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Barrick Gold Corp. chairman Peter Munk listens to proceedings at the company’s annual general meeting in Toronto on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Barrick Gold Corp. chairman Peter Munk listens to proceedings at the company’s annual general meeting in Toronto on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Barrick’s environmental foes jump on wobbly miner Add to ...

The shares of embattled miner Barrick Gold Corp. are continuing their upward bounce after plunging to 20 year lows earlier this month, a move higher driven by a continuing recovery in the bullion price.

The world’s largest gold producer is adding another 2.3 per cent or 44 cents to $19.82 a share in Thursday trading, a good move from the recent low of $17.98. The rise should certainly should cheer up shell-shocked shareholders who’ve been watching their investment get pummelled by self-inflicted wounds through ill-timed acquisitions and cost over runs on major projects.

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The long term outlook for Barrick shares hinges on many factors: the gold price is obviously the biggest driver, but the company also faces vociferous opposition from environmentalists and many residents around its mine sites, which should be a long term worry for shareholders.

Given that it’s the largest company in the business, with 25 mines in 10 countries, it isn’t totally surprising that Barrick would be a magnet for protesters. Mining can be a hugely disruptive businesses. Open-pit mines are massive undertakings, as is the management of the vast quantities of waste rock left over after ores are processed.

The main hubbub at Wednesday’s annual meeting dealt with the controversial $11.9-million signing bonus for co-chairman John Thornton, so investors may have missed another report timed for release during the meeting from Barrick’s environmental foes.

The report is 30 pages of footnoted attacks on Barrick for weak environmental practices and human rights abuses around its mines. The report accuses the company of “ignoring the warning signs of numerous conflicts across the globe.”

Investors should stay tuned to this issue because it’s unlikely to go away any time soon.

For its part, Barrick released a statement dissing the report: “The report lacks credibility ... responsible mining is an absolute priority for Barrick and is central to how we run our business, reflected by the fact that we have been ranked as a leader in social and environmental responsibility for five consecutive years by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Our operations are a catalyst for economic development and create meaningful, long-term benefits for the communities in which we operate.”

But some recent signs of how much the company is chafing under environmental criticisms came from founder Peter Munk at the annual meeting.

“There are now libraries – libraries – full of reports. One report after another of every little aspect of air quality ... road conditions, dust conditions in building a mine. And each and every one of those can be changed, and every time they get changed, they get changed for the worse,” he complained.

According to Mr. Munk governments aren’t helping either, because they’re listening to non-governmental organizations. “What’s happening is that this enormously altered public perception of environmental concern – NGOs, human rights, water quality, air quality, etc. etc. etc. – becomes put one on top of the other, and how do governments react? They impose more regulations.”

 
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