Argentina: Canadian mining company accused of violating OECD guidelines


The non-governmental Citizen Participation Forum for Justice and Human Rights (FOCO) accused the Canadian mining company Barrick Gold of violating in Argentina environmental and human health guidelines set by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The complaint was filed by FOCO before the OECD National Contact Point in Argentina, with the support – among other institutions – of the Asociación Ecologista Inti Chuteh (province of San Juan); Asamblea Popular por el Agua (Mendoza); Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos de La Matanza (in the province of Buenos Aires); Bienaventurados los Pobres (Catamarca); Organización de Naciones y Pueblos Indígenas in Argentina and the Argentine Chapter of the Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development, and also of several legislators.
Barrick Gold has over 27 mines operating in 15 countries. In 2005, the Veladero mine was set up in San Juan and now the project known as Pascua Lama is being built on the border with Chile, with gold reserves amounting to 17.8 million ounces.

Canada, where the company is based, is an OECD member, the same as all nations of the industrial North. The Guidelines of the organization are a set of principles regarding human rights, labor, and environment, among others, that companies in the OECD countries have undertaken to respect in those countries where they operate.

Both projects under scrutiny follow the open-pit mining system, a modality that has been banned in Canada.

Social organizations have informed the National Contact Point about systematic violations of the General Principles of OECD Guidelines by the company, particularly those referred to environmental care and protection.

Among the damages reported, they mentioned the pollution of superficial and underground waters due to the use of dangerous chemicals, and to the deviation of watercourses belonging to the basins of Las Taguas, Blanco and Jáchal rivers. They also reported air pollution by rock dust, metals and arsenic, among others, due to blastings and drillings, as well as soil damage owing to the transportation of dangerous substances by means of large-sized machinery and acid drainage.

Furthermore, they stated that the activities carried out by Barrick Gold have caused damage to glaciers, even destroying in 2005 the Conconta glacier, which supplied water to the Tudcum river.

According to the complaint, the Canadian company has hidden data related to the presence of other ice bodies. On the other hand, the mining activity has affected biodiversity, eliminating humid environments that are essential for the survival of ecosystems and species in the case of Pascua Lama-Veladero.

The complaint also refers to the social impact of Barrick Gold’s operations. According to the organizations, serious damages have been registered on the population’s health, such as a major incidence of liver, stomach and kidney cancer, among others.

In addition to this situation, there is the economic impact caused by the loss of tourists due to the destruction of natural landscapes and the restrictions in terms of access imposed by the company over the territory; the reduction in the amount of water and electricity available to the population; and production losses in terms of goat breeding, the cultivation of olive trees and seeds, and forest activity.

The organizations also accused the mining company of providing poor information about its activities or directly hiding it from the affected population.

The complaint includes cases of violence against social and environmental activists, due to repression by the provincial police and private security officers hired by Barrick Gold.

Institutions demand permanent consultation mechanisms for the affected populations, as well as their participation in decision-making regarding mining projects. They also demand mechanisms to ensure unrestricted, free, effective and simple access of people in the province of San Juan to the company’s information; the creation of an interdisciplinary team to analyze the environmental impact of mining projects underway; medical studies on the different pathologies suffered by villagers; and comprehensive research on glaciers and periglacial environments in the area.