Barrick launched its Human Rights Compliance Program more than six years ago. Today, on Human Rights Day, Deputy General Counsel Jonathan Drimmer and other senior leaders reflect on some of the lessons we have learned along the way, as well as the Company’s commitment to respect human rights everywhere we operate.
Beyond Borders: Why did we create a Human Rights Compliance Program?
Jonathan Drimmer: Barrick started to create its Human Rights Compliance Program in late 2010 in relation to an investigation by Human Rights Watch into alleged human rights violations at the Porgera mine. The mine was majority-owned by Barrick at the time, and the allegations were largely corroborated by Barrick’s own investigative work.
Barrick subsequently did a lot of work to identify areas where human rights issues could be improved at Porgera, and in looking around to our other sites, we realized that our overall approach to human rights could use enhancements. That really led to the creation of the formal Human Rights Compliance Program, which was developed just as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights were coming into force, and really provided a model for what a Human Rights Compliance Program ought to look like.
BB: What are some of the key pillars of the program?
JD: In designing the Human Rights Compliance Program, we looked to integrate it seamlessly on an operational level into the work that we were already doing in related areas. It’s now totally integrated to a point that sometimes you don’t even know it’s there. On a substantive level, the program tries to follow best practices for compliance programs. It has clear messaging and emphasis from senior management and the Board, strong policies and procedures that form the rules and guidelines for the program, oversight by the Company’s General Counsel, due diligence for employees, and transparent processes for reporting and investigating human rights concerns.
We also try to share our learnings, good and bad, around the program, whether it’s through multi-stakeholder initiatives, working groups, conferences, articles or otherwise.
And, lastly, I should really say that our program is connected to our core values. When you think about compliance programs generally, often people think about them as risk-mitigation programs, and there’s no question that an aspect of this is risk mitigation, but that’s not the primary driver. This is connected to the core values of the Company: respecting employees, our communities, and other stakeholders everywhere that we operate, everywhere that we have offices, wherever we do business. That does connect very closely to how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen.
BB: Barrick’s recently-published Human Rights Report outlines key learnings since the program was created. Can you share some of those?
JD: It’s been six years since we started the program and really it has been an incredible learning experience. In sitting down to the report, we focused on four key learnings.
The first one is that we cannot assume that people are going to act ethically. Some of the incidents at Porgera that led to the creation of the program are the kind of thing that you never expect to see from employees anywhere. And that is a keen reminder that you can’t take anything for granted.
Number two, we can’t assume that problems are going to go away. Some of the human rights dilemmas that companies face are truly complex. There are no simple solutions. And some of these problems repeat themselves, and problems that we’ve seen in one place may occur in other places. Ultimately, it requires creative processes, joint solutions, and integrating ideas and thoughts from a range of actors. That’s the only way you can chip at and hope to solve some of the dilemmas that companies face.
The third thing that we learned is that we have to listen to a range of voices. We participate in a lot of dialogue and we get a lot of ideas. Sometimes those voices are highly critical of what we do and sometimes they’re more constructive, but regardless of the tone or the speaker, it’s important to listen to feedback on the impacts of our programs.
And the fourth thing, and this goes to the way that we structured our program, is joint ownership. The program is organized by the legal function, but it’s owned throughout the Company. The only way that you’re going to effectively drive human rights change on the ground is by creating an ownership model where everybody has a role to play within their sphere of responsibility. We’ve really tried to do that in a way that’s transparent and accountable.
BB: The report outlines several focus areas for the Human Rights Compliance Program going forward. One of those is to enhance the program in relation to vulnerable groups. Can you elaborate?
JD: One of the traditional vulnerable groups when you think about Human Rights Compliance Programs are children and youth. We’ve engaged in a number of different activities with UNICEF to create protections for children and youths on a global basis. These have included a pilot program that required us to conduct a risk assessment in Peru on children’s rights. That initiative helped us identify different ways to improve our approach to assessing potential impacts of our activities on children’s rights on a very basic level.
BB: Another area of focus is improving the measurement of the Human Rights Compliance Program’s effectiveness? Why is measuring effectiveness so difficult and what are we doing to improve?
JD: Measuring human rights performance is one of the true challenges for companies. It’s not too difficult to measure a program’s robustness; you do that by looking at the number of training hours, sessions and attendees, but determining whether the training is truly understood is more elusive. You can look at the number of human rights incidents in your area of influence, but that doesn’t necessarily judge effectiveness very well either. It’s one indicator, and people tend to assume it’s the primary indicator whereas oftentimes incidents are outside of your control or perpetrated by one rogue actor, who despite the strength of your program, can circumvent your controls.
So, this is an area where I think we’re just at the beginning of our journey. We’re using global surveys to determine if human rights training is really being understood. We do external assessments of our Human Rights Compliance Program, and we’re continuing to think of different ways to measure effectiveness and performance.
BB: How do you and other Company leaders whose role encompasses human rights benefit from Barrick’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Advisory Board?
JD: The CSR Advisory Board contributes in a lot of different ways. They are experts in various aspects of sustainability and provide us with thoughts and advice with respect to what is going on in the market place and how expectations are changing. They also provide us with honest feedback on how our programs are being perceived and serve as a sounding board for ideas around some of the dilemmas that I mentioned earlier. Even on an individual basis, each Board member can and often does provide us with thoughts and advice, and we do tap into them for different reasons and in different ways to identify whether we’re going in the right direction and how can we do things better.