Personal experience inspires pension fund questions

February 29, 2012 - 1:21am

Vancouver Island University philosophy professor Robert Pepper-Smith began considering unsettling questions about his pension fund when he was visiting Guatemala as a volunteer paramedic.

He was warned not to travel in remote regions because of resentment in the highlands over Canadian mining practices. There have been accusations that open-pit mining operations of some Canadian-based corporations have caused environmental degradation, health problems and human rights abuses including rape.

“There’s strong local opposition to Canadian mining. I was told that it was not safe for a Canadian to be out in the rural areas,” says Pepper-Smith.

He added that there was even suspicion that the aid organization that he was supporting might have been a front for Canadian mining interests.

In the past, VIU’s Institute for Practical Philosophy has hosted symposiums on issues such as child labour, health care, genetically modified foods and environmental rights.

This year’s Symposium on Social Justice poses the question: What are your pension funds up to?

The answer is not positive according to the subtitle, “Investing in the violation of human rights and the environment: The Case of Latin America.”

Pepper-Smith says many major pension funds in Canada have significant investments in mining operations that are accused of unethical practices.

“It’s time we hold our pension plans to account and ensure that the investments are ethical, because those funds represent us as individuals.”

He urges members of pension plans to research the holdings of their pension funds and assess the ethics of the companies in their portfolios.

“If we can convince our pension plans to take this seriously, it could have a profound effect on human rights and environmental issues around the globe,” says Pepper-Smith.

The 8th Symposium on Social Justice is free and open to the public. It will be held 9:30 am to 1 pm, Saturday, March 10 in the Liberal Studies Building (355), room 203.

There will be four presentations:

• Human Rights, The rule of Law, and the Canadian Government's Support for Canadian Mining Companies in Honduras

Michael Down, Department of Criminology, VIU

• The Dirty Dozen: A Brief Overview of the Twelve Top Companies in B.C. Employees Pension Portfolio

Don Alexander, Department of Geography, VIU

• The Human Face of Canadian Mining in Central America

Naomi Wolfe, North Island College

• The Practicalities of Ethical Investing

Stephen Whipp, CFP Senior Financial Advisor at Stephen Whipp Financial & Manulife Securites Inc.

For more information:

Robert Pepper-Smith

Department of Philosophy

Institute of Practical Philosophy:


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