Thursday, 6 June 2013

Does Barrick Gold deserve to be a member of the Global Compact?


Barrick Gold, the Canadian mining giant, has been the centre of controversy over the past few weeks. The company that joined the Global Compact in 2005 has been removed from a New Zealand government pension fund for human rights and environmental violations in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania. In Chile, the company was ordered to suspend its Pascua Lama project. Additionally, Barrick Gold was fined for USD 16 million for environmental violations in the Chilean-Argentinean border region.



Excluded on ethical grounds
On May 13, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund announced it had excluded Barrick Gold Corporation and its subsidiary African Barrick Gold from its investment portfolio. Barrick Gold’s activities in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania have led the fund to this decision. Barrick’s mines in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania have experienced a series of security-related, environmental and community problems over a lengthy time period, the fund’s spokesperson said.

In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported about security personnel being implicated in gang rapes and other violent abuse at Barrick’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. Serious concerns were also raised about the mine’s negative impact on public health and the environment. Environmental concerns relate to the company’s practice of ‘riverine tailings disposal’, a process by which mining waste is dumped directly into local rivers. In March 2011, Mining Watch Canada filed an OECD Guidelines complaint with the Canadian National Contact Point against Barrick Gold regarding human rights violations at the Porgera mine.

Barricks’ North Mara gold mine in Tanzania has also been linked to grave human rights violations. Several clashes between impoverished villagers looking for valuable rocks among the mine’s waste heaps and the mine’s security guards, backed up by the Tanzanian police, have led to the death of at least seven people. Sexual assaults have also been reported.

Too little, too late

According to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund’s Manager, Responsible Investment, Anne-Maree O’Connor, Barrick’s activities are inconsistent with the human rights and environmental standards contained in the UN Global Compact. Ms O’Connor said Barrick Gold had made recent steps to improve its policies and practices, but there was no practical remedy for the environmental impact of riverine tailings. Additionally, the fund’s view was that progress on resolving community grievances and security issues had been slow. In a reaction to the Fund’s decision, Barrick Gold
said it had been making steady progress on environmental and human-rights standards, and would have liked the chance to put its case to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

The NZ Superannuation Fund is not the first to delist Barrick Gold on ethical grounds. Back in 2009, Barrick’s activities in Papua New Guinea were the reason for the Norwegian Pension Fund to remove the company from its investment portfolio. In addition, Barrick Gold features on the list of companies delisted on ethical grounds of the Dutch investment company Delta Lloyd.

Meanwhile in Chile
On May 24, Chilean environmental authorities ordered Barrick Gold to halt work at its Pascua-Lama mine on the Chilean-Argentinean border. In addition, the company was fined for USD 16 million for environmental offences. According to indigenous communities, Barrick’s activities have damaged pristine glaciers and harmed water supplies. Chilean civil society organisations, representing groups living downstream of Barrick Gold's Pascua Lama project, speak out against the recent fine and suspension imposed on the company for not going far enough.

Empty words?
These recent examples are not the only controversies in which Barrick Gold plays a role. Through its Global Compact membership, Barrick Gold has committed to implement the Compact’s principles the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. The long list of human rights and environmental problems with which Barrick Gold is associated raises questions about the value of such a commitment.

© Photo: The Telegraph (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/thomaspascoe/100018574/the-price-of-gold-has-been-manipulated-this-is-more-scandalous-than-libor/)

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