The Ethics of Doing Business Abroad

Doing business abroad | BCBusiness

The triple bottom line has long been part of the cost of doing business

Don’t tell British Columbians that the bottom line is all that matters in business. As our readers can attest, a clean conscience on social and environmental matters is a vital part of making money, both here and abroad.

Our survey asked readers how important it is to do business with countries with democratic governments, and how important a country’s human rights and environmental records are. More than 60 per cent of respondents said those factors are very important. Fewer than five per cent said any of those issues aren’t important at all.

B.C. companies have seen how social conflict over environmental or human rights issues can delay or derail business ambitions. Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets in their country to fight Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Inc.’s gold-mining project last year over fears the miner would contaminate their water supply. Similar protests have been held in Greece, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Israel.

Closer to home, the federal government rejected Taseko Mines Ltd.’s proposed gold and copper mine near Williams Lake this spring after it failed an environmental review. B.C. miners shouldn’t feel singled out—Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline project through B.C. faces continued local opposition despite federal government support.

The lesson is to engage communities and address social and environmental issues from the outset—an approach executives at Calgary-based Enbridge admit they failed to do well in the beginning. If you don’t build relationships, conflicts will erupt.

Karina Briño, president and CEO of the Mining Association of B.C., says the province has long been focused on the triple bottom line: social responsibility, environmental stewardship and economic sustainability. “We have at least a couple of decades of experience in engaging in these conversations in a meaningful way.”

She argues that stringent environmental rules don’t harm companies’ competitiveness in her industry, and she has no desire to lobby for looser restrictions. “What affects our competitiveness, I think, is a lack of clarity in terms of the regulatory process,” she says. “If those rules are clear, I think we can demonstrate that British Columbia can be a leader when it comes to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.”