Mining company dropped from Jantzi index

  • May 9, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - The complaints of peasants and indigenous people in Central America have reached the Toronto Stock Exchange and pushed Goldcorp Inc. off a socially responsible stock index that helps determine at least $33 million in mutual fund investment.

Goldcorp Inc. of Vancouver was dropped from the influential Jantzi Social Index over problems associated with mines in Guatemala and Honduras which the company acquired when it bought Glamis Gold in August 2006.

Goldcorp has been replaced on Jantzi’s weighted index of 60 TSX-listed companies by Potash Corp of Saskatoon.

“Those conclusions drawn don’t reflect what the reality is at Goldcorp,” said Goldcorp’s vice president of investor relations Jeff Wilhoit.

“In terms of our own internal operations I think, if anything, we are doing things better,” Wilhoit told The Catholic Register.

But Jantzi mining analyst Gillian Stein said the Canadian mining company’s high minded rhetoric had drifted too far away from reality. Goldcorp has struggled to make the Marlin mine in Guatemala and the San Martin mine in Honduras fit under Goldcorp’s social and environmental policies.

“What we are measuring is the impact,” said Stein. “In this case, no matter how many policies are in place, there’s a negative impact felt.”

Jantzi analysts toured Goldcorp mines in Honduras and Guatemala at the company’s invitation last fall. They concluded not enough had been done to address growing opposition from local indigenous communities to the Marlin mine in Guatemala, or complaints about water safety and health from people living near the San Martin mine in Honduras, and an environmental compliance record that has resulted in the highest environment fine total among mining companies on the TSX Composite Index according to the Canadian Social Investment Database.

“It sounds like the Jantzi group has its own scorecard and we will do our best to continue on,” Wilhoit said. “We put a value on working and operating up to and exceeding the standard of international laws, the laws of Guatemala, the laws of Honduras — wherever in the world we operate.”

But the standards of poor countries with weak regulations, desperate for foreign investment, should not be the standard used to judge Canadian mining companies, said Mary Durran of the Montreal-based Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Development and Peace has been relaying the concerns of churches and communities in Honduras about mining, demanding that Canadian companies be held to Canadian standards when operating abroad.

“Often it’s not necessarily cheap to do things properly. The companies who do the most damage are the ones who want to make a fast buck,” Durran said.

Situations like the protests over the Guatemala’s Marlin Mine arise because companies fail to inform local communities how the mine will affect them and their environment, according to Development and Peace.

“One issue we come up against continually is the issue of consent with communities. This is never done properly,” Durran said.

It’s not just non-governmental organizations and development agencies that worry over such issues. Investors are also looking for companies that will hold themselves to a higher standard, said Stein.

“Goldcorp will always say that they operate to Guatemalan standards, but we know that Guatemalan standards are not sufficient for our purposes,” she said.

Socially responsible investors aren’t looking for perfection, or the complete absence of controversy, when looking at Canadian mining companies with operations outside North America, said Stein.

“We always defer to the best-of-sector approach,” she said. “Obviously we can’t exclude all mining.”

For Potash Corp. getting on the Jantzi 60 is good news, said spokesperson Rhonda Speiss.

“Potash Corp. has been operating using sustainable business practices for many, many years. We’re always pleased when our stakeholders or when others outside our organization recognize those practices,” she said.

The JSI is used as the basis for Meritas Mutual Funds’ Social Index Fund, the iShares socially responsible Exchange Tradable Fund, and a suite of three mutual funds offered by RBC Asset Management.

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