Blog Entry

Barrick Gold’s Lack of Transparency Disappoints but Doesn’t Surprise

Viviana Herrera

Latin America Program Coordinator

The following was written by Jan Morrill, Tailings Campaign Manager with Earthworks and Viviana Herrera, Latin America Program Coordinator with MiningWatch Canada. 

Representatives of communities impacted by Barrick Gold’s operations in Argentina, along with their allies in the U.S. and Canada, were taken aback by the company’s actions to restrict participation in its 2024 Annual General Shareholder Meeting on April 30th.

Members of the Asamblea Jachal No se Toca (JNST), a community group based downstream from Barrick’s Veladero mine in San Juan, Argentina, joined the meeting via a proxy to ask questions of Barrick’s CEO about water contamination from the mine as well as raise concerns about unauthorized infrastructure installed by the company on expropriated land.

During the AGM, Barrick ignored or changed questions critical of the company. The question posed by members of JSNT wasn’t acknowledged at all, and questions about Barrick’s operations in Tanzania and the Dominican Republic were distorted to exclude critical details. The answers provided by Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow didn’t adequately address the issues raised.

Barrick switched to a completely virtual AGM format this year, despite public concerns from dozens of large institutional investors that online meetings allow companies to silence dissent and undermine shareholders’ rights. The change comes following protests outside the 2023 AGM that included video messages from impacted communities, with testimony from Argentina. During this year’s meeting, advocates parked mobile billboards outside the company’s Toronto headquarters and played testimonials from impacted communities during the AGM. In one of the videos, Faustino Esquevel, a member of Jáchal, is heard saying, “The Barrick Gold mining company, installed on the mountain chain with its Veladero project, practically impoverished us, socially. Our department once produced the largest quantity of onion and quince and with this company, we have run out of water and production has practically ceased to exist.”

The Canadian company says it ”will continue hosting virtual-only annual meetings.”

“Barrick Gold can’t hide from its actions,” said Saul Zeballos from JNST. “Continuing with online AGMs is a cynical attempt to shield investors from the company’s dangerous mining practices around the world. Communities will continue to look for ways to provide accurate information to shareholders so they can make informed decisions. We believe that there are many well-intentioned shareholders who take the communities affected by Barrick Gold into account.”

In another move to quell opposition, Barrick refused to allow Ekō to explain and contextualize their shareholder resolution requiring third-party audits of the company’s planned and current mines’ impact on local water systems. Barrick rejected Ekō’s original presentation recording days before the AGM and forced the group to submit a simple recording of just the text of the resolution. In spite of this, the resolution garnered 25% votes in favor, an unusually high number for a first time resolution, where 5% is the minimum vote to be able to refile the following year. This showed significant support from shareholders to increase transparency around the company’s impacts on local communities and ecosystems.

The AGM came on the heels of a visit in early April by Bristow to Argentina, which did little to allay the fears of frontline communities of ongoing contamination from Barrick’s mine and provide transparency around the company’s mining operations. Comments made by Bristow also raised alarm bells for communities and environmental leaders. In an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nación, Bristow was quoted as saying China is exploiting Western paranoia around climate change to sell more electric vehicle batteries, coal should be considered a critical mineral, and the emphasis on mining impacts on the environment is unwarranted.

In response to questions about government attempts to modify Argentina’s legislation to protect glaciers, he is quoted as saying “glaciers come and go.” For years, Barrick attempted to have the country’s glacier protection law declared unconstitutional arguing it could affect its mining projects near glacier areas, including the Veladero mine, but in 2019 the Supreme Court rejected Barrick's claim of unconstitutionality and upheld Argentina's glacier law. The company has been condemned by institutions such as the Fundación Ciudadanos Independientes (FUCI) for cutting the Almirante Brown glacier in half in order to build a road connecting the Veladero and Pascua Lama mines, which caused the lower part of that glacier to disappear.

Saul Zeballos from JNST responded to Bristow’s quote saying, “glaciers don’t come and go. They are gone forever because of destructive mining activity.”
The lack of substantive answers to legitimate environmental concerns from Barrick at its AGM and by its CEO in the press underscores the company’s unwillingness to improve transparency around its operations. Independent water testing by state universities in San Juan and independent journalists has found evidence of at least five spills since 2015 that have impacted communities downstream from the Veladero mine. In 2022, Special Rapporteurs under the mandate of the UN Human Rights Commission sent a public letter to Barrick stating their belief that “the information received is sufficiently reliable to indicate that there is a matter that warrants immediate attention.”    

According to Silvina De Los Santos of JSNT, “The people of Jáchal in San Juan, Argentina have been suffering for almost two decades from the ravages caused by the Veladero mine at the hands of Barrick Gold. The mine was gifted to the company by the provincial government, and it has contaminated our water and our environment.They have made us sick. They have caused tremendous social, cultural and economic havoc. We do not want to continue being a sacrifice zone. We want a better world, a better place and a better land for our future generations. That is why we continue here, in Jáchal, with conviction in this fight for water, for life for all our loved ones and for the entire community.”

You can show your support for the JSNT by signing this petition to shut down the Veladero mine. 

Photo credit: Sarah Palmer