Shareholder motion against Goldcorp fails

  • May 2, 2012

An American community of Loretto Sisters and its allies lost a shareholder vote in South Porcupine, Ont., that would have forced Goldcorp Inc. to set aside almost $50 million to pay for post-mining clean-up at a major gold mine in Guatemala.

Management at the Canadian mining giant had opposed the Loretto Sisters’ motion at the company’s Annual General Meeting April 26. The motion asked Goldcorp to revise its mine closure plans in San Marcos, Guatemala, in light of an independent study which pegged mine closure costs at $49 million.

Indigenous, poor farmers in the region around the open-pit Marlin Mine have grave concerns about environmental costs of the mine, which produces about 400,000 ounces of gold per year from up to 6,000 tons of ore per day processed with cyanide.

Sr. Natalie Wing, who spent a year living and working with peasants in the diocese of San Marcos, knew the vote against the company was a long shot.

“It’s kind of like faith. You just do it because you know it’s right,” she told The Catholic Register in an interview from Kentucky, where she was preparing to take final vows.

The shareholder motion was brought at the behest of Mam-speaking Mayan peasants who live near the mine, said Wing.

“It’s done with the local people. It’s not being imposed from the top. It’s giving voice to the people who don’t have much exposure to media, who might be illiterate,” she said.

The company said the expert study on mine closing costs which fueled the shareholder motion was inaccurate.

“We’re the ones who are operating the mine. I don’t think that anybody who wrote that study has ever been to the property,” said David Deisley, Goldcorp vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel.

The company currently estimates mine closing costs at $27.6 million. When the mine opened, then-owner Glamis Marigold Mining Company posted a $1 million bond to cover cleanup costs even though the Guatemalan mining law did not require any bond to be posted.

If a new Guatemalan mining law or new environmental law asked Goldcorp for a larger bond to cover mine closure, the company would have no problem complying with the law, said Deisley.

Goldcorp’s current environmental management plan involves a new mining process which fills in the open pit as new areas are mined. A “thickened tailings deposition process” backfills the Marlin mine pit.

“That not only provides a more useful landform post-mining, it addresses a lot of the closure issues as the mine is being operated,” Deisley said.

Though the mine currently has deposits that would carry it to a 2018 closure date, ongoing exploration and testing on the mine site suggest it may continue producing past that date. The Marlin Mine has estimated proven and probable reserves in excess of 1.5 million ounces of gold and more than 60 million ounces of silver.

The fundamental issue isn’t so much the engineering of a mine closure plan but the sense among Mayan indigenous that the mine was imposed on them and is degrading their traditional lands, said Wing.

“The basic thing is we have an ethical sense, a moral sense that there is deprivation of the land and also of a people’s livelihood and their culture,” she said. “There’s an injustice and that’s where we stand.”

The Marlin Mine employs more than 1,300 indigenous people out of a work force of 1,500.

“They are folks who have a job and there are benefits coming from this. It’s only through constructive engagement that you can make any progress,” said Deisley. “I don’t see what’s gained by shutting the mine down. It immediately harms a lot of people.”

The Mayan employees of the mine are a tiny minority of the area population, said Wing.

Based on what happened just across the border in San Martin, Honduras, people in Guatemala are right to be worried about mine closure plans, said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace program officer Mary Durran. Development and Peace, with the British Catholic organization CAFOD and others, has been advocating for native people who live near Goldcorp’s San Martin mine, where operations were suspended in 2008.

Mining laws in Honduras and Guatemala contain very weak protections for the environment and for local populations, said Durran.

“That’s very serious in Guatemala because the majority are indigenous,” she said.

Goldcorp has been working with Guatemala’s government to improve its mining law and in 2011 the company voluntarily quadrupled its royalty payments in Guatemala to four per cent.

“We’re trying to be constructive and work with the people of Guatemala and the government of Guatemala so this mine becomes an effective catalyst for social and economic progress in their country,” said Deisley.

“It’s all well and good if Goldcorp takes voluntary measures to increase royalties and that, but these measures need to be mandatory and not voluntary,” said Durran.

“It is actually the duty of the Guatemalan government to protect its own people. On the other hand, they aren’t doing it.”

That leaves advocates for the native communities — led by Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini in the diocese of San Marco, Guatemala — to try to pressure Goldcorp and other mining companies.

“All the clergy and religious (of San Marcos) are behind this effort,” said Wing.

For Canadian mining companies, the issue needs broader solutions than can be tackled in individual shareholder motions at annual general meetings, said Peter Chapman, Shareholder Association for Research and Education executive director.

“A great deal of focus has been on the Marlin Mine, but this is an industry-wide issue,” he said.

Goldcorp’s 2011 financial results included $1.9 billion in net earnings from $5.4 billion in revenue. The company has assets valued at $29.4 billion. On average it sold an ounce of gold for $1,572 in 2011. Worldwide, the company’s average gold mining cost is $223 per ounce.

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