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Corporate Knights defend abusive corporations

"Best 50" corporate citizens ignores human rights abuses, environmental mismanagement and faulty self-reporting

by Sakura SaundersAn edited version appeared in NOW Magazine
June 13th, 2013

Corporate Knights magazine just released this year's "Best Corporate Citizens in Canada" report, a top 50 rating which claims to show that "being environmentally and socially responsible is more than just the right thing to do - it's good for business." Unfortunately, all this index proves is that 'clean capitalism' is more about style than substance. Put enough money into your image and public relations outfits will sing your praises in an unaccountable echo chamber of write-ups and awards, regardless of how much evidence suggests otherwise.

One of the most glaring incongruities in their recent index is the placement of Barrick Gold – a company renowned for displacement, killings, gang rapes, and environmental disasters – in the number four position. I will repeat this point because it might be hard to comprehend: Corporate Knights believes that Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company, is the 4th best corporate citizen in Canada.

At least Corporate Knights admits that this stance is likely to cause controversy. After all, the "clean capitalism" company admits, "the company’s Pascua Lama mine, straddling the border between Chile and Argentina, was suspended in April on the Chilean side by court order for 'environmental irregularities'. ”Corporate Knights also gives a nod to the fact that "allegations of human rights abuse stemming from mines in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea continue to swirl around the company."

Swirling around the company? How about these abuses have been so well documented by Amnesty InternationalHarvard LawHuman Rights Watch,Mining WatchPorgera Alliance and other NGOs, that Barrick themselves have at times been forced to admit to them. Pension funds such as Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund and more recently New Zealand's "Super Fund" have dumped Barrick stock due to an "unacceptable risk of extensive and irreversible damage to the natural environment" in Papua New Guinea and on-going human rights issues at their mines in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.

But, killings, rapes, and "environmental irregularities" aside, Corporate Knights claims that Barrick is an industry leader. "It has embraced stronger disclosure practices, while becoming more resource-efficient than its peers," the group insists.

This sentiment is familiar. It is reminiscent of an editorial by the Globe and Mail, which praised Barrick for admitting to sexual assaults at their North Mara mine in Tanzania, immediately following a massacre at the same mine site. Have our expectations of mining companies gotten so low that as long as they admit to their abuses, they jump to the top of the pack?

While this attitude is disturbing, what is more disturbing is that we want so badly to believe that global capitalism is ok, we will believe the perpetrators when they tell us that things are getting better. And now this delusional dynamic has been formalized such that supposedly independent bodies tally up corporate self-reporting and pump out top 50 lists. I wish that I could say that Corporate Knights was an anomaly, but there is an entire "corporate social responsibility (CSR)" industry cropping up and its bread and butter is selling us the idea that corporations can and will fix themselves, with the incentives that these industry yes-men provide.

I hate to break it to you, but just because Barrick admitted to sexual abuses at one mine site, does not mean that they don't cover up far more abuses than they report on. In fact, their cover-ups, lies, and faulty self-reports are so well-documented, that they were recently compiled in a report, entitled "Debunking Barrick" that aims to detail some truth behind Barrick's PR spin.

In fact, if Corporate Knights had bothered to look into the "environmental irregularities" that they sort-of acknowledge, they would have learned that part of these irregularities – aside from destroying a glacial water supply – was the handing in of faulty self-reports. How then, could Corporate Knights go on to believe the self-reports that the Chilean state rejected?

If we are truely interested in transforming corporate behaviour, ending abusive practices, developing corporate accountability and reversing dynamics of colonialism that have allowed for the reckless exploitation of people and the planet, we cannot start by taking corporations at their word. Rather, we should start by listening to the voices of those most impacted by these industries and demand answers from the perpetrators. Corporate apologists posing as do-gooders only distract from the gravity of the abuses that multi-national extractive corporations are implicated in with regularity. In this context, “clean capitalism” is nothing more than a white wash. 


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