MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Pension fund stake in Barrick Gold spurs controversy

Published by MAC on 2007-07-23


Pension fund stake in Barrick Gold spurs controversy

by Aftenposten (Norway)

23rd July 2007

Norway's much-vaunted pension fund, which has a stated policy of ethical investments, owns stock in a Canadian mining company accused of polluting an island in the Philippines and causing severe health problems among its residents.

Miinister of Finance, Kristin Halvorsen, said the pension fund's stake in Barrick would be evaluated.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on its national newscast Sunday evening that the pension fund created by oil revenues has NOK 862 million (about USD 145 million) invested in Barrick Gold, which is blamed for illness and even death among the population of the island. Toronto-based Barrick Gold took over a company, Placer Dome, that mined copper, silver and gold on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines. The company also spewed mine waste that polluted local waters, not least with mercury and lead.

Studies have shown high concentrations of the poisonous metals in the bay at Marinduque. Philippine health authorities have also found high concentrations of lead in children and adults living in the island's fishing villages.

One resident interviewed by NorWatch, the business news service for environmental group Future in Our Hands, had lost a leg to metal poisoning, suffered a variety of other ailments and was barely able to support his family any longer.

The Philippine authorities want to move the community away from the polluted bay, but lack funding to do so. They're suing Barrick, seeking compensation for the environmental damage done to the island. Barrick has said it will vigorously oppose the claims against it. NorWatch said a Barrick spokesman declined comment pending resolution of the lawsuits.

A statement on the company's website claimed that Barrick "believes that anything short of best management is unacceptable. Environmental excellence is a strategic business objective. Barrick is committed to protecting the environment wherever the Company is exploring for new resources, or developing, operating or closing mines."

The ethical guidelines for Norway's pension fund raise serious questions about its investment in Barrick, yet the fund has boosted its stake over the past several years. Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said on national TV that the stake would be investigated, acknowledging that the circumstances around Barrick on Marinduque are "serious."

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