Scholarship Winners Urge TD to Pull Pipeline Funding
A group of 70 students who won scholarships from Toronto-Dominion Bank is calling for the company to withdraw its funding from the Dakota Access Pipeline.
TD Bank is one of the companies providing loans for the controversial energy project, which has been the focus of a months-long protest camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s traditional territory near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The project and its funders have faced increasing criticism in recent months as the standoff has escalated. At one showdown earlier in November, police in riot gear used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses in sub-zero temperatures on demonstrators who call themselves “water protectors.”
“It’s very frustrating, disappointing and heartbreaking to see (TD’s) silence in the face of these types of human rights violations,” said Aube Giroux, a TD scholarship recipient in 1996.
“They need to at least issue a statement that condemns the human rights violations that are taking place. That’s a first step,” Giroux said.
Earlier this month in Toronto, three protesters locked themselves by the neck inside TD’s Toronto headquarters, also demanding a statement from TD condemning the violence at Standing Rock.
“What we’re trying to do by drawing attention to a Canadian-funded pipeline is to show that we’re complicit in (the violence),” said Taylor Flook, one of the activists arrested at the Toronto protest.
“We wanted to just have a conversation or have a statement issued by the CEO Bob Dorrance that they are watching the situation and also are not happy with the violence,” Flook said.
Alison Ford, a spokesperson for TD Bank, said in an emailed statement that the company respects “the rights of those who wish to voice their opinions in peaceful protest.
“We support efforts to ensure environmental sustainability and the safety of the site. We will continue to encourage (Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the project) to engage in constructive dialogue and work towards a resolution with stakeholders and community members, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” the statement said.
The tribe opposes the pipeline, saying it threatens their drinking water in the Missouri River, and crosses their traditional territory. The protest camp has grown to include an estimated 5,000 people who have come from across the U.S. and many indigenous communities in Canada to fight the pipeline project.
In September work crews bulldozed through land the tribe said was a sacred burial ground. Since then confrontations between the protesters, pipeline crews and police have continued to worsen.
The pipeline route was originally set to pass near Bismarck, North Dakota but residents there opposed it.
The TD Scholarship students’ call comes one week before a deadline issued by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the protest camp, setting the stage for another escalation in the months-long standoff.
York University professor Dirk Matten said divestment by project funders isn’t the best way to push for change on mega-projects like Dakota Access.
Matten is the Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at York’s Schulich School of Business.
He said that acts of civil disobedience can be very effective over the long term at getting banks to change their policies, but not if they simply pull out their money.
“I would say that they have proven to be quite effective over the last 20 years. These events change the mindset of top management. They definitely do,” Matten said.
On Nov. 7 Norwegian Bank DNB said it was reconsidering its involvement with the Dakota Access project over concerns about the escalating violence.
Getting banks to pull their funding is both very rare, and less effective than remaining engaged and pushing for change, Matten said.
Matten pointed to big players like the Norwegian pension fund, which he said has worked with companies like Barrick Gold and BHP Billiton to address human rights concerns instead of simply yanking their funding.
“What they always do if problems come is to engage with these companies and say ‘look, these issues have come up, what can you do to improve?” And that’s where corporate social responsibility kicks in and becomes an important management tool,” Matten said.
“It’s better to keep that relationship but use it to leverage change. That’s what we see in a lot of cases,” Matten said, adding that Canadian banks are still on a “steep learning curve” and may not recognize the appeal of that option.
Each year TD awards 20 scholarships of $70,000 each to 20 students across Canada who show outstanding community leadership.
Giroux was part of the first year of winners, awarded for her work on women’s issues and AIDS awareness.
Many of the students have worked for TD in the past, taking advantage of an employment option in the scholarship program, Giroux said.
That makes speaking out against the company more difficult for many of the students because they’ve seen the best the company has to offer,” she said.
“It’s something we’re really struggling with. We feel very much a part of the TD community, the TD family,” she said.
“I know that TD is a very progressive institution. The people I know that work there are good, caring people. I don’t think that what’s happening right now in Dakota is in line with TD’s corporate social resistibility policies,” she said.