In a six-day period over Christmas, two prominent anti-mining activists in El Salvador were shot dead in broad daylight.
First, Ramiro Rivera Gomez, vice-president of the Cabanas Environment Committee, which is campaigning to stop Canadian mining company Pacific Rim from opening a gold mine in the area, was killed while walking with his 14-year-old daughter. Six days later, Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto was shot returning from washing laundry in a nearby lake. She was eight months pregnant and another prominent member of the CEC.
On January 5, Amnesty International called on the Salvadoran authorities to investigate the killings.
“This has nothing to do with Pacific Rim. It’s a local family feud,” said Tom Shrake, chief executive of Pacific Rim. “There are radical elements out there that would like people to believe it’s about mining, but it’s not true.”
But stories of violence and disruption at mining sites around the developing world are increasingly common. In Mexico, also in December, authorities temporarily closed down a barite mine operated by another Canadian company, Blackfire Exploration Ltd., after indigenous leader and activist Mariano Abarca Roblero was shot in the head and killed by a passing motorcyclist. Abarca Roblero had been a leader of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining, and was involved in the resistance to an open pit extraction mine in Chiapas.
These stories will bring back bad memories for an industry that has spent the last decade lavishing considerable amounts of money and time on trying to clean up its image. In a 2007 article in the Multinational Business Review, Hevina Dashwood explains that mining companies “were caught in the mid-1990s with a significant gap between societal expectations and their institutionalized practices…. For the industry as a whole, the gap had widened so much that companies experienced a legitimacy crisis.”
This crisis was averted by a slew of new organizations dedicated to promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and improving the image of the industry. In 1999, nine of the biggest mining companies joined forces to create the Global Mining Initiative, intended to provide ideas and strategies for “sustainability in mining.” In 2001 the representative body for the mining industry was transformed into the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which dedicated itself to ten principles–from education to the environment–to which the industry pledged to hold itself.
The field of CSR was so popular in the mining industry during this period that the University of Queensland in Australia founded its own Sustainable Minerals Institute in 2001 to promote the practice. It was, the school said, established “in response to growing interest in and debate about the role of the mining and minerals industry in contemporary society.”
But a decade later, there is debate about how much CSR has actually changed the industry.