You only need to check out Corporate Knights magazine's just-issued Best 50 Corporate Citizens In Canada index to get that "clean capitalism" is all show, no substance.
The magazine claims that "being environmentally and socially responsible is more than just the right thing to do - it's good for business." But all the list really demonstrates is that if companies spend enough money, public relations outfits will sing their praises in an echo chamber of write-ups and awards, regardless of what the evidence suggests.
One of the index's most glaring incongruities is the placement of Barrick Gold, a company implicated in displacement, killings and gang rapes as well as environmental disasters. Corporate Knights believes that Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company, is the fourth-best corporate citizen in Canada, just ahead of Mountain Equipment Co-op and just after the Co-operators Group.
At least Corporate Knights admits that this stance is likely to cause controversy. After all, the "clean capitalism" publication admits, "the company's Pascua-Lama mine, straddling the border between Chile and Argentina, was suspended in April on the Chilean side by court order for ‘environmental irregularities.'"
The magazine also gives a nod to the fact that "allegations of human rights abuse stemming from mines in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea continue to swirl around the company."
Swirling around the company? These abuses have been so well documented by Amnesty International, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Human Rights Watch, Mining Watch, Porgera Alliance and other NGOs that Barrick at times has been forced to admit to them.
Pension funds such as Norway's sovereign wealth fund and more recently New Zealand's "Super Fund" have dumped Barrick stock due to an "unacceptable risk of extensive and irreversible damage to the natural environment" in Papua New Guinea and ongoing human rights issues at its mines there and in Tanzania.
Nonetheless, Corporate Knights claims Barrick is an industry leader. "It has embraced stronger disclosure practices while becoming more resource-efficient than its peers," the group insists.
This sentiment is familiar. It's reminiscent of a 2011 Globe and Mail editorial that praised Barrick for admitting to sexual assaults at its North Mara mine in Tanzania. Have our expectations of mining companies sunk so low that as long as they admit to their abuses, they jump to the top of the pack?
I hate to break it to you, but that does not mean the company doesn't cover up more abuses than it reports.
In fact, if Corporate Knights had bothered to look into the "environmental irregularities" that Barrick sort of acknowledges, writers would have learned that these irregularities - in addition to destroying a glacial water supply - included handing in faulty self-reports. In fact, just last week, Barrick's own shareholders, announced a class-action against the company for making "false and misleading statements and concealing material information relating to the cost of and time-to-prodcution projections of the company's Pacua-Lama project. How could Corporate Knights believe the same self-reports rejected by the Chilean state?
If we are truly interested in transforming corporate behaviour, ending abusive practices, developing corporate accountability and reversing the dynamics of colonialism that have allowed for the reckless exploitation of people and the planet, we cannot start by taking corporations at their word.
Rather, we should start by listening to the voices of those most impacted by these industries and demand action from the perpetrators.
Sakura Saunders is the editor of ProtestBarrick.net and author of Debunking Barrick.