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Sexual Assault and Canadian Mining Companies

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Canada has a progressive reputation among many Americans, especially because of its health care program as compared to the United States. But if you follow natural resource policy, the Canadian corporations are truly some of the most vile in the world. That’s especially true for the multinational mining companies who routinely deprive local people of their land rights, poison ecosystems, violate labor rights, and generally act above the law. So I was hardly surprised to hear that the security guards at Barrick Gold’s mine in Papua New Guinea had engaged in routine and massive sexual assault on local women and that the company spent years doing absolutely nothing about it. Beginning in 2010, the company finally started to act a bit, largely through payouts of the raped women in exchange that they not file suit. About 10 women refused this, did sue, and then received much larger monetary awards in a later settlement. The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic have published a report on Barrick Gold’s remedy effort that is well worth reading. The report is not particularly harsh on Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company, but does strongly recommend that corporate-created plans to remedy these problems that do not take into account community input, as the company implemented, are deeply problematic. Moreover, given that Barrick Gold refused to investigate these problems for years before doing anything, it’s hard to argue against more being done to punish the company. That’s especially so given that the company took advantage of poorly educated, impoverished, and deeply traumatized people to get them to sign away their legal rights, ultimately showing that Barrick Gold’s primary interest was protecting itself.

I would go further and say that Barrick Gold executives needs to be held legally responsible for the actions of its employees. Unless we create legal mechanisms that forces the burden of responsibility onto corporate executives, violates of labor, environmental, and human rights will continue. You have to make it very much in the interests of the company to make them to anything positive. Not surprising, Barrick Gold’s environmental footprint at the mine has also come under attack for polluting local communities. Human Rights Watch has also issued a report over the widespread human rights violations at the mine. Finally, here’s a more complete rundown of the many problems with Barrick.

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