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A golden opportunity

Is fair trade gold possible? Indigenous peoples around the world are proving it can be done.

IMA, Peru – Raul Chavez has spent nearly 30 years toiling for gold in the parched rocky hills of Peru’s southern desert highlands. He is small, muscular and deeply bronzed from years of tough physical labour under the hot sun, but he laughs and jokes about the hardships of his early years as a miner.

In the 1980s, thousands of indigenous peasants like Chavez were forced to leave their homes and farms because of Peru’s civil war, coupled with an agricultural crisis and job shortages. Some of these internal refugees set up shop in abandoned mines, or areas where gold had already been discovered. Their equipment was rudimentary and conditions were precarious.

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Shark-infested waters

The quest for socially responsible investment in the oil, mining and gas sectors.

For those who assumed that socially responsible investment (SRI) firms confine themselves to buying stock in solar energy, organic juice and recycled sandals, take a closer look: Most North American SRI agencies have at least some oil, mining or gas companies in their portfolios. Financial analysts say investment agencies can’t afford to ignore the lucrative extractives industry if they want to provide good returns for their clients.

The challenge is how to be socially responsible while investing in an industry that is not inherently sustainable, will cause at least some degree of contamination – even with the latest environmental technology – and has a track record of human rights violations.

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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.

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