Vancouver-based resource extraction giant Goldcorp presented UVic’s Gustavson School of Business with a sizeable donation on Feb. 19. The $500 000 donation will help support the school’s growing Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI). The donor’s reputation when it comes to social and sustainable practices has drawn criticism in the past, however, and at some activists are asking the students of UVic to reject the money altogether.
Dean of the Gustavson School of Business Saul Klein says the donation will allow the school to build on sustainability and social innovation, one of four pillars supporting UVic’s business education philosophy. “We believe it’s very important for our students, our graduates, to have a broader understanding of implications of management decisions on the environment, on society at large, as well as on the economy. This gift allows us to really entrench our [CSSI] and enhances opportunities to do more research in these areas, as well as inculcates the teaching philosophy.”
Klein says Goldcorp’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is a big draw for the school. “Our willingness to engage with them is really based on the values that they espouse and the extent to which they agree to support or are willing to support the kinds of activities that we engage in,” he says.
But Goldcorp’s history with corporate social responsibility is precisely what some critics object to, saying that it is either inadequate or non-existent. In particular, the groups Mining Watch and Rights Action have criticized the impact Goldcorp mines have had on surrounding communities in Guatemala and Honduras.
Karen Spring works with human rights organization Rights Action. The group is active in Guatemala and Honduras, two of the eight countries where Goldcorp has operated or plans to operate.
She is critical of the donation and references other donations Goldcorp has made to post-secondary institutions in Canada, like its $10-million donation to Simon Fraser University for a Downtown Eastside arts centre, the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
“What does it say about academic research coming out of the institutions? They’re no longer going to be independent, neutral — not that they ever really were completely independent and neutral before — but I think a significant donation, like millions of dollars, is going to heavily influence what kind of research and what kind of voices are coming out of these centres and coming out of these schools.”
The difference between the corporate social responsibility discussion in Canada and operations on the ground also worries Spring. “In Canada, it’s really difficult for the Canadian public to look beyond this corporate social responsibility agenda. For me, it’s been really enlightening and a privilege to work in communities where Goldcorp is operating. I don’t work with the mining industry at all. I work with the communities that are actively resisting the operations of these companies.”
Rodolfo Arteaga lives in a small community in Honduras beside Goldcorp’s San Martin mine and is a former mine worker. The mine is now closed and operates as a ecotourism resort — something the company points to as part of its commitment to “functioning ecosystems” and “sustainable jobs.”
Arteaga has a very different view of Goldcorp’s involvement in his area. He blames his own health problems, such as acute bronchitis, as well as those in the community, on contamination from the mine. He lists leukemia, miscarriages, nervous disorders in children and bone diseases among the issues his community is dealing with.
In November 2012, Arteaga took a group of activists up the hill beside his village and pointed to the mine-turned-tourist resort. He said the facility has two ponds that were stocked with fish, but that all the fish died. “All this water with heavy materials fell into the ponds and it killed all the fish,” he said.
He then pointed to a large, grassy area. He said, “You can see that grass there, but people are not allowed to let their cows or their animals to go eat that grass because the state prohibits it.”
Arteaga said he has not received any compensation from the mining company, but he holds the Honduran government equally accountable for not protecting the well-being of his community.
Goldcorp Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Brent Bergeron is aware of the criticisms from not only activists, but also a human rights report commissioned by Goldcorp’s own shareholders. The Human Rights Assessment (HRA) of Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine was written in 2010 and makes some surprising observations. It assesses the actions of Montana, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldcorp that operates the mine located in the Western Guatemalan highlands.
Among the observations, on page 215 the report states, “Human rights are explicitly addressed only in the area of security at the Marlin Mine. This reduces the responsibility for human rights to the level of the mine’s security department, rather than how it pertains to all operational areas, and situating responsibility at the highest levels of management and the Board of Directors of Montana and Goldcorp.” It goes on to recommend internal change, and adds positive change in the areas of occupational health and safety had already occurred at the time of the report.
Bergeron says Goldcorp has improved its practices because of the assessment. “We were actually able to learn a lot more about the concerns of the community, and we did change our ways in terms of how we actually operate in the area. We had quite a number of recommendations that were put forward from the HRA. Some of the recommendations have been completed. Some of them are recommendations that require ongoing activity which we continue to do right now.”
He adds Goldcorp had good news recently from the Swedish pension fund that took part in the report. “Given all the work the company had done over the past two or three years with respect to the HRA, the pension fund is actually taking us off their list of companies to watch out for.”
Spring encourages students to do some research on Goldcorp and the mining industry, and if students feel strongly enough about the donation, “Ask [UVic] to give it back to Goldcorp and make a public statement about why they do not want the money.”
Common Energy, a student group at UVic focused on sustainability, is also looking into the donation. Matt Hammer is in charge of their socially responsible investments project and disagrees with Spring. He thinks the university can use the money as a lever to ask Goldcorp to get better at real corporate social responsibility.
At the very least, Spring says, “Have a discussion about what this money means.”
Corporate social responsibility at the government level
In 2011, New Democrat MP for Burnaby-New Westminster Peter Julian tabled a private member’s bill, Bill C-323, The International Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Act, that aims to hold Canadian and non-Canadian companies accountable when they operate outside of Canada. You can view the bill and petitions to get it passed on peterjulian.ndp.ca under the “Walking the talk: human rights abroad” banner down the right side of the page.
This is not the first time a bill like this has been presented in Parliament. In 2009, Liberal MP John McKay introduced Bill C-300. It included recommendations on corporate social responsibility from an advisory group report based on four National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility, which can be found on miningwatch.ca.
Bill C-300 failed when it was defeated in the House of Commons in a close vote: 140-134.
Liz McArthur interviewed the dean of the Gustavson School of Business, Saul Klein; Senior VP of Corporate Affairs for Goldcorp, Brent Bergeron; and Common Energy’s Matt Hammer. And in the second half of the video Torrance Coste from the Wilderness Committee and Dr. Michael Prince, a UVic professor examine the contents of the recently released BC Budget