Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, who writes extensively about mining issues.([email protected])
As a child of Polish immigrants who came to Canada after the Second World War and settled in the nickel mining centre of Sudbury, Ontario, I witnessed the stable and prosperous life my parents had due to my father’s life-long employment at Inco Limited. In the mid-seventies, I also had the good fortune to work at Inco’s Clarabell Mill for one year before going to college and spent one summer underground at their Frood-Stobie Mine which help pay for my college education.
So I am always surprised about the bad press and demonization major mining companies receive about their activities in lesser-developed countries and am very concerned about Bill C-300, the proposed federal anti-mining legislation introduced by a Liberal backbencher.
Take for example Barrick Gold’s annual meeting to shareholders in Toronto last April where many protesters gathered to denounce the company’s activities in their home countries. Chairman Peter Munk, is a Hungarian-Jew who escaped his Nazi-occupied homeland in 1944 and immigrated to Canada after the Second World War where he founded Barrick in 1983. During his presentation to shareholders, he had a few choice comments about the anti-mining NGOs.
“By moving into these countries and developing their mines, we provide – way beyond the importance of money – we provide human dignity,” Peter Munk said. “We provide an opportunity for these people to earn their money, rather than hold out their hands and depend on charity.”
In many of the regions Barrick operates, they often pay much more than the average local wage.
Munk also commented that “corporate social responsibility is part of our DNA” and a “rogue element” in some non-government agencies only want to halt development. “What can they offer to those 20,000 people we employ? What are the people going to do? Line up for social benefits in the remote hills of Tanzania or Peru? There ain’t none.”
Canadian-based Barrick Gold Corporation is the largest gold mining company in the world with 26 operating mines and nine advanced exploration and development projections around the world. Consequently, the company is a lightening-rod for almost every environmental organization with an axe to grind.
Barrick currently employs approximately 20,000 employees and 17,000 contractors in countries ranging from Chile, Peru, Australia to Tanzania, U.S.A. and Canada. Barrick’s economic contributions provide enormous and sustainable long-term development in the areas they operate in, often including the development of local supplier industries, the building of much needed basic infrastructure and a skilled, educated and healthy workforce.
In the company’s 2009 Online Sustainability Report, Aaron Regent, Barrick President and Chief Executive Officer stated, “Responsible Mining is central to our way of doing business at Barrick….Only by operating in a safe and socially responsible manner can we maintain our license to operate and ultimately be a successful as a company….In some of the most disadvantaged parts of the world, these programs are creating the conditions for accelerated economic and social development.”
There has been a huge generational change among senior and junior mining companies towards ensuring that their mining projects are done in a beneficial and sustainable manner for the host communities. There are many NGOs who collaboratively work with mining companies to ensure these projects provide maximum social and economic benefits. However, there is a fringe or as Peter Munk stated, a “rogue” element among NGOs who opposed all mining development.
For an impoverished region of a developing country, sustainable and environmentally sensitive mining developments will always provide a much larger economic and social benefits than subsistence farming. In the industrialized, affluent west, we often “glamorize” these impoverished conditions as less stressful or living “closer to the land.” Nothing can be further from the truth.
When you can’t provide food, medicine, education or decent housing for your children, which many large mining companies do in desperately poor regions, the anti-mining NGO claims ring pathetically hollow!
This same issue plays out between northern and southern Ontario. Most First Nations communities see the mining industry as a chance to alleviate the horrific, impoverished conditions in which they live, while wealthy and militant southern environmental movements oppose all mineral developments regardless of the millions of hectares of untouched forests and treeless swamps. There is more than enough real estate in Northern Ontario to accommodate both sides. The recent passage of the Far North Act by the provincial Liberals will only slow down mining development to the detriment of Aboriginals.
The following two examples of Barrick’s many corporate social responsibility initiatives that the company establishes around the world challenges the reasoning behind current anti-mining legislation, Bill C-300, that is being pushed by a Liberal backbencher.
Barrick has a long history of providing successful disease prevention programs in Tanzania. In an effort to improve health services to underserved populations in the Lake Zone region, home to nine million residents, Barrick launched the Lake Zone Health Initiative in 2008. Barrick’s Bulyanhulu, Buzwagi and North Mara mines are located in Tanzania’s Lake Zone which wraps around Lake Victoria and spans seven regions.
HIV, malaria and TB together kill thousands of people each year in Tanzania. This public-private sector health initiative is making it possible for companies, the government, health NGOs and donors like USAID to work collaboratively together to combat these deadly diseases.
The program promotes voluntary testing and involves teams of peer health educators who engage with employees and the wider community, raising awareness about HIV transmission and prevention.
Tuberculosis is also gaining ground as a killer in sub-Saharan Africa. At the Bulyanhulu mine, each employee is screened for TB through sputum smears and chest X-rays. To help employees recognize the signs of TB, the company has an extensive education and awareness program inside the mine and in the community. The final of the big three diseases, malaria, has always been a priority for Barrick in Tanzania. The company has conducted a variety of education, testing and spraying programs.
Malnutrition affects six out of every 10 children in the mountainous rural areas of Peru. Barrick and World Vision Canada have teamed up with local residents to tackle these problems in communities surrounding the company’s mines in that country. The program aims to build the capacity of mothers and community leaders to address the most urgent health needs of children in the area, with a special emphasis on nutrition and education.
Nearly 200 households, to date, have received training to establish home gardens that are producing fruit and vegetable crops. Surplus garden produce is being sold to local markets to raise household income. As well, a variety of water and sewage projects are underway to improve water quality and basic sanitation in 11 communities.
Over the past decade, Barrick has invested $132 million in communities worldwide on education, heath, and a range of other corporate social responsibility and philanthropic initiatives. In 2009, Barrick’s total global economic impact in the communities it operates was $8.7 billion.
Yet Bill C-300, a proposed federal Liberal private member’s bill on corporate social responsibility and extractive industries operating overseas will adversely affect Canadian mining companies. Bill C-300 proposes punitive sanctions on Canadian extractive industries that are found to be acting inconsistently with federal corporate social responsibility guidelines which have not yet been even drafted.
In reality, this bill allows any NGO to lodge a high-profile complaint that must be investigated by the government of Canada. There will be no accountability for a group making false claims so the process many not only damage the reputation of a major company but also hold up a multi-billion dollar project while the federal government investigates the allegation in a foreign jurisdiction.
In addition, by trying to force Canadian rules in foreign countries, the bill puts at risk Canada’s international relationships. A fundamental principle of international law is that each nation is sovereign and has the right to exercise jurisdiction and control over issues within its own territory. Canadians are justifiably appalled when United States’ Helms Burton Act – an extraterritorial application of U.S. law – penalizes Canadian and other foreign companies that do business in Cuba.
Barrick Gold, in a joint submission with Goldcorp Inc. and Kinross Gold Corporation indicated that Bill C-300 would adversely affect the Canadian Mining Industry by risking the competitive position and damaging the reputation of Canadian companies. In addition, the bill would undermine the collaborative approach and ignore the existing framework for corporate social responsibility as well as create a powerful incentive for companies to leave Canada. No one knows whether the bill will be defeated or passed in the fall.
Barrick Gold is a global leader in corporate social responsibility and Bill C-300 will only enable anti-mining NGOs to hinder not help Canadian mining companies provide economic and social development where ever they operate.
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant and executive speech writer who comments extensively on mining issues. www.republicofmining.com