Corporate Social Responsibility

Newmont, Mining and Communities

In 2007 Newmont Mining Corporation - the world’s second-largest gold miner - commissioned an independent report into its relationships with communities. This was the first time that a Board of Directors had passed a resolution requesting a study of the impact of its operations. It happened in response to extensive allegations in Indonesia of illegal dumping practices, whilst in Peru communities had accused its Yanacocha mine of polluting rivers.

The recently-published report is damning. It urges Newmont (based in Denver, Colorado, USA) to improve relationships with affected communities, and highlights the need to build the company’s capacity to manage conflict and address grievances.

Read the full report at:

CSR in Canada

In the past decade Canadian mining corporations have come to dominate the Latin American mining investment market, an achievement well-documented in the business literature [1]. However at the community level many of these mining corporations have met nothing but fierce opposition. In response to grass-roots conflict, mining corporations across the world have coined the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The idea that business enterprises should integrate environmental concerns into their operations is not new; what is unique to CSR in the mining context is how major mining corporations have used the concept to discuss issues of social inequality; the rights of groups traditionally excluded such as indigenous people; and to produce complex codes of how they will work with governments and communities. Without doubt, one of the most important changes within the mining sector in the last few years has been its unprecedented interest in promoting high standards of corporate behaviour based on ethical values.

Despite its many limitations [2], the concept and principles of corporate social responsibility can be a useful tool for the evaluation of how much attention Canadian mining corporations pay to the social impact arising from their trade relationship with Latin America. The rejection of the results of community referendums [3] highlights the fact that in the area of stakeholder engagement, human rights activists have had little success in their efforts to get Canadian mining corporations to uphold a wide range of basic rights and aspirations, ranging from the right to know about the impact of projects to the right to reject them.

Centuries of marginalisation mean that when it comes to mining, women’s status as stakeholders is not considered relevant. Despite a strong case against the Canadian mining industry, the struggle of rural and indigenous women for social and environmental justice remains unnoticed. The testimonies here discussed represent an attempt to bring out of the shadows the voices and concerns of women affected by Canadian mining projects. Their stories provide evidence not only of the impact of mining on women’s livelihoods but also on how mining corporations benefit from social constraints faced by women resisting the industry – one of the most vulnerable groups of activists in Latin America, according to Amnesty International [4].

The focus of the article is the personal story of a handful of front-line women activists across the region who are battling to persuade Canadian mining companies to uphold basic modern social values already incorporated into the CSR codes of major corporations. Using a gender perspective, the article provides evidence of the minimal interest of Canadian mining corporations not only in issues of social responsibility but also in examining the impact of their activities on rural and indigenous women.


A striking characteristic of the Latin American mining sector is that Canadian corporations outnumber all other foreign investors. Figures show that Latin America is significant to the Canadian sector both in terms of projects on the ground and exploration investment. In 2006 the Mining Association of Canada reported that Canadian exploration in Latin America accounted for 24%, the highest investment in any region. In the same year, out of 8706 worldwide mineral projects listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, 1516 were located in Latin America representing 17% of all listed Canadian corporations and making Latin America the most important region for Canadian mining corporations outside Canada.

Figures alone do not illustrate the significance of what the industry has achieved. Canadian investment is present in the most important projects currently being considered in Latin America. Competition among mining corporations is fierce, so this fact suggests a capacity to succeed where others have failed.

But boldness and a drive to succeed do not explain success by themselves. Canadian corporate success is tarnished firstly by the complicity of the industry with military and paramilitary forces linked to violation of human rights in the region. In Intag, Ecuador, the Ascendant Cooper corporation demonstrated that Canadian investors were willing to compromise human rights in order to succeed where others had withdrawn [5]; whilst in San Marcos the arrival of Glamis Gold Ltd (later to become Goldcorp Inc) prompted indigenous organisations to organise a popular referendum which led to mining being rejected by western Mayan communities of Guatemala. Dominga Vasquez - indigenous mayor of Sololá - became the target of the corporation and was publicly charged with offences of instigating and participating in mass actions violating public order and the constitution [6]. She reported that shortly after the charges, she received several phone calls with death threats. “My work impacted on my family. My husband was also threatened” [7]. Secondly, cases such as the meddling of Canadian authorities with Canadian corporations Glencairn Gold and Vanessa Ventures in Costa Rica show that corruption is far from uncommon [8].

Furthermore, there is evidence that without the Canadian government - a key supporter of the industry - the advancement of the industry might not have been so swift. A state machinery capable of negotiating sophisticated bilateral trade agreements with countries such as Peru, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina (among the ten top investment destinations in Latin America) has been rather slow in its commitment to producing legal safeguards to ensure that the same companies benefiting from a country’s resources become accountable for their lack of compliance with environmental, labour and human rights.

Given the number of trade initiatives that have been agreed and the interest of national governments to expand mining frontiers, it is reasonable to expect that mining investment and conflict within communities in Latin America will grow dramatically. Already in Peru the Ombudsman has confirmed that environmental issues are the number one cause of conflict, and that mining conflicts come high on the list. This is not surprising, as more than half of some six thousand peasant communities have seen their land affected by mining [9].

Women and Mining

Given that the mining industry has paid little attention to the impact of its activity on women, the unprecedented interest of rural and indigenous women in mining and their activism in denouncing its human and environmental impact is a positive development emerging from of the expansion of mining in Latin America.

Women who become active do so at great personal cost. Firstly, a great deal of the work for the defence of economic and environmental rights takes the form of open conflict between the state and communities regarding mineral resources, which in turn has been a determining factor in the criminalisation of opposition. In this context it is not surprising that when rural and indigenous women step out of their traditional roles as housewives in order to articulate their collective voice of resistance this action triggers deeply ingrained machismo and hostility towards them, which in turn increases their marginalisation. Such is the experience of Lina Solano from Ecuador: despite being just one of many participating in events raising awareness of the impact of Canadian corporations IAMGOLD and Corriente Resources on protected forests in the Amazon, she was singled out and charged with public disorder behaviour, arrested and prevented from participating in public debates with the local authorities. In 2003 Eloyda Mejia an activist from the town of Estor in Guatemala reported receiving death threats and was charged with public unrest when her group delivered several workshops which resulted in the communities rejecting Canadian corporation Skye Resources. In 2006 when community opposition intensified and property belonging to the corporation was burnt, Eloyda was charged with being “an instigator, intellectual author of the conflict”.

Secondly, within their own communities, women face the invisible barrier that mining has a distinctive male image and is perceived as a technical activity. Maria Gonzalez - president of the Association of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights - based in Arequipa, Peru reports that women activists who attend public meetings to discuss mining activities are made to feel as though their opinion is not important. Despite an increased domestic burden in cleaning and caring for those made ill as a result of noise, dust and contaminated land and water resources caused by local mines, women’s lack of a political voice at the community level is used to deny legitimacy of their direct experiences.

In the mining literature, women’s participation in issues of mining and development is beginning to be considered a key factor for the evaluation of CSR’s models of good practice[10] and mining sustainability[11]. For Latin American women, a more tangible outcome is that women’s activism on issues of mining and development can play a role in destroying centuries of social and economic marginalisation and help to sensitise communities on issues that are important to women. There are already indications that women’s contributions are appreciated: for example in Morona Santiago, Ecuador the organisation Campesina Centro organised a “women and mining” public meeting in March 2007 to celebrate women’s role in the defence of human rights and the struggle for social justice.

Despite these encouraging signs, changes in the practice of Canadian mining corporations as a direct result of women’s activism are yet to be seen. Mining practices have shown that to date CSR has not proven to be an effective mechanism for guaranteeing women´s human rights and gender equality. Indeed to date the Canadian mining industry has failed to deliver on many of the essential CSR commitments it has made.

[1] Facts & Figures 2006. Mining Association of Canada.

[2] What is wrong with corporate social responsibility? Corporate Watch Report 2006.

[3] Peru mining vote “suspicious”. Manhattan Minerals. See

[4] Business As Usual: violence against women in the globalized economy of the Americas;

Amnesty International; Canada May 2006

[5] Mining and Communities Website. Latin American update. 22nd Oct 2006.

[6] Metal Mining and Human Rights: The Marlin Mine in San Marcos. Peace Brigades International. Feb 2006

[7] Interview with the author in April 2007

[8] APIA. “Mining scandal involves Canadian authorities in Costa Rica” www.apiavirtual Nov 2004

[9] Primer Informe.Observatorio de Conflictos en el Perú. CooperAccion. Dec 2007

[10] Ethical performances Best Practice Issue 11; Winter 07/08

[11] Empowering communities programme; Australian National University