Last month, B.C’s Lieutenant Governor unveiled B.C.’s new Human Trafficking Prevention Network with an unlikely ally: the President of Shell Canada, Susannah Pierce.

Pierce was the executive who, in 2013, was picked by Shell Canada to lead its LNG Canada project – the $40 billion LNG export terminal fed by TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink, a 670-kilometer fracked gas pipeline that was punched through Wet’suwet’en territory without the consent of the nation’s hereditary chiefs. “When we think about working with TC Energy and CGL, yeah, it was a pretty huge accomplishment,” Susannah Pierce bragged in a recent interview.

One of the many repercussions of Pierce’s “huge accomplishment”? A rise in human trafficking in northern B.C.

Man camps linked to violence against Indigenous women

The construction of fossil fuel megaprojects like LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink require lots of workers, and all those workers need somewhere to sleep. These temporary camps, nicknamed “man camps,” fill up with bored, isolated (mostly) young men with a lot of disposable income – and they can become hot beds for drug abuse, gang activity and human trafficking.

A 2017 joint report by the Lake Babine and Nak’azdli First Nations found that man camps are associated with increased rates of sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women. Both nations fought fiercely to protect their people against two proposed camps slated for their communities.

There were fourteen man camps built for Coastal GasLink workers – four of these were built along the Highway of Tears, where dozens of Indigenous women have gone missing or been found murdered since the 70s. Of these four, one was constructed just 13 km from the Unist’ot’en healing centre – a sacred site of land-based learning and trauma recovery built by the Unist’ot’en House of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in 2015.

The Unist’ot’en declined to give their “free, prior, and informed consent for Coastal GasLink or any company to establish an industrial work camp on our territories.”

Forced to take action

Coastal GasLink ignored them, just like they ignored the eviction notice served to them by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in January 2020.

If the project backers had respected that lack of consent, years of violence against the Wet’suwet’en could have been avoided, and maybe Shell CEO Ben van Beurden wouldn’t have received, three years after that eviction notice, a letter from the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning his company’s complicity in human rights violations.

In that letter, nine UN experts – after detailing the crimes perpetrated by Shell against the Wet’suwet’en – recommend eight actions to address the allegations. One of these is that the company take “measures” to “prevent the recurrence of situations of human rights violations against Wet’suwet’en Indigenous Peoples, as well as other Indigenous Peoples and communities affected by development projects in the future.”

Instead, Shell Canada secured the appointment of their sparkling new President Susannah Pierce to the Human Trafficking Prevention Network of B.C.

Pierce is a prolific greenwasher who appears on self-help podcasts to share that her personal definition of spirituality is grounded in “respect [for] the connectivity between all of us and the cosmos,” even though she had absolutely no problem desecrating the Wet’suwet’en’s spiritual connection to their land to feed her $40 billion LNG export terminal with fracked methane.

“Corporate responsibility” masks corporate crimes

Just like Susannah Pierce’s other CV-fluffing, corporate-responsibility-girl-boss gigs – she’s served on the boards of several non-profits and think tanks – her new appointment as co-chair of the Human Trafficking Network is a low-impact, high-visibility band-aid fix.

Shell Canada funding human trafficking prevention efforts while building the man camps that create the violence in the first place is akin to RBC (another founding member of the Human Trafficking Prevention network) offering Indigenous financial literacy programs while bankrolling pipelines that are actively violating Indigenous rights.

Not only does this not get to the root of the problem, it insulates Shell Canada’s brand, making it harder for critics to speak out against their abuses. Fossil fuel executives like Susannah Pierce are in the business of unfettered expansion, and since any B.C.-based fossil fuel project by Shell or TC Energy (Pierce’s former employer) will be built on Indigenous land, they’re also in the business of suppressing the Indigenous resistance that threatens expansion. Ultimately what Susannah Pierce wants is more pipelines, and more pipelines means more man camps, means more human trafficking. But although she’s complicit in human rights violations, Pierce is given unfettered access to powerful institutions – she’s a board member at the Wilder Institute and sits on the executive committee at the Business Council of British Columbia. If people like Pierce are not held accountable, why would they ever stop?

The initiatives that companies like Shell and RBC fund are important – but they can’t have it both ways. If Susannah Pierce is not also addressing the problems at the source (which also happens to be where profits are threatened) her support for those initiatives looks less like meaningful action and more like corporate-responsibility-washing to distract and deceive the public.

According to Susannah herself, every day she wakes up and asks herself: “How can I be good to people? How can I progress in such a way that makes people healthier, happier?” A good start would be to consider not building a pipeline when an Indigenous nation tells you they don’t want it scarring their territory and traumatizing their people.


To learn more about the connections between resource extraction, man camps, and violence against Indigenous women and girls, check out Justice for Girls, and be sure to follow them on social media.