From: Issue 41
When push comes to shovels
Fast-growing Goldcorp says it takes corporate social responsibility seriously, but words don't always line up with actions
Last year, Vancouver-based Goldcorp was removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as accusations swirled of human rights abuses and environmental contamination at several of the company’s Latin American gold mines. This past September, the company was put back on the North American list, a cause for celebration in the executive boardroom.
Goldcorp has spent heavily on improving its corporate social responsibility image. The company has partnerships with high-profile non-profits, like WWF, and has won safety awards from the governments of Canada and Mexico. It’s also signed a landmark agreement with a Cree community in northern Canada to partner in the development and operation of a gold mine currently under exploration.
David Deisley, Goldcorp’s executive vice-president, sounds as if he works for a non-profit organization when he speaks about being a “catalyst for social change” and “stimulating agricultural production and creation of markets.” He’s especially proud of the company’s logo, created in a corporate brainstorming session: “Together, creating sustainable value.”
Our interview takes place in a swank meeting room overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the 34th floor of one of Vancouver’s most exclusive skyscrapers. At a time when many mining companies are downsizing, Goldcorp has expanded from a little junior into one of the fastest growing, low-cost producers in the Americas region.
Six years ago, Goldcorp forged several lucrative mergers with companies like Placer Dome, Glamis Gold and Wheaton River. Now, it’s a self-defined “senior” company with a growth profile of 4 million ounces. And it’s the second-largest mining company in the world in terms of market capitalization. “We take mineralization that is in the ground and has no value and extract it in such a way that it has value – and not just for our shareholders but also for the local communities,” says Deisley.
But behind Goldcorp’s slick publicity material and fancy jargon, the company faces heavy opposition from local communities living near its mines operating in Latin America.
In July, farmers affected by Goldcorp mines in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico held an International Peoples’ Health Tribunal. A panel of international judges heard testimony and reviewed scientific evidence about the company’s impact. The judges found Goldcorp guilty of contaminating the environment, damaging human health and violating the local peoples’ right to self-determination. When I mention the tribunal to Deisley, a cloud passes over his face. “It wasn’t a tribunal under any objective means,” he says, accusing organizers of selecting witnesses and judges biased against the company.
Further south, conflict is also raging at the Alumbrera copper-gold mine in Argentina, where Goldcorp and Canada’s Yamana Gold hold a 50 per cent stake. Since February, locals from the province of Catamarca have held numerous blockades of the mine’s vehicles to protest an expansion plan. They accuse the mine of contaminating water resources and demand that the company shelve plans to build a new mine in the neighbouring Agua Rica area.
But the conflict that has most tarnished Goldcorp’s image involves one of its largest holdings, the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. Indigenous Mayan leaders living near the mine accuse the company of environmental contamination and human rights abuses, including violations of International Labour Organization regulations on the rights of indigenous people.
“My daughter is losing her hair, and my neighbours have skin rashes,” says Salomon Bamaca. “Most of the people living near the mine have health problems that didn’t exist before the mine,” he adds.
The well-spoken Mayan used to work for Goldcorp in community relations and security, until he realized the mine was damaging the ecosystem and human health. Bamaca says he also found out the company was digging tunnels underneath private property in cases where owners refused to sell their land.
His fears about the mine’s impacts were echoed by dozens of people I interviewed in May while visiting communities near the mine.