CIDA's Anti-oversight AgendaCanadian Government Agency Sponsors Voluntary Approach to Corporate Regulation
October 15th, 2009
Read protestbarrick's "alternative" CSR report on Barrick Gold.
The room was packed at the D.C. headquarters of the Organization of American States, as folks gathered to hear three speakers on the topic of “Corporate Social Responsibility in a Time of Crisis.” The event, moderated by “Image Management” consultant Italo Pizzolante, featured three corporate representatives, including one from Canada’s infamous Barrick Gold, selling the idea that social responsibility makes sense for corporations to pursue.
While the panelists stressed the need to integrate CSR strategies with an overall business plan, noting benefits such as greater employee morale and increased public support, the elephant in the room was the fact that corporations use these voluntary measures as a way to avoid government oversight and mechanisms for true accountability. Mining companies like to pose as if CSR is needed because weak governments are incapable to taking care of communities near mine sites. Meanwhile, it is often the exact companies that promote CSR that simultaneously campaign against stricter regulatory controls. In fact, Barrick Gold was one of the companies singled-out for recently influencing the Harper government’s dismal response to calls for regulatory reforms. These reforms, if enacted, would have taken a step towards ensuring that Canadian Extractive Companies abroad respect international environmental and human rights standards.
These recommended reforms were also the culmination of a multi-year process, initiated in 2005, which included four public forums and a comprehensive consultation process. It resulted in the release of a consensus-based, multi-stakeholder final report that was even approved by the main industry group, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). The Harper government finally responded to these recommendations earlier this year. Their report, aptly titled "Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector," rejected the roundtable recommendations and offered no tools for redressing the abuses of Canadian industry abroad. Instead, it offered more subsidies to Canadian mining companies under the banner of CSR. According to a subsequent article in Embassy Magazine, "NGOs are holding the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Barrick Gold responsible" for the government's decision to pursue this strategy.
Now, back at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters, it seems as if this meeting is part of that strategy to promote CSR, and Barrick Gold is again front and center of this coordinated campaign. The meeting’s sole sponsor was the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), signaling the Canadian government’s direct promotion of the CSR agenda.
Fortunately, the OAS meeting was open to the public and a number of activists attended the meeting to present an alternative view of Barrick. Armed with facts and community testimony – all laid out in a format that mimicked Barrick’s own CSR magazine – these activists made sure that every person in attendance received an alternative report on Barrick's operations.
The report outlined the recent spill in Tanzania, which had taken the lives of 30 people and an estimated 300 cows. It contained excerpts of the report – prepared by the Norwegian Government’s Council on Ethics – which outlined their reasons for divesting $200 million from Barrick earlier this year. Finally, it contained a statement prepared by the government of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos, a small indigenous and agricultural community in Northern Chile. Their statement outlined their vision of development for their region, which vehemently opposed Barrick’s Pascua Lama project and condemned Barrick’s misinformation campaign regarding the Diaguita.
During the question and answer session, one attendee, Scott
Cardiff of EarthWorks, was able to ask whether Barrick thought that killing people
in Papua New Guinea and polluting local water sources and environments all over
the world was socially responsible. To this, the Barrick representative evaded
a direct response, instead commenting that Cardiff must have been on the
internet, where much false information about Barrick is easily found.
The Barrick representative closed his comments by reminding
the audience that gold was used for aerospace machinery and electronics, and
was thus a social necessity. Cardiff was unable to respond.
80 percent of gold is used for jewelry in the US. Meanwhile, enough gold has already been mined to last even this demand for 20 years without necessitating the mining of new gold. However, in a forum on Corporate Social Responsibility stacked with corporate representatives, this perspective – along with so many other facts – did not enter the picture. It is a shame that an organization such as the OAS would host such a deceptive forum, and we can only hope that the countless events like this one – promoting CSR and paid for by the Canadian government – will be confronted with the facts and perspectives that reveal the need for accountability and oversight regarding this wretched industry.