UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business has built a national reputation as a leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability in business education. The recent acceptance of a $500 000 donation from Canadian mining company Goldcorp is indicative of how principled commitments don’t always guarantee principled practices. To be generous, criteria for CSR and sustainability vary, as do interpretations of whether or not a given company meets these criteria. Goldcorp’s relatively infamous record of questionable business practices in Latin America, though, raises questions of where things went sideways here at UVic. An understanding of Goldcorp’s approaches to the development of the Marlin mine in Guatemala, for example, might give us a better idea of where UVic went wrong. Can the UVic community work towards a clear understanding of corporate social responsibility as a set of investment and endowment practices that do less or no actual harm on the local and global scale?
Goldcorp is touted as an exemplary leader in CSR and sustainable mining practices. Substantial research on Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala belies its public relations campaign, exposing abuse of human rights and sustainability. Development of the Marlin mine was partly funded through a $45 million loan from the World Bank (WB) with expectations that minimum standards of business practice be met. The WB investigated the Marlin mine, concluding that the project funding would continue with the suggestion that the local community be engaged more meaningfully by Goldcorp. Goldcorp paid the loan in full, releasing Marlin from WB oversight. In fact, international bodies governing multinational corporate practices have little power to enforce loosely defined CSR standards.
CSR includes consultation with local communities most impacted by proposed mining projects. In the case of the Marlin mine, Goldcorp has failed to communicate the potential impacts of the mine on the livelihood, health and environmental welfare of the Indigenous community inhabiting the land surrounding the site. Literature about the project was not translated into local languages. Residents were not engaged in informed negotiations regarding the future of the mine and the land. The company led the community to believe that the mine would be less invasive and on a smaller scale than it now is. Local police and guards staffing the mine are defending the interests of the company and the Guatemalan state.
For better or worse, the spotlight is now on the question of corporate social responsibility: What does it mean when companies like Goldcorp are seen as standard-bearers, and how should UVic act on its commitments to ethical business practices? Evidence shows that Goldcorp has pursued mining activities in violation of a number of basic principles of CSR, particularly in its failure to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. UVic is positioned to educate and advocate for the highest possible ethical standards of business practices it endorses through investments and donations. Regarding corporations working with Indigenous communities, UVic can set a high bar for corporate social responsibility by developing specific and applicable definitions and guidelines for CSR. Part of doing so would entail, to begin with, refusing any and all gifts, donations and investments from individuals or groups that act in contravention of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent in their dealings with both State and private interests.
Meghan Jezewski and Mark Willson are affiliated with Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group.