Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Mining Industry: Transparency is the Key to Protecting the Poor and Vulnerable

August 12, 2015

  By Sammi Sluder, Economic Justice Intern

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si (#95)

On July 21, we celebrated five years of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act being signed into law. With this legislation, consumers are better protected from predatory financial action and another recession akin to the 2008 financial crisis.

However, some parts of Dodd-Frank have not been implemented. Section 1504 – which requires gas and mining companies listed on the US Stock Exchange to publically disclose all payments made to foreign governments – has not been effective, despite the growing trend of transparency in business practices in Europe and Canada.

After the passage of Dodd-Frank in 2010, it took two years for the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to establish rules based on section 1504. After that, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce sued the SEC, claiming there were procedural errors in the creation of the rules and that they were an infringement on the oil companies’ First Amendment free speech rights. The District Court ruled that the SEC needed to provide “better justification” for two areas of the law: publishing of reports publically and not allowing for any exemptions for mining companies.

Since this law suit, the SEC has put off discussing 1504 and offering more explanation for its interpretation of Dodd-Frank. This is what is stopping the reenactment of these important rules.

This is especially concerning for communities living near mines. As people of faith and seekers of justice, we are very concerned that the lack of transparency in the mining industry is harming local communities, especially the poor, in resource-rich but money-poor countries in the global south.

Columbans have taken a stance on extractive industries by saying:

“We challenge the model of development promoted by many multinational corporations, governments and international financial institutions that is based on the intensive exploitation of natural resources, most of which are nonrenewable, and creates conditions of dependency for countries from which the resources are extracted. Our mission experience of living with communities and the natural world that has been marginalized and exploited, along with insights from Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching, and empirical science impel us to seek ways to restore right relationships with Creation.”

Transparency is the key to keeping people informed and preventing corruption. If these protections are not headed, local communities and the poor invariably suffer. We are most concerned with access to water, loss of diversity, false or weak alternatives to mining, made-to-fit laws on regulations, and threats to human rights. We recognize that responsible use of nature resources and investment can help drive development, but there need to be safeguards for local communities.

The CCAO and 14 other faith-based organizations recently sent a letter to Secretary John Kerry calling him to push for reimplementation of section 1504 by writing to SEC Chair Mary Jo White. “In your role as Secretary of State, you are uniquely qualified to make clear the foreign policy benefits of greater transparency and good governance in the extractives sector. Please stand with people of faith and historically marginalized communities around the world and urge the SEC to act,” the letter states.

Although it has been five years since the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law, we will continue to be faithful to our call to stand with the poor and vulnerable on this issue.