What’s your game, Goldcorp?
BLOG POST posted on May 17, 2011 by valcroft, Media Co-op
Shareholders of the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp Inc. are presenting a resolution to voluntarily suspend operations at one of the company’s most profitable gold ventures in Latin America. Not surprisingly, the Vancouver-based senior gold producer has advised its shareholders to vote against the resolution.
What may be surprising to many of its shareholders, however, is that this is not the first attempt to urge the company to suspend its Marlin operation, which is actively mining gold and silver using both open-pit and underground extraction in the Guatemalan highlands.
In response to an increase in conflict in the area, as well as a wave of allegations of human rights abuses and environmental damage related to the mine, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures in May of 2010, ordering the suspension of mining operations pending further investigation into the allegations.
In the same year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) made similar recommendations by urging the Guatemalan government to suspend mining operations at the Marlin mine, citing rights violations of the area’s Maya indigenous peoples who were not properly consulted about the project, nor did they give their free, prior and informed consent as outlined in international indigenous rights laws, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
These are not small or arbitrary bodies.
Both these organizations – the ILO as a body affiliated with the United Nations, and the IACHR as part of the Organization of the American States – are legally binding mechanisms interpreting treaties that the Guatemalan government is party to.
The Guatemalan government did respond in June 2010, stating that it would suspend operations at the Marlin mine; it has since entered into an administrative process to determine the validity of the measures – a process that Goldcorp actively supports.
An administrative process is not what was called for, however.
The legally binding recommendations call for the mine’s immediate suspension while the allegations can be properly investigated. This recommendation was made to prevent further damage while the government sits on the question and Goldcorp expands its operations.
This year’s shareholder resolution is not the first of its kind to be presented at an AGM. Last year, a resolution was proposed which called on the company to adopt an effective policy on free, prior and informed consent. Goldcorp advised shareholders to vote against this resolution as well, claiming that the company’s new human rights platform – launched at the 2010 AGM – would more effectively address those concerns. Goldcorp also used that opportunity to promote the upcoming release of its Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of the Marlin mine – an assessment typically done by an independent third-party to avoid conflict of interest, but instead paid for by Goldcorp.
Recognizing the conflict generated by the failure to obtain consent, Goldcorp’s own Human Rights Impact Assessment called for the “halt of all land acquisition, exploration activities, mine expansion projects, or conversion of exploration to exploitation licenses, pending effective State involvement in consultation with local communities, and agreements put in place with communities to structure future land acquisitions.”
Choosing only to act on selective recommendations made in this assessment, Goldcorp aggressively continued its expansion in 2010, and proudly promotes further expansion in 2011.
Shareholders, including all Canadian citizens who pay into the Canadian Pension Plan, should be concerned about the allegations of human rights abuses and environmental damage by the company’s operations.
Shareholders should be concerned that tension and conflict has risen in the area since the mine opened, leading Amnesty International to issue three Urgent Actions for the area in 2010 alone, including one for the shooting of a woman known for her opposition to the mine, and for the alleged assault against protesters by mine supporters following a day of action.
Shareholders should be concerned that while Goldcorp claims its operations are not having a negative impact on the water quality and supply for neighbouring communities, the company uses information and cites environmental impact studies that have not been made public, while continuing to ignore independent studies that indicate clear environmental concern: studies by Physicians for Human Rights, Belgian researchers at the University of Ghent and US-based E-Tech International have each independently found significant water problems in the area and conclude that these issues – such as the abundance of heavy metals in the water supply – are likely due to mining activities.
Shareholders should be concerned that while the company publicly recognizes the conflict around the mine and claims that it is involved in a multi-stakeholder dialogue process, this process does not include all legal representatives for those who petitioned the IACHR in the first place, let alone include other diverse voices.
Shareholders should be concerned that Goldcorp is actively supporting a proposed law by the Guatemalan government to regulate the consultation of indigenous peoples, meanwhile the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has criticized this law as yet another major rights violation. The proposal itself failed to consult with indigenous peoples over its design.
What should concern shareholders above all else is that Goldcorp is not voluntarily complying with the precautionary measures that were issued by the IACHR, which called for the immediate suspension of the Marlin mine.
While the Guatemalan government sits unwilling to order its suspension, and the recommendations of international bodies go ignored, it would appear that shareholders are the only ones with any say over the company’s operations. This shareholder’s appeal may be the only way to get the company to listen.