The deaths of four miners in the West African nation of Burkina Faso has advocates calling for greater oversight of Canadian-owned mining companies operating overseas.
Workers at the Perkoa Mine, which is owned by Vancouver-based Trevali Mining Corp., were trapped more than 500 metres below the surface on April 16 after heavy rain caused flash flooding, which breached two embankments outside the mine.
Last week, the company said none of the eight missing workers were able to reach an underground refuge chamber. On Wednesday, Trevali reported the bodies of four workers have been found. Four more workers remain missing.
Industry watchdogs have been disappointed with what they describe as the company’s apparent lack of capacity to respond to the flooding.
Heavy machinery and pumping equipment had to be imported from other countries like Ghana and South Africa, according to both the company and the Burkina Faso government.
Jamie Kneen with MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa-based NGO, questions how well the company was prepared for a disaster.
“I think in any context, in the developing world or in Canada, that is just an astonishingly poor response,” he said.
Kneen says the federal government does not regulate the activities of Canadian mining companies internationally.
“They’re subject to whatever the laws and regulations that are in a place like Burkina Faso to the extent that they’re actually being enforced,” he said.
In March, the federal New Democrats tabled a private member’s bill that would make Canadian companies more accountable for environmental and human rights abuse at their international operations.
“They wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know what was going on,'” Kneen said. “That would not be a defence anymore and there would actually be a legal course of action to sue them for not doing this.”
Another NDP private member’s bill would give the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) powers to investigate human right abuses by Canadian corporations and to compel key witnesses and documents. Kneen says CORE currently does not have the power to investigate, which renders it “essentially ineffective.”
Trevali has said it is working closely with authorities as it investigates the cause of the flooding.