For all people of faith, our primary commitment is to love one another as God loves us. That principle applies to our business dealings, as thoroughly as to other aspects in our lives. In other words: There is no sphere of life excluded from moral scrutiny and the economic sphere is no exception.
We, the undersigned people of faith, implore the Milwaukee-based Commerce Group to weigh the ethical and environmental consequences of potentially pursuing further mining in San Sebastian, El Salvador, to take responsibility for the environmental contamination and to drop its case in the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes against the Salvadoran government under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
Trade itself may violate the dignity of others, or, it may protect the dignity of all human beings, thus becoming an“instrument for good,” as Norwegian theologian Atle Sommerfeldt teaches. It may generate wealth for a few, or, create responsible work for many while still protecting the earth.
We urge you to do the latter.
More than a hundred years of mining at the San Sebastian gold mine in El Salvador reportedly resulted in severe environmental contamination and public health problems in the surrounding community and in nearby watersheds. In 2012, confirming investigations and complaints made by civil society, the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment found that the San Sebastian River had nine times the acceptable limit of cyanide and one thousand times the compulsory standard for water for human consumption of iron. Local environmental organizations attribute this contamination to acid mine drainage leeching from mining waste and it is currently under investigation by the Salvadoran government.
As a result of two separate environmental audits, the Salvadoran government revoked the Commerce Group’s mining permit on Sept. 13, 2006. Now, taking advantage of “foreign investor protections” in CAFTA, the U.S. company Commerce Group is suing the Salvadoran government for $100 million. The tribunal hearing the case ruled in favor of the Salvadoran government in March, 2011, yet Commerce Group has filed for an annulment of that decision.
Communities of faith are deeply concerned about the impact of metallic mining on public health and on the environment, as well as on the escalating number of transnational corporations turning to international arbitration tribunals to resolve disputes over resource rights.
In 2007, the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador stated that “[…] we affirm that, by putting human life in danger, even though there might be economic benefits, precious metal mining should not be allowed in El Salvador. There are no material benefits that may be bought with the value of a human life.” Further, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, as well as faith-based organizations, in El Salvador recently issued a statement saying that the “voracity of national and transnational corporations in order to establish environmentally devastating projects, makes us extremely vulnerable to Climate Change.”
The signatures below call on the Commerce Group to take immediate steps to rectify the existing contamination in San Sebastian and to drop its case against the Salvadoran government.
Decisions made to increase short-term profits will have long-term consequences for the lives of very vulnerable people.