A corporate watchdog is calling for the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) to suspend the membership of one of the world’s biggest gold refineries for its alleged failure to act over claims of human rights and environmental abuses at a mine in Tanzania.
The UK-based Raid group says the Swiss-Indian venture MMTC-PAMP, which supplies gold to Apple, Nokia, Disney, Amazon, Tesla and others, has not fully investigated claims police guarding the North Mara mine have beaten, shot and sometimes killed locals.
Last year the Guardian reported on the alleged violations as part of the Green Blood investigative journalism project with the Forbidden Stories consortium.
Following this publication, Apple, Nokia and Canon said they would ask MMTC-PAMP to look into the claims, and the refinery announced it would assess its gold supply chain from Tanzania and arrange for a site visit by an independent expert.
The visit took place on 19-21 November under conditions that made it difficult for the independent expert, Synergy Global Consulting, to make a full and fair evaluation of the situation, according to Raid.
Anneke van Woudenberg, the executive director of Raid, said the visitors were allowed to talk only to local residents vetted by the mine, and civil society groups were denied a chance to present their case.
“The mine said there was a security issue offsite so we suggested some victims go to mine office and speak to the assessor there. Then they said there was not enough time in the schedule,” Van Woudenberg said. “So the assessor spoke to none of the human rights victims, lawyers of victims or human rights organisations. They didn’t talk to those most affected by the mine. How can it be credible if those affected were not heard?”
Contacted directly by the Guardian and asked multiple times if he had met the people making the allegations of human rights abuses, the Oxford-based lead assessor, Ed O’Keefe, said he was unable to comment until he had discussed the matter with his clients.
In an executive summary issued in May, O’Keefe, a director of Synergy, wrote that he had reviewed sites inside the mine and in neighbouring areas and spoken to a variety of stakeholders, including local community representatives. Following the trip, the summary said, there was also an interview with an international NGO.
But there was no evaluation of historical claims of wrongdoing. Instead the summary said the focus of the assessment was to look forwards rather than backwards because a new management team had been put in place at the mine.
O’Keefe wrote that the previous owner of the mine, Acacia, had been bought out by Barrick, the world’s biggest goldmining company, two months before the visit, and so “the extent to which due diligence systems and risk management by Acacia can be considered relevant is limited”.
However, this was not a wholesale changing of the guard. Barrick had been a majority shareholder in the mine operator since 2006, according to Raid, and its corporate relations team handles press inquiries related to North Mara.
O’Keefe wrote that improvements were needed in security management, grievance mechanisms and land issues in order to meet the standards of the LMBA and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Despite these shortcomings and the absence of any review of past practices, the executive summary said MMTC-PAMP should continue to source gold from North Mara.
“The assessment of the North Mara supply chain appears to be a whitewash and fails to meet the LBMA’s responsible sourcing standards at multiple levels,” said Van Woudenberg. “MMTC-PAMP seems to have been more interested in ensuring that the assessors met with Barrick staff than with the victims of human rights abuses, leaving the clear impression that the harms suffered by Tanzanian communities were of no interest.”
Raid has ask the LBMA, the gold trade’s certifier, to announce a review of MMTC-PAMP’s adherence to responsible sourcing standards and to punish the gold refinery for failing to act on claims of human rights abuses. The LBMA has the authority to suspend a company if there is a possibility that such violations or environmental harm are part of its supply chain. Suspension of membership could lead to loss of business.
Representatives of Barrick and MKS PAMP Group, MMTC-PAMP’s parent company, are on the LBMA board of directors and at least one of them is one of the referees who decide whether to go ahead with reviews or suspensions.
The OECD has urged the industry to improve transparency. If self-regulation remains weak, activists will put pressure on Apple, Nokia, Disney, Tesla, Sony, General Motors and others to consider their business ties with MMTC-PAMP.
In a written response, O’Keefe said his firm’s relationship with the refiner did not constitute a conflict of interest or threaten the independence of the reviews. He said the full report would include a review of historical allegations against the mine based largely on third-party information, such as newspaper articles and evidence collected by civil society groups and lawyers.
The statement confirmed that the assessment visit did not include meetings with alleged victims of human rights abuses, but said it would consider seriously any “material gaps” in the subsequent findings and recommendations.
MMTC-PAMP said in a statement to the Guardian that it categorically denied all the allegations about the assessment made by Raid. It said Synergy organised private interviews with key external stakeholders, including numerous local community representatives, during its onsite visit to North Mara gold mine and interviewed Raid staff members, including Van Woudenberg.
“MMTC-PAMP has always operated and continues to operate under the regulatory framework established and managed by the LBMA. Consequently, any allegations will be handled appropriately by the LBMA as part of its regular oversight role,” it said.
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