation will give the company clout at our school.

I oppose the donation because it amounts to a million-dollar public relations manoeuvre at a time when many Canadians are questioning the commitment of mining companies to corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability

Though Kinross is frequently cited as being a responsible corporate citizen, one cannot ignore the fact that it has been involved in some unflattering associations. In a 2002 report prepared by a panel of experts for the United Nations, Kinross was one of eight Canadian mining companies cited for being in violation of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s guidelines over the operating of mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the time, Kinross Gold was a part owner of Kinross Forrest, a joint venture involving Belgian investor George Forrest and Tain Holdings which operated copper and cobalt mining operations in DRC’s Katanga province. (In 2006, Kinross Forrest was acquired by Katanga Mining, of which Forrest is a major shareholder).

It’s not surprising Kinross teamed up with Forrest to break into the war-torn country’s mining sector; according to the panel, Forrest “used his position in the elite network in an attempt to control the mining sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” specifically by using his political clout to obtain mining rights at fire sale prices from Gécamines, the State mining company.

"In a flagrant conflict of interest, Mr. Forrest was appointed Chairman of Gécamines from November 1999 to August 2001 while his private companies negotiated new contracts with the explicit intention of using Gécamines’ assets for personal gain," the report stated.

"During that time [Forrest] built up the most wide-ranging private mining portfolio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo" - a situation which Kinross wasted no time in exploiting.

Gécamines has also complained that Forrest-controlled companies were shipping unprocessed ore outside the country for extraction to avoid revenue sharing agreements with the DRC, already among the poorest countries in the world.

In October, Kinross Gold joined other Canadian mining companies in opposing the Responsible Mining Act (C-300). The federal legislation, which was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons, would have forced Canadian mining companies to toughen their environmental and human-rights standards when working abroad.

A million dollars is a lot of money, but it’s far less than the mining companies stood to lose by the passing of Bill C-300, or so they claimed. The fallout is that Canadians were left wondering why these supposedly upstanding corporate citizens would so vehemently oppose more standards and greater oversight of their industry.

The timing couldn’t have been better; by establishing the Kinross Chair in Environmental Governance, the company can associate itself with a university known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and a succession of business leaders, government policy experts, applied academics and innovators who will occupy the chair.

It stinks to high heaven. The University of Guelph should have known better than to wade into such a minefield, particularly the part where it accepted the donation under the umbrella of the Better planet Project.

Even if the $1 million helps the institution today, the damage to the University’s reputation and possible backlash from its alumni could end up costing it significantly more in the long-term.

But regardless of the overall impact, it’s hard to argue that the Kinross Chair in Environmental Governance remains a bitter pill to swallow.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: dubh on Feb 11, 2011 @ 7:17pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvf-5JTIsS0

    In case you haven't seen the video.

  2. Posted by: dubh on Feb 28, 2011 @ 10:33pm

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/kambale-musavuli/kinross-gold-corporation-vs-kambale-musavuli-round-1/10150107502814133

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