Intervenor: vol. 26, no. 4 September - December 2001

A Tale of Two Standards

To hear mining industry representatives tell it these days, in this "globalized world," mining companies universally follow the highest of operating standards. However, the experiences of communities that suffer the direct impacts of mining operations call into question such claims. Implementation, at the community level, of the so-called worldwide standard, is the real test of the industry's intentions. If the universal standard only appears in the speeches of CEOs and does not lead to change on the ground, at the mine-site, it is nothing more than sophisticated public relations (read excerpts of an article on mining company PR strategies, below).

For the past four years, CELA has collaborated with the Peruvian NGO, CooperAccion and with the Environmental Mining Council of B.C., to build international links that strengthen our capacity to act on mining and environment issues. In November 2001, Ken Traynor and Karyn Keenan of CELA traveled to Peru as part of the CIDA-funded project, Building Capacity in Mining Communities.

CELA co-sponsored and participated in two CooperAccion-organized workshops. One was held at 4000 metres above sea level on the Andean altiplano, in the community of Espinar, and the second, back at sea level in the capital of Lima. We presented research on the use of Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) by First Nations' communities in Canada as part of their strategies to structure community-corporate engagement at the local level. (see Related Information below).

For years in Espinar, community complaints about the operations of the open pit copper mine went largely ignored. In May of 1990, frustrated community members blocked access to the mine and shut down operations. Work at the mine site resumed when local communities received promises to review their complaints from the then government-owned operation. But a decade later, following privatization of the mine, community complaints remain. The present owner of the mine, the Australian/British giant BHP Billiton, has posted its policy on community relations and environmental management on its web-site (The BHP policy on community relations can be accessed online at www.bhpbilliton.com/bb/sustainableDevelopment/home.jsp). The reality in the communities that surround the mine bears little resemblance to this policy.

Community complaints can be divided into three categories:

  • land expropriation and compensation;
  • environmental impacts; and
  • lack of local economic benefits.

The first category includes historic complaints about the way in which community lands were expropriated for the mine and the inadequate compensation payments that were made for those lands. There are also complaints about recent land acquisitions that made way for the new tailings dam, which is currently under construction. The community has long-standing concerns about the environmental impacts to both local ground and surface water sources, as well as to air and soil quality. Recent CooperAccion-organized environmental monitoring activity has generated evidence to support community claims of contamination. Community members can now use these data to confront the company. Finally, as with mining projects in other parts of the world, the communities who suffer the direct impacts of the Tintaya mine do not receive significant economic benefit from this activity.

The challenge to these communities is to convince the company to address their concerns seriously. At BHP's Ekati diamond mine in Canada, the company was required to accept and fund the operations of a community watchdog agency. This Canadian example is a useful tool for beginning to address the challenges that are faced by Peruvian communities.

The chart below demonstrates how different company practice can be, despite the rhetoric of "one high standard for all."

BHP Ekati
Diamond Mine in Northwest Territories
3 years old

BHP Tintaya
Copper Mine in Peru
21 years old

  • Independent Monitoring Agency (IMA) established (4 Directors appointed by indigenous organizations, 3 by gov'ts and BHP) as an element of the Environmental Agreement between the the company, and the NWT and Canadian Governments. BHP to oversee both how the company and government regulatory agencies carry out environmental management at the mine.
  • Unexpected acid leachate discovered from the waste rock pile during regular environmental monitoring after first year of operation in 1999.
  • Monitoring data routinely sent to IMA, which directed BHP to research the problem, find the cause, and propose remediation options.
  • BHP's report identifies likely problem as unexpected reactionbetween tundra waters and kimberlite rock on bottom of waste rock pile.
  • IMA recommends summer monitoring program and construction of trial toe berm to contain seepage. BHP to provide report on efficacy.
  • Research and monitoring on-going, toe berm constructed.
  • There are environmental impacts however, there are no communities near the mine-site.
  • No public access to any monitoring information on mine operations. Long-standing community complaints.
  • December, 2000 independent environmental sampling undertaken by Peruvian NGO CooperAccion, in response to community complaints. Assessment identifies serious water contamination in Tintaya Marquiri, a community located below the tailings dam.
  • BHP disputes the monitoring data and brings in a U.S. company to review the findings.
  • Company is busy in the USA and finally carries out site visit in September, 2001.
  • CooperAccion report makes a number of specific recommendations for remediation, further monitoring, and risk assessment. Local populations call on the Peruvian Ministry of Mines to demand better waste management by BHP.
  • Problem remains unresolved and no remediation has been undertaken.
  • There are environmental and health (livestock and human) impacts in the community near the tailings dam, as well as downstream impacts.

Sources: October 2000 issue of Ekati Monitor published by the IMA and recent site visit to Peru.

Excerpts from the Policy Statement

The following are excerpts from the Mineral Policy Institute of Australia's Newsletter, Mining Monitor (March 1999), "Change Image to Caged Best Sandman Tells MCA", (p. 5).

"You are widely seen as being a bad actor ... how do you move from being a bad actor to being seen as a good actor, as a good guy?", Peter Sandman rhetorically asks, pacing along the front of the 400-strong audience of PR and mine managers from around Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, Papua, New Guinea and the US.

It is a problem that the Australian mining industry had spent millions trying to answer, but made little progress on. Multi-million dollar advertising campaigns have been deemed an expensive failure…

Sandman, billed as the star attraction for the Minerals Council of Australia's Annual Environmental Workshop in Melbourne, Australia, was the latest in a long line of consultants brought in to tell the industry how to fix the problem. …

Referring to the [Australian] Minerals Councils Code of Environmental Management, which is promoted within the industry as 'voluntary', he explains "What does voluntary mean? Voluntary means you don't have do it".

"You have two basic postures", he advises them. "Either you are free to rape and pillage as you want to, but fortunately you don't have the taste for it. Or you have a taste for it and you might continue to rape and pillage if you could but fortunately you can't get away with it any more", he says.

"I believe the second is true and I am certain the second is saleable", he reassures the audience. "I can't imagine why you keep claiming the first except that it nurtures your self-esteem, it reduces your outrage.

Once again, whose outrage do you want to mitigate? The critics or yours? Do you want to get even or get rich?", he asks them. …

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Ken Traynor is a CELA Researcher