The toxic mix of Western multinationals, private security and a thoroughly poor nation:
Private security personnel employed at a gold mine in Papua New Guinea have been implicated in alleged gang rapes and other violent abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Porgera mine has produced billions of dollars of gold in its twenty years of operation, and is operated and 95 percent owned by Barrick Gold, a Canadian company that is the world’s largest gold producer.
The 94-page report, “Gold’s Costly Dividend: Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea’s Porgera Gold Mine,” identifies systemic failures on the part of Toronto-based Barrick Gold that kept the company from recognizing the risk of abuses, and responding to allegations that abuses had occurred. The report examines the impact of Canada’s failure to regulate the overseas activities of its companies and also calls on Barrick to address environmental and health concerns around the mine with greater transparency.
“We interviewed women who described brutal gang rapes by security guards at Barrick’s mine,” said Chris Albin-Lackey, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The company should have acted long before Human Rights Watch conducted its research and prompted them into action”.
Human Rights Watch said that in response to its investigation, Barrick has taken meaningful steps to investigate past abuses and make it less likely for similar abuses to occur in future.
Most of the world’s mining and exploration companies are based in Canada. But Canada’s government has not exercised meaningful oversight or regulation of the overseas operations of Canadian companies, Human Rights Watch said. Bill C-300, a modest but important effort to impose greater government oversight, was defeated in Canada’s House of Commons in October 2010. Barrick had lobbied vigorously against the measure.
“Canada’s government is asleep at the wheel,” Albin-Lackey said. “And if Barrick wants to hold itself out as a responsible corporate citizen, it should support meaningful government oversight and regulation of Canadian companies.”
Papua New Guinea’s sprawling Porgera gold mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold since opening in 1990 – an amount that would be worth more than US$20 billion at today’s prices. In 2010, Barrick’s worldwide operations were on track to produce more than 7.5 million ounces of gold, an amount worth more than $9.7 billion at current prices.
Papua New Guinea has an abundance of natural resources, but poor governance and corruption have prevented this wealth from benefitting ordinary citizens. The government has failed to bring economic opportunity or deliver basic government services to Porgera, and the region is mired in poverty and violence.