Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Goldcorp Takes Step Forward with Human Rights Policy

One of Canada's highly scrutinized gold miners, Goldcorp Inc., has released its long awaited Human Rights Policy, as well as a more general Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Policy this week.  The documents were developed following a long process undertaken by Goldcorp to conduct a Human Rights Assessment of its Marlin mine in Guatemala.

The company, local community members and international activists have been at odds for years over issues like water, land rights and royalty payments at the Marlin mine.  The polarized positioning of both sides created a challenging problem for responsible investors:  Do you 'cut and run' by selling your shares in Goldcorp, essentially washing your hands of the situation, or do you use your influence to initiate change?

I have been a staunch advocate of shareholder engagement.  I believe that change can only come about when shareholders dig into difficult issues and start a conversation with companies about the social and environmental issues they face.  When confronted with the concerns surrounding Goldcorp's Marlin mine, it became clear that proactive engagement was the best way forward. 

In 2008, I helped organize a delegation of Goldcorp shareholders to travel to Guatemala in search some answers.  We wanted to see for ourselves how the Marlin mine was affecting the human rights of indigenous Mayans, and what steps Goldcorp could take to improve its increasingly contentious relationships with local villagers.

The trip had a lasting effect on me and affirmed our group's belief that we had a responsibility to try to make a difference.  We decided to send a clear and powerful message by filing a shareholder proposal asking Goldcorp to conduct a human rights impact assessment of its operations.  The shareholder proposal emphasized the reputational and operational risks the company faced at Marlin and argued that the company needed a more comprehensive understanding of the human rights issues it was facing.  

Two years later, the final report detailing the findings of the Human Rights Assessment was released publicly.  It was the first report of its kind by a Canadian company - a comprehensive, no holds barred account of the mine's human rights legacy.  It highlighted a number of positive contributions of the mine, but also clearly outlined concerns, including previously unaddressed labour rights concerns facing the mine workers themselves. 

The company has since been undergoing a steep learning process.  The new human rights policy is the first tangible step towards implementing the recommendations of the Human Rights Assessment.  Goldcorp's policy makes specific commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of other human rights standards and international legal conventions.  It also references the groundbreaking work of the United Nations Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie. 

Goldcorp's policy does not explicitly subscribe to the commitment of seeking the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples (often referred to as 'FPIC'), however it does refer to the International Labour Organization's Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which includes a FPIC component.

FPIC has become a hot topic as of late. Human rights advocates and a number of pioneering investors have been asking companies to develop FPIC policies as a measure to improve the sophistication of their interaction with indigenous people.  Most notably, Quebec investors B√Ętirente and RRSE asked Talisman Energy to evaluate the benefits of establishing such a policy.  Goldcorp's policy touches on the issue, and it will be interesting to see how the company implements this commitment on the ground.

In addition, Goldcorp's policy advances its commitment to international labour rights, which the Human Rights Assessment noted were lacking at the Marlin mine.  And it further spells out the company's commitment to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative to ensure that both public and private security forces have the training and procedures in place to minimize the potential for human rights violations.

The company has stated it is committed to continual improvement of its human rights practices, and is seeking feedback on both the Human Rights Policy and the Corporate Social Responsibility Policy.  Those of us following Goldcorp's groundbreaking Human Rights Assessment will be keenly watching how the company tackles its next challenge: rolling out a comprehensive human rights training and management strategy at its global mine sites.