Most mining companies today devote significant time and resources to corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is, in fact, a requirement, as much a part of doing business in the modern mining industry as exploration and development.
But it wasn’t always that way. CSR is a relatively new concept and, not too long ago, many companies didn’t necessarily recognize the importance of sharing the benefits of their operations with host communities, employees and other key stakeholders. From its earliest days, however, Barrick embraced a culture of giving back that reflects the vision and values of its Founder, Peter Munk, who retired as Chairman of the company on April 30.
“To give is part of Barrick’s DNA,” says Munk. “It’s part of who we are.”
Munk’s desire to give back is rooted in hard-won experience. As a teenager, he narrowly escaped Hungary with his family after Germany invaded in 1944. “You haven’t seen a country disintegrate,” he says. “You cannot imagine. Here in Canada we live in a uniquely God-blessed country, and when you’re not born into a situation like that, you appreciate it more. You never take it for granted and you try to give back and do the right thing.”
One of the earliest forms of CSR at Barrick was the company’s employee scholarship program. Realizing the burden that post-secondary education placed on employees whose children were entering college or university, Barrick agreed to fund a large portion of tuition fees for the children of its employees.
Employees weren’t just people who did a job, they were individuals with families, and Barrick helped those families give their children a better future.
The program originated at the company’s Camflo mine in Val-d’Or, Quebec, and was the brainchild of former Barrick President Bob Smith, who joined the company in 1984 when Barrick acquired Camflo Mines. “It was a brilliant idea, as most of Bob’s ideas were, and I fully supported it,” Munk says. “It benefited our employees and the community of Val-d’Or, which is where most Camflo employees lived. It was a shining example of CSR even though we’d never even heard of CSR back then.”
Gratien Pelletier worked at Camflo for 20 years as a mechanic before transferring to Barrick’s Holt-McDermott mine near Kirkland Lake, Ontario, in 1987. By then he had two sons nearing college age, and the scholarship program provided funding for both boys. “It helped a lot,” says Pelletier, who retired in 2004. “Without it, I would have had to work twice as much to get that amount of money.”
Both of Pelletier’s sons worked summers at Holt-McDermott and later worked full time for the company. Pierre Pelletier, Gratien’s older son, currently works at Agnico-Eagle’s LaRonde mine in northwest Quebec. His younger son, Eric, graduated Cum Laude in 1995 from the University of Ottawa with a degree in applied sciences. Today Eric runs a machine shop in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, and has three children of his own. He says Barrick’s scholarship program eased the financial burden for him and his parents. “It eliminated all of our financial worries,” he says. “I never had to work during the school year; I could concentrate on my studies without having to think about money.”
While he has never met Peter Munk, Eric says that, given the opportunity, he would thank him. “Peter Munk, Bob Smith and Barrick cared about their employees,” he says. “Employees weren’t just people who did a job, they were individuals with families, and Barrick helped those families give their children a better future.”
Sheila Fennessy, no doubt, would agree. Fennessy is a Barrick lifer who joined the company in 1981 and worked as an executive assistant until she retired in 2012. In 1992, her daughter, Camilla, was accepted into a Ph.D. program in social anthropology at Oxford University. However, Fennessy, a single mother, couldn’t afford to help her daughter with the tuition. Worried that Camilla might have to forgo Oxford, she approached Bob Smith and Peter Munk and asked if the scholarship program could be extended to employees at Barrick’s head office in Toronto. Both men agreed, and the program remains available to head office employees today.
Camilla Gibb earned her doctorate from Oxford in 1998 and went on to become a best-selling author with four novels published to date. “Camilla would have had to pass up the opportunity to attend Oxford if it weren’t for the generosity of Barrick,” Fennessy says. “It meant a great deal.”
While Barrick continues to support post-secondary schooling for the children of many of its employees, it also provides scholarships to thousands of individuals in host communities. Jarret Holley, a member of the Battle Mountain Band of the Western Shoshone in Nevada, recently graduated Cum Laude with a degree in clinical psychology from Ohio State University.
Barrick helped pay for his tuition and Holley plans to apply for additional funding from Barrick as he has been accepted into the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Ohio State. “Barrick’s support is helping me and my family and others in the community,” he says. “It is truly appreciated.”
Over time, Barrick’s CSR program has grown substantially. The company supports a wide array of infrastructure projects in host communities, including roads, schools, water treatment plants, pipelines, and power plants, to name just a few. It also invests in numerous educational and health care initiatives and supports projects aimed at improving human rights standards and protecting the environment and biodiversity. “It’s important,” Munk says. “It helps the community. It helps everything.”
Barrick did not collect company-wide figures prior to 2007, but between 2007 and 2012 alone, the company spent $234 million on CSR-related activities, including $24.6 million in scholarship funding for nearly 21,000 students.
“When it comes to CSR, I think a lot of companies in the gold industry have been dragged along by Barrick as much as anything,” says Alan Hill, who served as Executive Vice President of Corporate Development at Barrick from 1984 to 2003. “The industry has come a long way and still has a long way to go, and you need people like Peter Munk who see and understand the value of giving back.”