Barrick Gold and North Mara: the search for common ground – by Aaron Regent (Globe and Mail Website – June 22, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous impact and influence on Canada’s political and business elite as well as the rest of the country’s print, radio and television media.

Aaron Regent is the president and CEO of Barrick Gold Corp. For Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives at Barrick, go to Beyond Borders.

The relationship between developing countries and Canadian mining companies has been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks and understandably so. As president and CEO of Barrick Gold Corp., it troubles me that events surrounding our company are part of that discussion.

In mid-May, we learned that five people had been killed by Tanzanian police following the invasion of the North Mara mine by as many as 1,500 people. Shortly after, this newspaper reported on our findings that police and security officers may have committed sexual assaults in the area around the mine. Barrick’s revulsion at discovering this evidence is deep. I have seen myself, from the men and women working on the ground to the most senior levels of management, enormous disappointment at these situations and a determination to act.

Barrick will not shy away from the challenges at North Mara, nor diminish them by failing to respond. Where we do encounter safety or human-rights concerns, we will act. We will aggressively investigate allegations of abuse or violence, and we will actively support the investigations of authorities. We will address concerns related to security and the safety risks posed by trespassing.

A number of initiatives at North Mara are now in place or under way, including numerous improvements to security systems, improvements to human-rights training and procedures for reporting allegations of human-rights abuses, and improvements to our community programs. We have established a partnership with Search for Common Ground, an international NGO, to provide further training on human rights to the police. We will also work with NGOs and government partners to identify and develop specific initiatives that address violence against women in the Mara region.

Some suggest we shut the mine. We think shutting down a mine that provides employment and other meaningful benefits to thousands is not a good solution. The economic and social impact would be severe for the community.

In the face of circumstances such as this, people who don’t know much about the mining industry are likely to wonder if it’s like this all the time. It isn’t. The events I have described are serious, intolerable and must be resolved no matter how long it takes. But they are not representative of our company as a whole, or the broader mining industry.

Barrick operates 26 mines around the world. Almost all of them operate smoothly, quietly and peacefully. They create well-paying jobs in remote places where opportunity is often very limited. Mining can bring good roads, good water and reliable power where there was none or very little before. Our operations also support better schools and health-care services. Mining adds a layer of social and economic development that often goes beyond what national governments, charities and philanthropists alone can provide. We try as much as possible to work alongside them toward common goals.

Our efforts are strengthened by the standards and accountabilities of more than a dozen organizations Barrick has joined, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals, aimed at improving sustainable practices within the mining industry; the International Cyanide Management Code, which sets out strict standards for the use of cyanide in mining; and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, guidelines for the extractive sector that integrate the need for safety and security at mining operations with the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people living around those sites. I am confident that, where we operate, Barrick is seen by the majority as a stable, reliable, beneficial contributor to the community and the economy.

None of the benefits of mining override or reduce our responsibility to the people where we operate. We are guests in these countries. Our responsibility is that the benefit of our presence outweighs the impact. This is not to suggest some circumstances won’t remain complicated or difficult. Solutions, particularly in developing countries, demand that many different parties find common ground and ways to work together. Barrick plays its part and will keep doing so.

Remember that the majority of people who work for us are citizens of the countries where we operate, and they care about the future of their countries. We are all determined to provide for safe, secure conditions where we operate and to remain a vital source of economic and social opportunity for communities that far too often have neither.