At North Mara, the company already has doubled its annual community relations budget to $2 million and increased its community relations team to 50 employees. It hired a respected organization, Search for Common Ground, to train the police in human rights and “conflict minimization.” Although Barrick worked to defeat Bill C-300, it became the first Canadian mining company to sign the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, an international set of guidelines for extractive industries. The rules oblige signatories to investigate and report any credible information about human rights abuses at their workplaces. And Barrick negotiated an agreement with the Tanzanian police, requiring the police to use “minimum force” and comply with international standards.
Graham Denyer Willis, executive director of the Canadian Centre for the Study of Resource Conflict, an independent research centre, says Barrick’s agreement with the police is a deft political strategy. “It allows them to distance themselves from the police and to squarely allocate blame on someone else,” he says. “It is short-sighted to think that police in rural Tanzania understand and have internalized international human rights standards or that they do not have vested interests in preserving their own livelihoods and allegiances.”
Willis notes that the police have become dependent on African Barrick for vehicles, fuel and other daily expenses. “On the one hand, the company can wash its hands clean of any involvement because of the formal language of the memorandum of understanding, but on the other hand it can guarantee the outright allegiance of the police by providing them with things that are otherwise out of reach. As a result, local police have little accountability to anyone except Barrick.”
The community benefits, meanwhile, are sometimes less than they might seem. Barrick’s predecessor, Placer Dome, invested heavily in a small hospital near the mine—but the hospital was never provided with electricity, and its water supply soon stopped working. Today, its operating theatre is abandoned, its laundry block is used as a storeroom and it relies on kerosene lamps at night. In lieu of washrooms, staff and patients alike use buckets and outdoor pit latrines. “People from the community complain that the hospital is dirty and stinking,” says the chief clinician, George Marwa.
Barrick blames vandals for damaging the water pipes, and the local government for failing to provide a generator for the hospital. It says the hospital is a “key priority” in an upcoming agreement on village benefits. The villagers see it differently: They say the company pledged to provide a working hospital and broke its promise.
Two years ago, Barrick was ranked as one of Canada’s 50 top corporate citizens in the annual report of Corporate Knights, which studies the social responsibility records of Canadian companies. Since then, however, Barrick has fallen off the list. A report by the research division of Corporate Knights noted that African Barrick recorded nearly $63 million in earnings before interest and taxes from North Mara in 2009, yet its spending on social and community benefits for the region that year were “far lower” than 1% of those earnings. “The extent of the company’s involvement in the social welfare of the North Mara region is therefore questionable,” the report said.
Barrick says the North Mara mine has also provided substantial economic benefits to Tanzania, including $30 million in purchases of goods and services from Tanzanian businesses last year, along with a $40-million investment to connect North Mara to the Tanzanian power grid. Critics argue, however, that Barrick shouldn’t get political credit for what are normal business expenses.
Ultimately, the violent conflicts at North Mara will continue as long as the region is plagued by unemployment and poverty. Many intruders say they would happily give up their invasions and switch to small-scale mining if they could. Barrick has promised to support the artisanal sector, but the villagers are skeptical of the company’s promise, which dates to 2007.
Barrick says the artisanal project has been delayed because its safety and security aspects require more study. In the meantime, hundreds of villagers continue to work in highly dangerous conditions in small-scale mining operations, descending into pits and washing gold-laced powder with mercury, which carries a variety of health risks.
Theresia Johannes, a 48-year-old mother of nine children, has spent the past 10 years in a small-scale mining operation near North Mara. She handles drops of mercury with her bare hands. After years of this practice, Johannes notices that her hands are often shaking. Tremors are a common symptom of mercury poisoning. “I’m worried about it,” she says. Yet she has no other way of supporting her family.
As long as Tanzanians are forced to choose between dying for a living and the potential wealth that they can gain by invading Barrick’s gold mine, the bloodshed at North Mara is likely to continue. Weapons and walls are a poor solution.