Blog Entry

Barrick Gold AGM 2020 – CEO Mark Bristow Responds to Questions about Porgera Mine

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

On May 5, 2020, Barrick Gold held its annual general meeting (AGM) online. I attended (as a proxy shareholder) along with McDiyan Robert Yapari of Akali Tange Association in Porgera, Papua New Guinea, and raised questions regarding human rights abuses at the company’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea.

For two years Barrick led its joint venture partners in negotiations with the government of PNG and the local Porgera Landowners Association (PLOA) before the expiration of the mine’s 30-year lease in August of 2019. Despite that long period of negotiations there was no agreement reached by August 2019 and the mine has operated on a court ordered extension since then.

In the week before the May 5th AGM, Prime Minister James Marape announced that the troubled mine would not be granted a lease extension citing environmental, resettlement and many legacy issues as reasons. By the time of the AGM, Barrick’s local subsidiary had taken the issue back to court and the court had ordered further negations between the mine and the government of PNG.

In the AGM, I said the mine clearly does not have a social licence to operate and has failed to address the nearly 1000 claims of human rights abuses that have been filed with the mine’s defunct grievance mechanism. I asked CEO Mark Bristow whether he would advocate to bring the Porgera human rights defenders groups into the discussion with the state so that their human rights concerns would be heard and I asked if Barrick would work with the local human rights groups to create a credible and equitable grievance mechanism along the guidance for such laid out in a BSR (Business for Social Responsibility™) report of September 2018. Porgera native McDiyan Robert Yapari put his question bluntly in asking whether Barrick had any plans to deal with the 940 human rights cases identified in the BSR report and “if so when, and if not why not?”

In his response, Bristow asserted that he had engaged and obtained the support for a mine extension from the Porgera Landowners Association (PLOA). This is at best misleading information. On April 14 Bristow co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Marape seeking an extension of the mine’s lease. Only two of the 24 agent representatives of the Porgera Landowners Association signed the letter (Barrick’s partner Zijin Mining also did not sign the letter). This poor result comes after more than two years of negotiations with the PLOA. Anyone who has paid attention to the realities in PNG will know that the 24 agent representatives are severely divided on the question of whether Barrick should continue to run the mine and that the two co-signers with Bristow represent the minority of landowners. The letter, which discusses hefty up-front payments to the landowners for their “social licence,” has all the hallmarks of a last ditch desperate attempt to sway the government’s decision regarding the permit extension.

Bristow’s response to both MiningWatch and McDiyan Yapari on the issue of at least 940 outstanding human rights claims that have been filed with the mine and recognized by the human rights consultancy BSR, was nothing short of bewildering. Bristow said he personally “monitors” the grievances and that he has himself “been through the BSR report” and taken note of its “recommendations and conclusions.” In that case he will be aware of the fact that none of the reports 10 key recommendations have been followed up on. The report finds that the mine does not have a UN Guiding Principles compatible grievance mechanism and recommends a detailed timeline to address this concern in concert with the Porgera based human rights groups, including Yapari’s Akali Tange Association. The first step was to have been concluded in November 2018. No progress has been made in this regard. In spite of this abject failure, Bristow went on to assert that “we have dealt with all the issues outstanding.” This will come as a major surprise to the many victims of human rights abuses and their families who have filed claims with the mine, and no doubt further discourage hundreds who have not yet filed claims with the mine in the absence of an equitable grievance mechanism.

Bristow’s lack of grasp of the realities in Porgera is evident when he speaks of the “complex social situation” in Porgera showing no recognition of the mine’s signature role in complicating and degrading people’s lives with overwhelming environmental impacts and brutal human rights abuses committed by the mine's private and public security forces. Given Bristow’s insulting and clueless remark that the mine’s operators are the “only real…responsible community organization in that region” it is no surprise that the mine and Barrick have lost the social licence of the indigenous peoples of Porgera, and of the local human rights organizations that continue to fight for justice for the mine’s victims.

Here's my actual question:

"With regard to the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea, you have been negotiating with the PNG government and the Porgera Landowners Association for over two years and still your application for a mine lease renewal was recently turned down. This brings into question your social licence to operate. At the same time, in these two years you have failed to follow up on the recommendations of your own consultants BSR to work with the local human rights organizations to create a credible grievance mechanism for the nearly 1000 claims of human rights abuses that have been filed with the mine.

"My questions are – Will you agree to advocate for inclusion of the local human rights organizations in any further negotiations around the future of the mine? And, when will you start to work with the local human rights organizations to create a credible and equitable grievance mechanism for victims of mining related human rights and environmental harm?"

The questions, along with Bristow's response, are recorded in this video.