Philippines a Litmus Test for Placer Dome's Environmental Policy

(Toronto) Shareholders were holding Placer Dome's environmental sustainability promises to account at the company's annual general meeting today.

Beth Manggol from the Philippine island of Marinduque argued that Placer Dome's sustainability policy and promises have not been reflected in their practices on the island.

Manggol held the company responsible for the fact that four years after a major tailing spill, most of the tailings that spilled into the Boac River have ended up in the sea where they have damaged coral reefs. She blamed Placer's insistence on ocean disposal of the spilled tailings — a practice that contravenes Canadian regulations and has twice been rejected by Philippine authorities — for the four year delay in the safe disposal of the spilled tailings.

Manggol also pointed to the company's legacy of ongoing mining related environmental and social problems on the island that have yet to be addressed, saying: "Will Placer Dome now, finally, take some responsibility for these damages and provide the compensation and rehabilitation of the damaged environments that the villagers are asking for in their petitions and resolutions?"

Also at today's meeting, Ken Georgetti of Working Enterprises Ltd. discussed a shareholder proposal it has put to Placer Dome Inc. The proposal asks Placer Dome to provide independent public assessments of environmental risk at each of its operations and to disclose detailed information to shareholders about insurers and levels of insurance against environmental incidents such as the tailing spill that occurred in Marinduque in 1996.

Placer Dome agreed to circulate the proposal but advised shareholders to vote against the proposal. Nonetheless, progress made at Placer Dome's Stakeholder Roundtables in Sydney last month was cause enough for Working Enterprises to decide to withdraw the shareholder proposal pending implementation of a draft agreement.

The draft agreement coming out of the Sydney meeting calls on the company to create a multi-stakeholder committee that will independently set sustainable development performance benchmarks for the company and will also commission independent assessments of compliance with these benchmarks. The agreement also calls for three "good faith" benchmarks from Placer Dome:

   1. only developing projects that do not involve riverine disposal of tailings
   2. only exploring or mining outside of designated protected areas
   3. only proceeding with decisions that are supported by a majority of the affected community.

The draft agreement has not yet been finalized nor accepted by concerned NGOs. It has also not been accepted by Placer Dome. Placer Dome's CEO Jay Taylor, noting that the draft poses "some significant challenges for us internally," concludes that he is "unable to fully endorse the draft agreement at this point."

While withdrawing the proposal, Mr. Georgetti has made it clear that Working Enterprises will observe with interest the implementation of the Sydney Agreement's commitments, which build on Placer's own sustainability promises. "Real situations, like the one our company faces in the Philippines, will be the litmus test of the company's ability to apply these principles," Georgetti said.

MiningWatch Canada is also watching these developments carefully. "For us, the big question is whether Placer Dome's sustainability promises and proposed multi-stakeholder monitoring committee will make a real difference to the issues raised by Beth Manggol here today. Our measure of success is real change on the ground in places like Marinduque," said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, who was also in attendance.

For more information, contact:
Joan Kuyek
National Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada
tel. (613) 569-3439