Doe Run Peru, multinational corporations against multinational activist groups
Loathing, lies and liberation theology:
Paul Driessen ,
Multinational corporations duke it out in the Andes
Monday, April 3, 2006
LA OROYA, Peru--Pitched battles over
ideology and public policy certainly are not confined to classrooms or legislative
chambers. They are also fought in poor communities of Africa, Asia and Latin America,
often pitting multinational corporations against multinational activist groups.
The corporations seek to extract
energy and minerals, provide much-needed jobs and capital, and serve investors
and consumers--without harming human health or the environment. They often
collide with well-connected global activists who loathe foreign investment,
free enterprise, and especially extractive industries--and want to influence
elections and policies in these regions.
This town, high in the Andes east of
Lima, is one such battleground. La Oroya developed around a metallurgical facility
that produces raw materials for computers, medical devices and other modern
marvels. Built in 1922, the facility was a major polluter for decades.
In October 1997, a company that is
now Doe Run Peru bought the complex from government-owned Centromin Peru. Doe
Run eliminated heavy-metal discharges into local rivers, began converting old slag
piles into grasslands, and implemented safety procedures that enabled employees
to work 7 million man-hours without a lost-time accident. It has already
reduced particulate emissions 35 percent from late 1997 levels, and sulfur
dioxide (SO2) by one-fifth. The company has requested a four-year extension for
completing the SO2 emissions control system, but by 2011 the entire facility will
comply with all Peruvian environmental standards.
Last year, at Doe Run's invitation,
I visited Peru with two Catholic priests, to see the operation firsthand. The
environmental compliance work was impressive. However, after we explored the
town and met its mayor and numerous citizens, what really stood out were
programs whose primary purpose was improving the quality of life in the region.
Doe Run has financed or conducted hundreds
of projects, mostly suggested by the locals. It constructed a municipal
sanitary landfill, paved roads to reduce dust and accidents, and improved schools,
built a youth center and clinic, and helped plant 100,000 trees and acres of flowers.
"Many homes here don't have
bathrooms or even running water," Nilda Gomez told us. Now families can go to
public laundry and shower facilities that cost little or nothing to use.
The company also sponsored cleft
palate surgeries for 200 children, and jewelry making, pastry baking,
electronics and business management classes for local people. They, in turn, have
opened scores of new businesses. Most are home-based, but a bakery now employs eight
workers, including Emilia Hinostroza, whose speech disabilities previously had prevented
her from holding a job.
To improve agriculture in hamlets up
to 30 miles away, Doe Run removed debris from water canals and tunnels; builds
reservoirs and irrigation systems; imports better breeds of grass, sheep, alpaca
and cattle; trains farmers in land management and animal husbandry; and provides
medicines and medical treatment for animals.
work and $140 million investment (through 2005) have improved environmental
quality and created a new sense of pride, ownership and hope for the region's
50,000 people. At a union-organized event, we were mobbed by happy parents and
children who shouted "Viva Doe Run" and said their lives had improved more in
the past seven years than in the previous 75.
These efforts epitomize "corporate
social responsibility." And yet, the company and community are under constant
attack by local Archbishop Pedro Baretto and US-based activists led by Oxfam.
They have insinuated themselves as "stakeholders," say Doe Run hasn't done
enough to address blood-lead levels, and strongly object to the SO2 deadline
In fact, Doe Run made the
decades-old lead contamination problem its top priority from the outset. The
company tests workers and children regularly, reduced lead emissions at their
source, built facilities that ensure workers don't take contaminants home, and initiated
programs to clean streets and homes of accumulated contamination. Blood-lead
levels now meet US (OSHA) guidelines for nearly all workers, and the children's
blood-lead levels are improving.
Frustrated that the union and
residents overwhelmingly support extending the SO2 deadline, the activists
constantly lie about these health issues and Doe Run's efforts and intentions. Many
suspect they also want to turn public opinion against mining and foreign
investment, and tilt Peru's presidential race toward Ollanta Humala, a
left-wing Hugo Chavez protege.
La Oroyans deeply resent what they
feel is interference by unelected "outsiders" who ignore their views and have no
real stake in what eventually happens. "We are the ones who live here," Mayor
Clemente Quincho noted. "We want the archbishop to
listen to us, not just make statements and demands."
Vice Mayor Clariza
Amanzo criticized Archbishop
Baretto's "dialogue" process as one-sided. Numerous
facilities still pollute the region's air and water, she emphasized, so he
should invite "our people and all the companies, not just Doe Run and people he
wants to speak." Indeed, when I participated in a meeting at the archbishop's magnificent
residence, not one of his "representatives" said anything remotely echoing what
I had heard during three days of meetings, tours and interviews.
What their statements did reflect is
a commitment to liberation theology, which one of the priests described as "Marxism painted over with a thin veneer of Christian
moralizing about class struggle, the supposed illegitimacy of private
enterprise, and ultimately the asserted need for radical redistribution of
limited wealth." Worse, it undermines the very goals it advocates, by
preventing the foreign investment, technological progress and wealth creation necessary
for people to improve their physical and social environment.
Oxfam, Christian Aid and US-based Presbyterian
Church groups certainly can afford to support projects like those Doe Run has
initiated--thereby buttressing their assertions that they care about the needs
of people they supposedly champion. However, aside from sponsoring duplicative blood-lead
studies and spending probably millions to attack Doe Run and thwart La Oroya's
interests, they have done nothing.
Town officials say the activists
expressed no concern about health or pollution until well after Doe Run
arrived. Now that a US company is operating the facility, the agitators want decades
of mismanagement and pollution reversed overnight.
A greater worry is that, if they manage
to prevent the SO2 extension or shut down the smelter, the activists' concern
for "the children" will evaporate. That's what happened when Oxfam's radical
soulmates succeeded in banishing DDT from disease control programs, and left
millions to die of malaria in Latin America and, even more tragically, in
Then newly-jobless workers and
families would be forced into subsistence farming, coca growing, or scraping by
in Lima's slums. Meanwhile, the agitators would simply return to their
comfortable homes in Boston, Washington and London--until they hoist their
eco-socialist banners against the next ascendant village they choose to
The people of La Oroya deserve better