Munk takes on mine protestors, defends capitalism


John Spears Business Reporter, Toronto Star –—munk-takes-on-mine-prot...

Date of publication: 
28 April 2010

Mark Ekepa journeyed from Papua New Guinea to tell the shareholders of Barrick Gold Corp. how police had burned down his house near the Barrick’s Porgera mine.

Idolia Bornones travelled from Chile to say that Barrick operations are damaging local glaciers and rivers.

But Barrick chairman Peter Munk was unrepentant as he faced the company’s annual meeting.

Even before the visitors had a chance to speak, Munk delivered an unapologetic defence of Barrick’s role in improving the lives of people around the world.

Munk told shareholders that corporate social responsibility is “part of our DNA.”

“By moving into these countries and developing their mines, we provide – way beyond the importance of money – we provide human dignity,” Munk said.

“We provide an opportunity for these people to earn their money, rather than hold out their hands and depend on charity.”

Munk said Barrick’s wage bill is $4 billion a year – often paying four to six times the average local wage.

He said the presidents of Chile, Argentina and the Domincan Republic have each told him: “Please, please, please Barrick, please put your money into our country.”

Munk decried what he called a “rogue element” among some non-government agencies that want to halt all development.

“What can they offer to those 20,000 people we employ?” he said. “What are the people going to do? Line up for social benefits in the remote hills of Tanzania or Peru? There ain’t none.”

Idolia Bordones said she doesn’t want Barrick’s money, however.

Bordones raises crops and bakes bread in the Huasco Valley, near the Pascua-Lama project, which is still in development. She’s part of a community of 250 indigenous families in “the last unpolluted valley of northern Chile.”

Dust from the project is blackening glaciers, causing them to melt, she said, and is harming local wetlands and forest.

“We do not need your money, and we are not seeking compensation,” she said. “We just want you to leave our lands and allow us to live in peace.”

Barrick’s chief executive, Aaron Regent, said the company treats all water used in mining, and said it complies with quality standards.

He said there is “overwhelming” local support for the project, and the company has 150,000 names in a database of those who have applied for work.

Ekepa said that in Papua New Guinea, the Porgera Mine disrupted the local economy based on alluvial mining – washing fine gold out of river sediment.

Unlike Chile, many local residents are seeking compensation because their houses are close to the mine. There have also been clashes with local police – not related to the mine-whom Epeka said burned down his house.

He said he would like Barrick to support an investigation into police actions, and wants the company to resettle landowners who are close to the mine. Regent said police moved in to the area because of general lawlessness.

Company officials say compensation and resettlement claims are difficult to assess because new people have flooded into the area, many of them squatting on land to which others have a legal claim.

The company reported strong first quarter results Wednesday, with gold production up 19 per cent to 2.08 million ounces. Costs declined, while prices for both gold and copper rose. Barrick realized $1,114 an ounce on its gold sales.

Net profit was a record $758 million or 77 cents a share on sales of $2.561 billion. That compared with net profit of $371 million or 42 cents a share on sales of $1.775 billion a year ago.