Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 14:38 UK

Goldcorp mining company accused over human rights

By Bill Law
BBC News

Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala
Goldcorp's Marlin mine is situated in the western highlands of Guatemala

A human rights assessment report has painted a harsh portrait of the Canadian gold mining giant Goldcorp.

The report was commissioned by the company in response to growing concerns from shareholder groups about human rights violations at its Marlin Mine in the western highlands of Guatemala.

The assessment found that Goldcorp had failed to respect the rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

However, the report says the Marlin Mine has also brought local benefits.

It says that Goldcorp, through its wholly owned Guatemalan subsidiary Montana, has brought jobs, healthcare and education facilities to the impoverished Mayans living in the region.

The company has always insisted that it has carried out full and informed consultation with the Mayans.

But the report which the company itself commissioned, and which it has made available on its own website , now says otherwise. It notes that by failing to involve the Guatemalan government in the consultation process "the company could not, and cannot, adequately respect indigenous people's rights".

Guatemala is a signatory to ILO 169, the International Labour Organisation's convention that guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples.

It is a requirement under ILO 169 that indigenous people are consulted about major projects in their area, and that this consultation involves their country's government.

'Systematic failure'

Other areas of the 229-page report detail the failure to adequately protect workers' rights, noting that Montana dismissed staff who attempted to form a union.

It says the company "continues to infringe on the rights of all workers by allowing this climate of intimidation to persist".

The report criticises Goldcorp for a "systematic failure to address grievances in the communities, allowing them to accumulate and exacerbate".

Residents gathered in a hall in Sipacapa
Local residents at an anti-mining protest meeting in 2008

The authors also criticise the company for what they call the weakest aspect of the mine's plans - what happens to the people and the environment of the region when it closes?

Goldcorp, according to the report, has not set aside sufficient funds for closure and post-closure plans.

In an increasingly lucrative gold market, Goldcorp continues to realise record profits, last year earning $588.2m (£410.7m) while keeping the cost for mining the gold down to just $289 an ounce. The current price of gold is nearly $1200 an ounce.

Toxic metals

A separate report released on Tuesday by environmental health scientists from the University of Michigan shows that people living in the vicinity of the mine have higher levels of potentially toxic heavy metals in their blood and urine than a sample of persons living 7km away.

Water samples taken immediately above and below the mine also showed what researchers called "significantly higher" levels of manganese, cobalt and arsenic.

However the scientists cautioned that it is "not clear if the current magnitude of these elevations pose a significant health risk", and noted that their results should be viewed only as a preliminary study.

The company has always denied that the mine has had any adverse health affects on the local population.

No-one from Goldcorp was available for comment.

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