Barrick has participated in an innovative pilot project designed to help mining companies better assess and manage their potential impacts on the rights of children.
While mining companies have long recognized children as vulnerable stakeholders, most companies don't classify children as a distinct stakeholder group in their human rights impact assessments. Instead, companies typically view children as an embedded group within the family or community.
"Very few companies have standalone child human rights policy commitments, except for the prevention of child labor," says Simon Chorley, International Programs Manager at UNICEF Canada, which developed the pilot. "Yet children's rights go well beyond child labor. Children are vulnerable and have specific needs. Therefore they have specific rights such as the right to protection, the right to education, the right to family life, and the right to play time."
At the Lagunas Norte mine in Peru, Barrick works with local communities to encourage children to remain in school, rather than drop out of school to participate in illegal mining — a high-risk activity.
Because mining companies don't usually distinguish between adults and children, they can face challenges in understanding how children's rights are directly or indirectly impacted by their activities. Barrick recognizes the importance of applying a children's rights lens to its due diligence processes.
"We're always looking for ways to improve our assessment tools, and this project allowed us to focus deeply on a vulnerable population and see where we could better align ourselves with key children's rights," says Jonathan Drimmer, Deputy General Counsel at Barrick.
UNICEF partnered with UK-based consultancy twentyfifty for the pilot project. Twentyfifty conducted interviews with Barrick and other participating companies to understand their assessment processes and followed up with detailed feedback on how to integrate a children's rights perspective. Each company then incorporated this feedback into an assessment at one of their operations.
In Barrick's case, the assessment was conducted in 2014 at its Lagunas Norte mine in Peru. The field work was done by Avanzar, a California-based consultancy commissioned by Barrick to conduct annual, independent human rights impact assessments at select Barrick operations.
One of the tools that twentyfifty provided to Avanzar to help integrate children's rights indicators was a child vulnerability matrix. The matrix includes a comprehensive list of vulnerabilities that children in Barrick's host communities could face at various stages of childhood.
At the infant stage, the matrix notes that children are vulnerable to health impacts including dehydration, malnutrition, and exposure to environmental toxins. In late adolescence, children may lack access to quality education and adequate housing.
While mining companies — which often operate near communities with myriad socio-economic challenges — may not be the primary cause for most of the adverse impacts they observe, responsible operators strive to ensure they are not compounding these impacts, and that they make a positive difference in their host communities.
One of the key findings at Lagunas Norte was that the mine's positive impacts on children were not fully recognized under the old assessment methodology. For instance, the company works extensively with local communities to encourage children to remain in school, rather than drop out of school to participate in illegal mining — a high-risk activity.
"Before the pilot, when we were looking at illegal mining, we really just considered how it might affect the environment and how the mine might be at risk," says Christina Sabater, Principal at Avanzar. "Our assessment now incorporates the potential impact on children. In this case, we found that Barrick is working in the community to encourage artisanal miners to follow Peruvian legislation, which outlaws child labor. This is a positive impact that we had not captured before."
At the same time, the full extent of negative impacts on children, such as malnutrition, was also not always fully understood, Sabater adds. "I think this project has helped Barrick become much more sophisticated in its evaluations," she says.
Drimmer says the child vulnerability matrix will be integrated into all future impact assessments at Barrick sites, as will other recommendations from UNICEF and twentyfifty.
"By improving our processes, we get a much better understanding of our impacts on children along with the broader issues that children may be dealing with," he says. "This, in turn, will lead to the creation of better programs and help ensure we aren't doing anything negative."
In addition to improving Barrick's human rights impact assessments, the project could benefit other companies, Drimmer adds.
"We find that partnering with civil society organizations like UNICEF is extremely useful," he says. "In this case, we not only wanted to help identify processes that could be integrated into our assessments — we wanted to participate in a project that could provide guidance to others in similar circumstances, and this project achieved that aim."