UN Guiding Principles’ impact on Barrick Gold
Barrick Gold is the world’s largest gold mining company, and it acquired the Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2006, in a bid to expand and assert its dominance further. PNG possesses a developing economy, for which Gold and copper mining represents over 50% of the GDP. It follows that the community is proportionally dependent on the minerals. For instance, the population at Porgera grew from approximately 6,000 to 50,000 when mining commenced there to benefit from the new mines (Henderson and Hsieh 4). Thus, these statistics underline the centrality of, not only the activity of mineral extraction but the stakeholders in it to the economy and the society of PNG. Moreover, they indicate that the economy is not particularly strong, as it can be proven by inadequately provisioned security force and high crime rates. Therefore, when the Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised the alarm over the alleged rape of local women by Barrick’s security guards, the company rightfully felt that it had a role to play in responding to those delinquencies and prevention of a future repeated offence. However, there was no such provision either within the organization or externally, making the processing of drafting by means of such measures that would be acceptable to all parties. Nevertheless, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were instrumental for the establishment in this process in several ways discussed herein.
A fundamental challenge that the company faced was the lack of grounds on which it could respond in a manner it felt was sufficient. The general feeling within the firm was that it had to do something as echoed by Jonathan and Sybil (Henderson and Hsieh 2). However, human rights obligations were unlike legal requirements before creation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The latter have a robust framework to which they are met and apparent retribution if they were not, but the former was left as a voluntary undertaking. Hence, this meant that corporations could escape punishment for human rights violations, but Barrick Gold simply did not wish to be such a institution for various reasons. The values of the enterprise, for instance, did not allow it, and the issue of rape was so serious that some of the employees threatened to resign if the organization did not react appropriately (Henderson and Hsieh 5). Therefore, the team responsible for the response clearly had its work cut out, but it had no framework to guide the response. As such, they could only begin from a theoretical point and develop a reply. However, the guiding principles put in place practical measures of response, effectively transforming the discussion. Their definition of the role of international corporations in human rights issues gave the organization a threshold by which the company could benchmark the policies they would formulate.
The Guiding Principles also separated powers so that conflict between all the parties involved in the Porgera Gold Mines saga had a common reference point concerning what everyone was accountant for. For instance, with the developing economy, PNG lacked the resource to execute all of its duties sufficiently. Thus, this is illustrated by the fact that the crime rates were among the highest in the country’s capital and yet the state could not provide the police force, which was powerful enough to deal with this challenge. The company, on the other hand, had immense resources at its disposal as it is evident by the number of employees it hired for security purposes only (Henderson and Hsieh 4). Therefore, there was the risk that the firm would assume some of the duties of the government with the intentions of helping secure the society in which it was located. However, the principles clearly defined the role of enforcement for the state and outlined the acceptable processes such as due diligence, protection of rights, and the relevant remediation measures for the corporation. Consequently, this created a way for the establishment to respond appropriately without overstepping its mandate and ensuring transparency. For instance, coordination of remedial efforts with the PNG Family and Sexual Violation Committee as well as other independent bodies ensured that the efforts were clear and within the venture’s mandate.
Quite critically, the Guiding Principles legitimized the response efforts by Barrick Gold in Porgera Gold Mine and shielded them from undue criticism. The third pillar of the corporate responsibility in the principles allowed the victims of human rights violations by international corporations to have access to both judicial and alternative remedies to their situation. The inclusion of the latter therein was crucial for the company since it provided grounds for Barrick Gold to launch the Olgeta Meri Igat Raits project legitimately (Henderson and Hsieh 10). Without the provision, the firm was susceptible to blame for averting justice for victims of their abuse but with it the organization had the option to enable the injured parties to choose either legal recourse or accept the compensation package. Besides, this was one of the responses, with some people suspecting that the company was only making the efforts to avoid justice, but Barrick could continue its performance as it had legitimate backing. Additionally, the program elicited varied responses from stakeholders (Henderson and Hsieh 11). For instance, it is notable that the accused security guards were primarily locals and women were subject to regular abuse as punishment in the locality. Such people might have felt that the commercial entity had no right to interfere with their way of life. Moreover, the enterprise was protected from individuals that felt that the corporation was overreacting to the crisis and wasting resources since determination of the scale of response is left to the organization.
In retrospect, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were not only a catalyst in the resolution of the Porgera crisis but a practical necessity. The Guiding Principles laid the groundwork for the formulation of the response by the company. Throughout the implementation process, the Guiding Principles ensured that all stakeholders played their respective roles for smooth operations. Finally, they were on hand to legitimize and shield the chosen mode of response by Barrick Gold from excessive criticism.