Woe for the gold

Barrick Gold providing medals for Toronto Pan Am, but not everyone's happy

Last week’s unveiling of the 2015 Pan Am Games medals didn’t leave everyone excited.

“This is clearly free PR for a company that, though it actually produces gold, badly needs to polish its public image,” says Jamie Kneen, communications coordinator at Mining Watch Canada, an advocacy group for ethical mining practices.

The medals, which may be made unethically according to critics.
The medals, which may be made unethically according to critics. (TORONTO 2015 PAN/PARAPAN AMERICA)

The group criticizes the awards being smelted by the Royal Canadian mint using materials provided by Toronto-based mining company Barrick Gold.

Barrick’s been fined in Chile for not meeting regulations in its permit to construct its flagship gold and silver project in that country; it’s been sued by its shareholders; and it’s dealing with the fallout from shootings, murder and gang rape by security forces at company mine sites in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania, says Kneen.  A 2010 Amnesty International report also makes these claims. 

Kneen brings up an example that is particularly relevant to the Pan Am Games. Barrick Gold is using the concept of Pan-Americanism promotionally, emphasizing that the metal will come from across the hemisphere.

The gold comes from Northern Ontario, the silver from the Dominican Republic, and the copper from Barrick’s Zaldivar location in Chile.

For its part, Barrick refutes claims the Pan Am medal sponsorship is costing it nothing.

“The value of the metal we are providing is substantial, seven figures,” said Andy Lloyd, a vice president in charge of communications for Barrick, in an email.

Barrick’s Pascua Lama mine in Chile is a project that has been in the planning for over a decade, and already has over $5 billion invested into it, according to Barrick officials. It was to be an open pit gold and silver mine in the Andes mountains along the border of Chile and Argentina.

Chile’s environmental agency has suspended Barrick’s permit to the mine, until the company builds infrastructure that would protect the water resources in the area. Local indigenous groups say the mine has also damaged sensitive glaciers.

Barrick Gold maintains its operations in Chile are ethical and improving.

“We couldn’t be prouder to supply the copper from Zaldivar [Chile],” said Barrick’s Lloyd. “The mine has very strong support from its local communities, and a track record of strong environmental performance.”

As far as the Pascua-Lama project goes, Lloyd stated that the company is actively working with local communities, including 15 indigenous groups, to improve relations.

In addition to a pledge of transparency, Lloyd says Barrick Gold is “providing for independent scientific review and verification of the project’s environmental impact.”