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Trudeau government seeks West African gold

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Despite the prime minister’s show of visiting a place where thousands of people were sold as commodities, the point of his trip was not to acknowledge the great wrong done to Africa during the slave trade but rather for Canadian companies to get their hands on Senegal’s resources.

During Justin Trudeau’s expedition to Senegal last month foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne “attended the issuance of operating licenses for Teranga and Barrick Gold alongside the minister of mines and geology, the minister of economy, planning & cooperation as well as the minister of environment of Senegal.”

Barrick Gold is Canada’s most controversial mining firm. Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick-run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension.

But, in Senegal Teranga Gold is the dominant player, operating the first industrial scale gold mine in the country. Taking its name from the Wolof word for “hospitality”, Teranga markets itself well. A search online generated a series of short videos and corporate social responsibility reports detailing the Toronto company’s purported good deeds and local support. But reality is more complicated. In 2010 a hundred soldiers were deployed to Teranga’s mine site to drive off long-standing artisanal miners whose digging helped the company determine where to prospect. One small-scale miner told Allo Dakar that “we prefer to die here rather than give the land to the company.” Despite the security presence, many continued to dig with the police periodically tear-gassing and arresting the artisanal miners.

According to Amnesty International’s “Mining and Human Rights in Senegal: Closing the Gaps in Protection”, a half-dozen families were displaced to make way for a Teranga waste disposal pond. They were given new homes a few kilometres away but felt their situation had significantly deteriorated. Amnesty documented another small community unhappy with Teranga and worried they would also be displaced as the mine expanded.

The mayor of a larger town, Sabadola, claimed the company misled the community. “At first we thought that we’d benefit from many things: electricity, housing and infrastructure,” said Mamadou Cissokho. “But we received none of that.” Instead, Cissokho decried the pulmonary infections caused by dust from the mine and the company’s encroachment on their land. “Even our fields, they took them. We do not know where to go. Certainly, they do this to suffocate us and to clear us off.”

In 2014 the director of Teranga’s Senegalese subsidiary, Macoumba Diop, was fired. His supporters told the press that Diop was let go because he protected Senegalese workers, largely confined to subordinate positions, from mistreatment by the foreign managers who were described as “colonialist”. In 2017 an employee died from an injury while working in the process plant of Teranga’s Sabodala mine.

Senegalese tax authorities accused Teranga of diverting funds to an offshore bank. In 2011 they claimed the Toronto-based company skipped out on $24 million in payments and then again failed to pay $2 million more in 2015.

Claiming the royalties mandated by Senegal were above the agreed upon rate, Teranga employed the services of former Québec Premier Jean Charest to navigate the issue with this active member of la Francophonie. “With his credibility and contacts, he was the right person to get the attention of the government and a fair deal for both sides,” Teranga CEO Richard Young told La Presse in 2013.

The controversy surrounding Teranga has failed to deter Canadian officials from backing the company. In early 2014 Canadian Ambassador Philippe Beaulne visited its mine with Senegalese president Macky Sall and Beaulne spoke during the public release of Teranga’s 2013 corporate social responsibility policy. In 2012 Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Teranga’s CEO and some other Canadian mining officials in Dakar. During the part of the meeting open to reporters the prime minister suggested, reported Canada.com, that Canadian companies’ “ethical practices gave them an edge over the competition.” Harper also told the press that Senegal “really has the opportunity to become the hub for Canadian investment in this entire region of Africa.” To prepare for an expansion in Canadian mining, Ottawa signed a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) with Senegal in 2014.

Canada has funded various mining projects in Senegal. Millions of dollars in Canadian aid has gone to a Senegalese school for geomatics (combining geography and information technology to map natural resources). In 2014 the federal government announced the launch of branch offices of a professional society, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, in Senegal and Burkina Faso. A press release stated: “The opening of a second office [in West Africa] allows Canada to further share best practices with the region and will make the knowledge and experience of Canadian miners, geologists and managers more available to their African counterparts.” Supported by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum created the Institut Minier Ouest Africain. A series of other aid projects such as the 2016 “West Africa Governance and Economic Sustainability in Extractive Areas” supported mining initiatives in Senegal.

As with other countries in Africa, Ottawa is helping Canadian companies exploit Senegal’s minerals.

The PM’s trip to House of Slaves was a sideshow, what they want is the gold.

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Filed under Canada in Africa, mining

Are corporations only responsible for making money?

Imagine if a corporation had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists. What would happen if a social balance sheet, as well as financial one, had to be filed every year and companies continually in a deficit position would eventually disappear?

Consider Barrick Gold. Would the world be better off if the world’s largest gold miner ceased to exist?

Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension. Present at the company’s recent shareholders meeting in Toronto were two women from Papua New Guinea who say they were raped by Barrick security. A few hundred women have been sexually assaulted by company employees near its Porgera mine in the Oceanian country. While the company has provided nominal compensation to some sexual assault victims, in 2011 Barrick founder Peter Munk dismissed the matter in a Globe and Mail interview, claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in Papua New Guinea.

Three weeks before the shareholder meeting Barrick’s Veladero mine in Argentina spilled cyanide solution into a handful of rivers in the western San Juan province. This was the third major cyanide spill at the mine in 18 months. An Argentinian court fined Barrick $9.3 million U.S. for spilling one million litres of cyanide into five rivers in September 2015 and is set to impose further fines and restrictions on its operations over its failure to complete mandated improvements that could have prevented the third spill. 270,000 people have signed a petition calling on Argentina’s president to shutter the Veladero mine.

In 2014, reported the National Observer, Barrick dismissed a senior engineer allegedly for raising “serious safety concerns” about the Veladero mine. Raman Autar later sued Barrick in Canadian court for wrongful dismissal.

It’s unknown whether Autar’s warning could have prevented the cyanide spills, but it’s clear the company has repeatedly ignored environmental concerns and targeted those trying to curtail its ecological devastation. In 2009 former Argentine environment minister Romina Picolotti told a foreign affairs committee meeting to discuss bill C-300, which would have reduced Ottawa’s support for the worst corporate offenders abroad, that her staff was “physically threatened” after pursuing environmental concerns about Barrick. “My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold.”

On the other side of the globe the Toronto company is pressuring the Tanzanian government to abandon an effort to increase the domestic economic benefits from its natural resources. A majority-owned Barrick subsidiary, Acacia Mining is threatening to withdraw from the East African country if the government doesn’t rescind a measure to halt the export of unprocessed ore. Tanzania wants foreign companies to build more gold smelters in the country. By shuttering its operations Barrick is hoping the short-term loss in employment will pressure the government to back off of its efforts to increase the country’s stake from its natural resources.

Last year a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick organized a “sophisticated scheme of tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over $400-million U.S. profit to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes, bilking the country out of $41.25 million.

Two weeks ago Canadian Journalists for Free Expression published a statement decrying the “persecution…journalists in Tanzania are facing… for reporting on mines operated by Acacia Mining.” One reporter fled the country after being threatened by individuals reportedly associated with the company and another received a notice from the government to stop reporting on Acacia.

Since 2006 security and police paid by Barrick have killed at least 65 people at, or in, close proximity, to the Toronto company’s North Mara mine in Tanzania. Most of the victims were impoverished villagers who scratch rocks for tiny bits of gold and who mined these territories prior to Barrick’s arrival.

Within Canada Barrick is a right wing political force. Benefiting from Canadian aid money, Export Development Canada financing and diplomatic support, the company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. Barrick is part of regional corporate lobby groups the Canadian Council of the Americas and the Canadian Council on Africa, as well as being represented on the Senate of the Canadian International Council and the board of the C.D. Howe Institute. The company has sponsored various other right wing groups and events.

Founder and long-time Barrick CEO Peter Munk has provided at least $60 million (he receives tax credits for donations) to right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy as well as the Munk Debates and University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2010 the Fraser Institute gave Munk its most prestigious award “in recognition of his unwavering commitment to free and open markets around the globe.”

If it had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists Barrick, which mainly produces a mineral of limited social value anyways, would have ceased to exist and the world would be better off.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa