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Tanzania: North Mara Mine

Volume 749: debated on Tuesday 26 November 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Tanzania regarding allegations of human rights violations at the North Mara Mine.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as the joint leader of the Wakefield-Tanzania Diocesan Link.

My Lords, the UK’s high commissioner to Tanzania visited the North Mara mine in March 2013 to raise concerns directly about the alleged human rights violations with African Barrick Gold, the mine owner, and also discussed a range of issues with the local authorities. We are, of course, working closely with the Tanzanian Government on improving respect for human rights and also encouraging them to sign up to the voluntary principles on security and human rights in the extractive sector.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Would he not agree, however, that the human rights abuse at the North Mara mine, which I have experienced directly and recently, ought to be solved by a proper community relations effort in the region, and would be best resolved by a conciliar process, taking into account community leaders, Barrick Gold and the local police force? What further steps might the Foreign and Commonwealth Office take, please, to move that forward?

I agree with the right reverend Prelate, and ABG—Barrick Gold—has taken various initiatives. Indeed, our high commissioner, on visiting the area, found that up to $12 million-worth has been spent on corporate social responsibility, including healthcare centres, schools and water boreholes. There is more to be done. For example, she pointed out that although there is a healthcare centre, it is not properly manned with healthcare professionals. We have taken this up with the local authorities, working with our EU partners on the ground.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that African Barrick Gold, which is a British company, has continued to rely on the Tanzanian police to provide security at the North Mara goldmine, despite the shocking number of gunshot deaths and injuries to local people? Will the Government put pressure on African Barrick Gold and insist that it respect the human rights of desperately poor and vulnerable people?

My Lords, it is my understanding that Barrick Gold is actually a Canadian company, although it is listed on the London Stock Exchange. As for the other matter that the noble Baroness raises, I agree with her: of course it is important for all companies, including Barrick Gold, to work with the local people on the ground to ensure that any human rights violations are addressed. Secondly, I notice that the main purpose of people being there with Barrick Gold is employment, to ensure that local people get the opportunity to gain full employment.

My Lords, there is a lawsuit by the local residents against the company alleging that it is responsible for injuries to local villagers. While we await the outcome in the court, would it be appropriate to ask the Tanzanian Government about the role of the police in the death of at least six villagers? Should we not encourage them to investigate this matter, as a human rights violation in those mining communities? I declare an interest, as one born in Tanzania.

My noble friend, of course, knows the country much better than I, and I take on board his valid points. My understanding is indeed that the police authorities and the local authorities are looking at the incident and investigating it. I assure my noble friend that my honourable friend Mark Simmonds, the Minister for Africa, has raised the issue on three separate occasions this year when meeting officials from the Government.

My Lords, the Minister is right—it is a Canadian company—but it is listed in London and, potentially, we have some responsibilities. Quite aside from the North Mara mine, there are many other reports of human rights issues involving this company—at Marinduque in the Philippines and in Papua New Guinea, where rape victims, allegedly, of the guards employed by the company, have been offered a minimal remedy provided that they give up all legal proceedings. In New Zealand, superannuation funds have now excluded investment in this company. Will the Minister give an undertaking on behalf of the FCO that in the next FCO human rights annual report the dealings of that company will be reviewed?

I shall certainly take back the views expressed during questions to my noble friend and, indeed, to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Let me assure the House that ABG is signed up to the voluntary principles on security and human rights. That is a point that we have again reinforced in discussions and representations made.

My Lords, given that this company is listed on the Stock Exchange, what are the responsibilities of the UK Listing Authority in respect of a member company accused of serious criminal offences? Could my noble friend also say what sanctions there are against a company that contravenes the UN guiding principles on business and human rights in that its grievance mechanisms are neither transparent nor equitable?

My Lords, the Financial Conduct Authority, which includes the UK Listing Authority, is authorised to fine, suspend, prohibit, order injunctions and bring criminal prosecutions, or take other actions against firms or individuals acting illegally. The UN guiding principles are, of course, a voluntary framework, so sanctions would not be applied. But most companies understand the business argument for having transparent grievance mechanisms, not only for their own employees but also to hear local concerns in which they operate.