How to be a good neighbour in Latin America
When CMJ visited Barrick’s new mine developments in Argentina and Peru last February, we saw first-hand how hard the company is working to create truly sustainable development for communities affected by its presence. The result is that Barrick enjoys the trust and support of the local people.
“What we said, right from the get-go, was that we want to collaborate with the local community,” said mine manager George Bee at Veladero in Argentina. “We want to have dialogue with them and hear them out on their priorities.” And he touched on several of the community-driven ventures that are giving residents of San Juan province sustainable development opportunities even before the mine pours its first ounce of gold.
There are many projects aimed at agriculture, tourism and education, but perhaps some of the most exciting are those aimed at increasing local productivity so that people not involved with the project can better help themselves. The company helped a local co-op of bean growers develop a marketing strategy and provided packaging that clearly states the beans are grown in San Juan province. The bean growers benefit from a simple marketing tool and the pride of production. Another co-op, this one of goat farmers, lacked access to markets for its milk and cheese. The problem was that their dairy did not meet sanitation standards. Barrick was happy to help upgrade the plant so that it would pass inspection. The co-op members now know how to maintain their plant to meet regulations so that their business can flourish.
Barrick created a Tetraphone wireless system between the city of San Juan and the Veladero mine for the safety of its employees. Since the system also allows data transfer and passes by local communities, Barrick now provides Internet connectivity. Bringing the Internet to small communities has opened a new window to the world; for example, the medical personnel at the Rodeo Hospital can better treat their patients now.
On the other side of the Andes, the approach is equally sustainable.
Barrick’s regional vice-president for Peru, Igor Gonzales, told CMJ, “Lagunas Norte is a low-cost operation similar to our Pierina mine. Like all of our sites, there are two important components external to the mine that will ensure success. One is water management. The other is social management. And we must excel at both to succeed. Gold is a consequence of the other two.”
During a lengthy interview, he outlined the immense effort and some of the programs Barrick undertakes to be a good corporate neighbour.
The help that Barrick offers is driven by practicality. Because stomach diseases were found to be widespread, clean water sources have been established for villages. Mothers have been trained in child nutrition and its importance, which represents a basic cultural change from the practice of giving the best food to the head of the household. Communal kitchens are popular in northern Peru. With Barrick’s help many have been converted with gas cookers, a cleaner and healthier alternative to burning wood or coal.
Barrick works with communities to help define and support initiatives that will improve the living standards where it operates. By being involved in the labour and construction of projects, residents develop a sense of ownership and responsibility.
To improve safety and road access to the Lagunas Norte mine, several families had to be moved so the road could be widened. During this process, Barrick adhered to World Bank guidelines, which resulted in better-built homes for the families who moved. One enterprising woman suggested that if her house needed to be rebuilt, it could be enlarged and she could operate a cantina for truck drivers. Her location is close to the security checkpoint all Barrick traffic must stop for, so a bottle of Inca Cola or a snack is welcome.
At the Pierina mine, the local dairy industry has benefited from Barrick’s practical help over the past five years. A new irrigation system was built, and it improved the grasslands for the cattle. New bulls were introduced to improve the bloodline of the herd. (Artificial insemination was suggested, but the local farmers insisted on bulls.) The size of the herd has quadrupled. Farmers now sell milk, yogurt and cheese, and they will soon begin selling beef.
Barrick has taken up other areas of teaching as a large part of its mandate. It provides training in marketing, company administration, and money management skills.
One important component of Barrick’s educational program involves the safe transport of hazardous materials. Gold mines regularly ship cyanide and mercury, two highly toxic substances. Insisting that truck-drivers complete hazardous material management (hazmat) and safety courses is not unusual, but Barrick extended the program to local residents.
Incidents involving other mining companies reinforced how important it is for not only mine employees but also residents to know how to handle such materials. Residents of the communities along the road that Barrick uses for access to Lagunas Norte have all been taught how these substances are applied to the gold recovery process. They have learned, through discussions, live theatre and role-playing, how to identify and avoid potential problems. They know whom to call should a spill occur, and how to handle it until help arrives.
Barrick considers its inclusive hazmat training program to be a success. To mark the occasion of the first cyanide shipment reaching the Lagunas Norte mine, all the villagers were invited to a fiesta. Safety is to be celebrated.
Hopefully, the skills and education the company has given to so many communities will be shared by those people with their neighbours.