An international survey on resource development in the Arctic has ranked Canadian companies among the highest in the world for their policies on respecting indigenous rights.
A report from a member of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs says that four of the top 10 companies operating north of the Arctic Circle are Canadian. They include miners such as Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.a) and energy majors such as Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO).
“Companies operating in Canada and the U.S. do score very well,” said Indra Overland, the political scientist who heads the energy department for the institute, one of Norway’s most prominent think tanks.
Overland’s report, the result of three years of work, looks at 92 resource extraction companies operating above the Arctic Circle.
“I wanted to do something that interacts with and impacts on the real world,” he said.
His survey attempts to assess the internal policies and supports within various industry players.
It asked companies 20 questions about commitments to international agreements such as the International Labour Organization’s convention on the rights of indigenous people. It examined whether the company had staff devoted to handling indigenous rights and how well-qualified they were.
It also looked at track records on indigenous issues, transparency and consultation.
It didn’t assess the actual behaviour of the companies. That would involve prohibitive expense and travel, said Overland.
He called the survey a first step, saying you have to know what industry is promising before you can judge if it’s delivering.
“You first need people to make a commitment to something before you can hold them to that commitment. It makes it easier to pressure or induce companies to good behaviour.”
The top scorer in the survey was Teck Alaska, a subsidiary of Teck Resources. Canadian miners Baffinland and Kinross Gold (TSX:K) slotted in at the seventh and eighth spots. Imperial Oil was 10th.
MMG Resources, a Chinese- and Australian-owned company but active in Nunavut, landed in third spot.
Overland said his results suggest large companies — at least in their policies — do a better job with indigenous rights than smaller ones.
“It’s quite clear the bigger companies do better. Bigger companies have more resources.”
And, despite the reputation of their countries, companies from Denmark and Norway didn’t do well, he added.
“(They) tend to see themselves as progressive on indigenous rights, but we score low.”
Pierre Gratton of the Mining Association of Canada praised Overland’s report as a “sincere effort to look at basic indicators.” But requiring companies to be working above the Arctic Circle to be included in the survey unfairly left out many miners who work in Canada’s North, he said.
The survey didn’t include the operators of Canada’s three Arctic diamond mines and also left out Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut.
“Our Arctic is much colder than, say, Finland’s, Sweden’s and Norway’s,” Gratton said in an email. “As a result, there have been very few mines north of the Arctic Circle and not a lot of exploration either.
“Mines such as Diavik, Ekati, Gahcho Kue and Meadowbank, just south of the Arctic Circle, would have raised Canada’s rating significantly.”
Overland said he hopes to repeat his survey on an annual or semi-annual basis to track industry promises over time.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960