Human Rights Watch 2013 Annual World Report

A friend of mine passed on a link to Human Rights Watch’s annual World Report for 2013.  You can find it here:

There is one section that I would like to bring attention to.   In the section on voluntary initiatives on p. 32 (and also in a section on regulation of business on p. 44), Canada and Barrick Gold are cited as specific examples. What follows is cited directly from the report:

Voluntary initiatives all face the same crucial limitations: they are only as strong as their corporate members choose to make them, and they don’t apply to companies that don’t want to join. They often do a good job of helping to define good company human rights practice, but enforceable rules are the only way of ensuring real, systematic change.

The world’s dearth of binding human rights rules for companies has consequences. When companies stand in for absentee governments, in whatever role, things tend to end badly. Decades of failed development efforts led by oil companies in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta have proven that point with brutal eloquence, and it holds equally true in other contexts.

In 2010, we interviewed women who described being gang-raped at the hands of private security guards employed by Canadian-owned Barrick Gold at a Papua New Guinea mine (Gold’s Costly Dividend, 2011). Crucial lapses in oversight meant that Barrick—the world’s largest gold company—did not take the allegations seriously or do anything to address them until we went into the field to get the evidence ourselves.

That should have been the government’s job, not ours. But Papua New Guinea’s government is hobbled by corruption, poverty, and remarkably low institutional capacity. Instead of overseeing Barrick’s activities, it effectively left the company to do the job itself. Barrick has since pursued reforms aimed at preventing future abuse and has promised to compensate victims. But that doesn’t change the fact that even a sophisticated and well-resourced company proved unable to bridge the gap left by missing government oversight.

It wasn’t only the government of Papua New Guinea that left Barrick to its own devices, but also the government of Canada, where Barrick—and indeed most of the world’s mining and exploration companies—are based.  Canada’s government probably has as much experience overseeing complex mining operations as any other on earth. Allegations of human rights abuse by Canadian firms surface regularly in countries around the globe, but authorities in Ottawa do not know how many of these are credible. In fact, they have steadfastly refused to give themselves a mandate to find out. 

This failure of high-capacity governments to scrutinize the human rights practices of their own corporate citizens when they operate abroad is a problem that urgently needs solving.

I don’t have anything to add. Instead I’ll let you read more of the report if you are interested.


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