Big corporations like ExxonMobil and Barrick, often seem like “bright lights” to small, developing nations like Guyana. To the common man, it is a sign that the country is attracting the right kind of attention; significant investment that will propel the economic might of the nation.
However, these corporations tend to come with baggage. The latest of this is the gold mining behemoth, Barrick Gold Incorporated.
Barrick is a gold mining company, whose latest merger with Randgold Resources, another gold mining company, will solidify its position as the largest gold mining company in the world. Barrick’s interest in the Guyana Shield was highlighted by the Executive Chairman at a recent investor conference in London. However, these aren’t the only stories about Barrick, making the rounds.
In fact, after the announcement of Barrick’s merger with Randgold, Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), wrote letters to top executives of both companies requesting that they take action against human rights abuses at North Mara Gold Mine in Tanzania, a mine controlled by Barrick’s subsidiary, Acacia Gold Mining.
RAID is a human rights watchdog that exposes corporate violations in Africa. The letters to John Thornton, Barrick’s Executive Chairman, and Mark Bristow, Rangold’s Chief Executive Officer, describe a disturbing pattern of abuses by security personnel and Tanzanian police operating jointly at the mine.
Barrick holds a 63.9 percent stake in Acacia mining, which is listed in London, and has pre-emptive rights to acquire gold mining business and exploration right in Africa.
Since 2014, at least 22 people have been killed and 69 injured, many by bullet wounds, at or near the remote mine in security related incidents, according to research conducted by RAID and Mining Watch Canada (MWC).
A short film on the abuses by RAID state that nine women and girls have been raped. A Tanzanian parliamentary inquiry set up to look into the problem in 2016, received 65 reports of killings and 270 people injured by police responsible for mine security.
Tanzanian opposition and human rights monitors believe the number is higher, estimating 300 mine related deaths since 1999.
In a letter to Thornton dated October 26, 2018, Executive Director of RAID, Anneke Van Woudenberg, wrote “As you know, and as has been documented over many years, Acacia has failed to prevent human rights abuses at North Mara.
“It has also failed to ensure that victims of those abuses are justly compensated, or to provide an adequate grievance process for the resolution of human rights claims. Although Acacia published a revised grievance mechanism in December 2017, much more work needs to be done since it is still not compliant with human rights obligations.”
The letter further stated, “More recently, serious corruption-related charges, many dating to the time when Acacia (then known as African Barrick Gold) was a direct subsidiary of Barrick, were laid against current and former employees of the Mine as well as against Acacia’s local subsidiaries.”
To Bristow, Van Woudenberg wrote “What has compounded the problem is Acacia’s failure to justly compensate the victims or their families. Since 2014, we and others have raised concerns about the operational grievance mechanism Acacia uses to redress the human rights violations.
“It pressurised claimants to sign settlements they did not understand, used legal waivers to stop claimants turning to the courts, and offered inadequate compensation.”
Van Woudenberg further wrote, “The reputational, litigation and other risks arising from Acacia’s disregard of its corporate social responsibilities and human rights obligations have the potential to increase.
“If, as has been reported, the newly merged company takes full ownership of Acacia post-merger, you will directly inherit the significant risks that accompany Acacia’s Tanzanian operations.”
Acacia made a response to the statement on November 8, stating “between 2014 and 2017 six people are reported to have lost their lives on the North Mara mine site as a result of confrontations with members of the local police (one in 2017), and no-one is reported as having lost their lives in incidents involving the Mine’s security personnel.”
This is not the only such case concerning Barrick. In 2011 Human Rights Watch, reported on six alleged incidents of gang rape by company security personnel [at Barrick’s Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea]. In each case, women were allegedly raped after being captured by company security personnel on the waste dumps.
The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch described scenes of extreme violence. One described being gang raped by six security personnel after one of her assailants kicked her in the face and shattered her teeth.
Human Rights Watch also documented cases of people who alleged that they were beaten or otherwise mistreated by guards who apprehended them on the waste dumps.
Barrick had responded with vigor to the allegations brought forward by Human Rights Watch. The company opened a major internal investigation, facilitated a criminal investigation by the Papua New Guinea police, and made a commitment to take steps that could strengthen oversight and accountability for the security force at Porgera.
In a public statement, Barrick called the results of its internal investigation “disturbing” and announced the termination of several security personnel for involvement in, or failure to report, alleged incidents of sexual violence.
Police arrested three current and former Porgera Joint Venture employees in January 2011. Two were charged with rape and the third with inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Barrick withdrew its involvement in an exploration project in Guyana, earlier this year. The company had pursued a joint venture with junior mining company, Alicanto Minerals.
Its current interest in the Guyana Shield is likely to play out through investments in gold mining company, Reunion Gold, which operates in the Guyana Shield. Reunion’s current portfolio includes three gold projects in French Guiana: Dorlin, Boulanger and Haute Mana, and three gold projects in Guyana: Waiamu, Arawini and Aremu. Barrick has a 15% stake in Reunion’s assets.
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