Guinea: Seeking redress for forced displacement from AngloGold Ashanti

Siguiri gold mine

Overview

In late 2015, an artisanal mining community in a remote part of the impoverished West African nation of Guinea was evicted at gunpoint and robbed of their land and livelihoods to make way for an open-pit gold mine owned by one of the world’s largest gold mining companies. Some four years later, through a concerted international advocacy strategy supported by Inclusive Development International and two Guinean NGOs, the community has been able to bring company executives to the negotiating table and secure a series of agreements to begin to redress the harms they’ve suffered.

 

CASE FILE

Location: Guinea, Siguiri region
Project Gold Mine
Companies: AngloGold Ashanti
Key concerns:

 

·      Military-backed forced evictions and violence

·      Inadequate compensation

·      Loss of income and failure to provide livelihood assistance

·      Poor conditions at resettlement site, including inadequate access to water, sanitation, education and health care

·      Dust and other environmental hazards from the mine site

Community goals: ·      Adequate and accessible household water supply, schools, health facilities and market at resettlement site

·      Remedial compensation and livelihood assistance

·      Long-term benefit sharing and other economic development opportunities

·      Medical care for victims of 2015 violence and guarantees of non-repetition / compliance by AngloGold Ashanti with U.N. Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

Key investors and financiers: AngloGold Ashanti’s major lenders include the International Finance Corporation through its financial intermediary Nedbank, ANZ Banking Group, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank Commerce, Citibank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Royal Bank of Canada, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs & Co, HSBC Bank, Jian Sing Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley Group, Scotiabank, Standard Chartered Bank, UBS, and Westpac Banking.  Key shareholders as of 2019 include: BlackRock, VanEck, Vanguard, APG, PGGM, TIAA, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, California Government Employees’ State Retirement System, and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.
Our partners: Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement (CECIDE) and Les Mêmes Droits Pour Tous (MDT)

 

In late 2015, Sira Bérété was walking home from high school in the Siguri region of northeastern Guinea, near the border with Mali. Bérété, a ninth-grader at the time, heard gunshots and tried to run. A bullet slammed into her shoulder. She lost consciousness.

A bystander rushed her to the local clinic, which saved her life. But she has not been the same since. She dropped out of school and is in constant pain. “I’m still afraid,” she said, her eyes pooling with tears.

Bérété was shot when Guinean security forces moved into her community, a sub-prefecture called Kintinian.  The soldiers accompanied representatives of AngloGold Ashanti, one of the world’s largest gold mining companies.  Two years earlier, the South African company had announced that it needed to expand its Siguiri gold mine into a cluster of villages in Kintinian. The 365 families living there, however, did not agree to the resettlement terms that the company offered. In March 2015, the company issued a memorandum requesting that the Guinean government make the area available within three months or it would shut down all its operations in the country.

The government heeded the message.  First local authorities arrested 11 community negotiators. Then they sent in a feared military unit known as the beret rouges, which is notorious in Guinea for its record of human rights abuses. The security forces looted their businesses. They used tear gas inside people’s homes, beating the occupants and setting huts on fire.

“Those soldiers came to take our land. They brutalized us,” Bérété said.  Shortly after, the company turned up to conduct its resettlement inventory with soldiers by their side. One by one, the residents were forced to sign the inventory summary that was handed to them. Some said they were told directly that if they didn’t sign they would die. Several months later, their homes and orchards were bulldozed and they were moved to a resettlement site that lacked water, trees, access to schools and health care, and means to make a living.

The families turned for help to the Guinean human rights organization CECIDE, which had worked with them in the past.  In order to document the abuses, CECIDE helped them organize a fact-finding mission alongside another Guinean human rights organization, Les Mêmes Droits Pour Tous (MDT), and two international experts. The resulting report provided a credible, evidence-based account of the forced evictions.

Serious violations of Guinean and international law had occurred, but the company was highly connected to military and political elites in Guinea and the domestic courts provided little hope for redress. CECIDE, MDT and the community knew they needed to look beyond Guinea’s borders for justice, so they reached out to Inclusive Development International.

We assisted the community to investigate AngloGold Ashanti’s investors and financiers in order to gain powerful allies in their struggle for justice.  One financer was Nedbank of South Africa – an intermediary lender for the World Bank Group’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). This enabled the community to file a complaint to the IFC’s ombudsman and bring the company into an international dispute resolution process to address their grievances.

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Our Actions

After receiving a request for support from the community’s local civil society allies CECIDE and MDT, we followed the money and the gold from the Siguiri mine and identified links to some of the biggest names in global finance, many of which have made commitments to responsible investment.

One of these actors is the IFC, which, along with the African Development Bank, indirectly financed AngloGold Ashanti through a South African commercial bank, Nedbank. A number of large asset managers, including the U.S. giant BlackRock and nearly a dozen pension funds, hold equity stakes in AngloGold Ashanti. AngloGold Ashanti’s financiers also include large commercial banks, such as Citibank and Standard Chartered, with consumer-facing reputations to protect. Downstream, gold from AngloGold Ashanti’s mines is refined in South Africa and traded on the London Bullion Exchange, which has human rights standards for suppliers.

We travelled with Guinean partners some 20 hours by road from the capital to Siguiri. Conditions at the resettlement site were bleak and dust generated by the mine was choking.  We spent two days with the community, explaining the investment chain mapping findings and helping them develop an international advocacy strategy to secure redress. At the center of the community’s strategy was a complaint to the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), one of the most effective international non-judicial grievance mechanisms, which they could access because of IFC’s indirect financial exposure to the mine thought its loan to Nedbank.

In April 2017, at the community’s request, we filed a complaint to the CAO along with Guinean NGO partners CECIDE and MDT. The complaint described how the evictions were carried out in the context of violence, destruction of property, intimidation and arbitrary arrests carried out by state security forces. It asserted the complainants were provided with inadequate compensation for their losses and that no measures have been taken to restore their livelihoods — all flagrant violations of the IFC’s environmental and social standards.  It argued that the IFC’s due diligence failures, with respect to its investment in Nedbank, contributed to the harms suffered by the complainants.

The full complaint is available in English here and in French here.

The CAO found the complaint admissible and began assessing whether it was suitable for mediation or if it should be transferred to its compliance unit for an investigation.

We also wrote to AngloGold Ashanti setting out the community’s desire to enter into mediations to remediate the harms they had suffered and to negotiate development benefits from the project. We also engaged with AngloGold Ashanti’s investors and financiers, including U.S. investment firm BlackRock, South African, European and U.S. pension funds, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, and a number of major commercial banks that provide financial services to AngloGold.  A number of these actors communicated their concerns to the company, which proved critical to getting them to the mediation table and leveling the playing field in a highly asymmetrical power relationship.

Throughout 2018-2020, we accompanied community representatives in over 200 hours of facilitated dialogue with company executives – a powerful and once unthinkable development for a community that had long attempted unsuccessfully to engage with the mining behemoth.  Through this process, the community was able to successfully negotiate a series of agreements with company executives on access to water, schooling, compensation and livelihood improvement, as well as reforms to the company’s human rights policy and practices.

The process is currently ongoing, and we are hopeful it will conclude not only with the implementation of remedial actions to address the harms that the community has suffered, but also the provision of lasting benefits from the mining project to realize the community’s own development aspirations.

Background

The township of Kintinian lies in the Siguiri prefecture of northern Guinea. It is home to approximately 150,000 people whose livelihoods are based on artisanal gold mining and ancillary economic activities, which their ancestors have been practicing in this region for over 800 years. Despite their customary rights, the ancestral land of the people of Kintinian sits in the middle of a 1,500 square kilometer gold mining concession that belongs to a subsidiary of South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti.

The Guinean government granted Société AngloGold Ashanti de Guinée the exclusive right to mine this area for gold, and artisanal mining was banned, even though it has been the primary economic base of the local population for centuries.

In 2013, the company announced that it needed to expand its mining operation into a cluster of villages that it called “Area One.” The affected families, however, did not agree to the resettlement terms that the company offered. In early 2015, AngloGold Ashanti issued a memorandum in which it asked the Guinean government to make Area One available by August of that year or it would be obliged to cease all its operations in Siguiri, Guinea.

When the negotiations with the community broke down, their negotiators were arbitrarily arrested and detained. State security forces, including the Bérets Rouges, a military unit notorious in Guinea for its implication in serious human rights abuses, moved into the area and began abusing the population. According to the residents, members of the security forces looted their businesses, taking their merchandise. People were arrested and shot. Hundreds of people fled the area and slept in the bush.

An international fact-finding mission that investigated these events described it as a “hostage” situation. The mission report concludes that, while “security forces allege that the main reason for their presence was their intervention against illegal semi-industrial mining, a second motive was to force the residents of Area One to accept the inventory of their lands and other possessions, which they had refused to do for a long time.” According to community members and other eyewitnesses, soldiers with guns entered people’s homes accompanied by representatives of the mining company (so-called resident agents) and forced them to sign the inventories.

The families were moved to a resettlement site that lacked water, access to education, health care and other basic services and means to make a living. Dust from the nearby mine pollutes the air, causing respiratory problems for the local population.

AngloGold Ashanti and its Financial Backers

AngloGold Ashanti is the world’s third-largest gold mining company, with operations on three continents and revenue of $4.25 billion in 2016. Its largest shareholder is the U.S. asset manager BlackRock, whose CEO, Larry Fink, has committed the firm to place environmental and social considerations at the center of its investment decisions and to use its voice and vote at shareholder meetings to advance sustainability goals.

AngloGold Ashanti’s other shareholders include South Africa’s government pension fund, along with 11 North American, European and Asian pension funds, including PGGM, TIAA and APG. These pension funds claim to invest responsibly and have guidelines protecting people and the environment. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, also holds a significant stake in AngloGold Ashanti, despite its Ethics Council recommending in 2013 that the fund divest from the company due to serious environmental damage that it caused in Ghana.

Some of the world’s largest banks have financed AngloGold Ashanti. In 2014, 18 major commercial banks provided $1.47 billion in general-purpose loans to the gold company. These are ANZ Banking Group, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank Commerce, Citibank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Dain Bosworth Inc. (now part of Royal Bank of Canada), Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs & Co, HSBC Bank, Jian Sing Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley Group, Scotiabank, Standard Chartered Bank, UBS, and Westpac Banking.

In 2015, Nedbank of South Africa provided a $105 million loan to AngloGold Ashanti in conjunction with another South African bank. The loan was for general purposes, meaning AngloGold Ashanti could use the money as it saw fit, including funding its mining operations in Guinea and around the world.  This was relevant to the Area One community, because Nedbank was previously the recipient a $280 million loan from the IFC and the African Development Bank, which was designed to increase lending for “resource-extraction projects,” amongst other purposes, across the African continent.