CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IN PERU:
LOCALS PROTEST FOR THE CORPORATION &
AGAINST THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENTALISTS
By Dr. Patrick Moore
But this wasnít your ordinary demonstration. These vocal townsfolk were demonstrating in favor of the continued operation of an 80-year-old copper and lead smelter, both because itís the economic lifeblood of the town and because they support the company, Doe Run Peru, in its efforts to improve social and environmental conditions in the region.
Unfortunately for the people of La Oroya, this doesnít sit well with radical environmental activist international advocacy groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Friends of the Earth Ė groups which have made The Doe Run Company one of the latest targets in their ongoing anti-corporation, anti-development campaigns. These campaigns ignore the wishes of people in developing-world communities that the international groups profess to defend.
As Iíve seen in so many other parts of the world and in so many other industries -- Indonesiaís pulp and paper industry being just one good example -- itís often not really about making the world a better place. Rather, itís about money and power for these radical activist groups.
Letís look at how this is playing out in Peru. La Oroya sits in a steep mountain valley, 12,400 feet up in the Andes northeast of Lima, where there are few resources other than minerals on which to base an economy. Its huge smelter has operated for eight decades. As is typical of metallurgical operations, emissions from the plant have historically created health and environmental challenges for the community. Indeed, things got so bad in the years before Doe Run Peru came to town in 1997 that one observer interviewed by Newsweek described conditions there as ďa vision from Hell.Ē
Since Doe Runís arrival, however, things have been steadily improving. Lead levels in the blood of workers are down more than 30 percent, air lead emissions are down more than 35 percent, and discharges into local rivers have decreased significantly. In addition, industrial safety has improved dramatically at the smelter, which has gone more than a full year without a single lost-time accident.
While the NGOs have been squawking, Doe Run has put its nose to the grindstone, working with the townspeople to improve conditions there. Since purchasing the operation from Peruís government, Doe Run has spent $140 million. Itís in the process of spending more than $150 million more on improvements to help reduce plant emissions and provide more and better services to the community.
Responsible environmentalism -- as distinguished from political environmentalism, or radical environmentalism -- abounds here in La Oroya. Initially focusing on reducing emissions like cadmium and sulfur, as required by its purchase agreement with the government, Doe Run Peru soon, found through its on-site assessments, that other areas of concern, such as air lead emissions, presented a more significant health risk to the locals.
This kind of science-based reassessment of priorities, with its inherent costs to the company, is representative of the responsible role Doe Run Peru has taken as part of the La Oroya community. Last year, with strong support from local people and labor unions, the government of Peru agreed and allowed Doe Run Peru to apply to amend its environmental operating agreement to reflect these new priorities.
While the companyís progress on lead-level reductions in La Oroya has been considerable, reducing sulfur emissions will require more work. Previous smelter operators never addressed this issue at all, and there simply hasnít been enough time to complete the massive sulfur extraction plant that will bring stack emissions down to acceptable levels. But the company has pledged to continue working toward this goal.
Investment in pollution controls isnít the only reason the La Oroya townsfolk support Doe Run Peru, however. The company also provides funds for healthcare, education, and hot lunch programs for local children.
It has carried out the first-ever community-wide blood-level surveys, using Centers for Disease Control protocols, and has installed water-collection systems to treat sewage and stormwater. Itís also supported vocational training for some 8,000 women, resulting in dozens of new businesses, planted thousands of cypress trees along village streets, and is helping local dairy farmers to increase productivity.
But the radical environmentalist NGOs continually cry foul, which leads me to wonder: If La Oroya is really the disaster that the radical NGOs say it is, why did they show no interest in it until only a few years ago Ė well after Doe Run Peru came to town Ė and not during the previous 75 years of operation?
I spoke directly to Mayor Quincho, and to local doctors, foresters, farmers, and social workers. All felt the company was doing its best to improve social, economic, and environmental conditions in the region. All of this stands in stark contrast to Christian Aid, Oxfam, and the other NGOs Ė groups which have done nothing that even remotely approaches the kind of tangible progress that is making a real difference in the lives of La Oroyaís people.
Iíve been fortunate to have traveled throughout the world, and to have seen the sustainable development debate from many sides. Doe Run Peru is a good, responsible citizen of the La Oroya community. The international community at large, and especially the NGOs involved in Peru, should heed the chants of the thousands of demonstrators who see Doe Run Peru as an important part of their sustainable future.
Let Doe Run Peru and the people of La Oroya continue to work together for a brighter future Ė without self-interested and ideologically-driven NGO interference.
Co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is now a vocal critic of the environmental movement he helped launch. Dr. Moore is Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, Ltd., in Vancouver, Canada: www.greenspiritstrategies.com. He was invited by The Doe Run Company to visit their facilities in Peru and assess the progress of their sustainable development efforts.
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