In April, I had the opportunity to join Barrick’s Corporate Social Responsibility Advisory Board on a visit to Pascua-Lama — a significant project for our company located high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border. The project is currently under suspension (the latest information on Pascua-Lama is available on barrick.com).
When I first approached the Advisory Board — Aron Cramer, Bob Fowler and Gare Smith, with John Ruggie as a Special Consultant — about visiting the project, their interest and enthusiasm did not surprise me. Having been briefed on Pascua-Lama in previous Advisory Board meetings, they were well versed in the complexities facing the project: the circumstances leading up to the suspension; the project’s physical challenges (including extreme altitude, in some places nearly as high as the Mount Everest base camp); and the diverse and complex local relationships, to name just a few.
It was against this backdrop that we traveled to Chile.
We were joined by Nancy Lockhart, a member of Barrick’s Board of Directors and Chair of the company’s Corporate Responsibility Committee. Over the course of two very packed days, we visited the towns of Copiapó, Vallenar, Alto del Carmen, and Chanchoquin, meeting with residents of each community, and we toured the Chilean side of the project, which is known as Pascua.
As impressive as the project is, what struck me was the willingness of so many people to meet with our Advisory Board and speak so frankly not only about their concerns about the project, but also about the significant opportunities that it holds. As Bob Fowler commented to me, "We learned a great deal from very forthcoming local stakeholders about the complex and important undertaking that is Pascua-Lama."
Among our many informal conversations was a meeting with more than a dozen leaders of the Diaguita indigenous peoples. As we are about a year into a Memorandum of Understanding with several Diaguita groups (more here about this), I was particularly interested to get our Advisory Board’s take on this discussion. Gare Smith described the meeting as "an extraordinary opportunity to sit with these leaders and hear from them first-hand how their relationship with the Barrick team has evolved, both its progress and where things still need to improve." John Ruggie observed, "The underlying message was conveyed loud and clear: they want and they deserve to be treated with dignity. Ultimately, that’s what business and human rights comes down to."
Overall, the trip was a unique opportunity for me to see Pascua-Lama through the eyes of our Advisory Board. As we were leaving Chile, something Aron Cramer said really resonated with me: "The unexpected can always happen, from a political, technical, and environmental perspective. And while some of this is in Barrick’s control and some of it is not, what is always in the company’s control is to ensure that it engages fully before acting."
No question that we have work ahead of us, not only to bring the project back on line, but also to reset local relationships and earn the trust and confidence of local and national stakeholders. And while this won’t be easy, what I observed first-hand was the very clear commitment of the Barrick team in Chile to listen and engage with all interested individuals and groups. This is something that was clearly appreciated by everyone we met.