TORONTO – The head of the world’s largest gold producer says Occupy protesters have the wrong idea about his company.
And Barrick Gold founder and chairman Peter Munk says he’d love to take that message straight to his firm’s detractors.
Munk told investors today he “would love to go outside” and engage the demonstrators that descended on Barrick’s annual general meeting in downtown Toronto.
Munk, 84, says he would highlight all the voluntary contributions Barrick makes in the countries where it operates, and not just talk about job creation.
However, Munk did say that when confronted with demonstrators a day earlier “wiser” and “less hot-blooded” voices than his persuaded him not to ask his driver to take him to the protest.
Dozens of protesters shouted their disapproval of Barrick Gold’s business practices outside the meeting Wednesday, including a few dressed in gold-sequined outfits.
They chanted “Down with Barrick” and brandished signs from a park across the street from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, accusing the mining giant of perpetuating economic inequality as part of the wealthy “one per cent.”
Some said they travelled from Tanzania to denounce Barrick’s operations in that country, citing allegations of violence and sexual abuse by guards at one of the company’s mines.
“I’m happy to be here in solidarity with the Canadians who stand against Barrick, Barrick which is a leading human rights abuser… which has no respect for human beings,” said Tanzanian activist Amani Mhinda.
Mhinda had hoped to air his grievances at the meeting but said he was barred from the building, despite being named as proxy by a shareholder.
Inside, Munk — an elder statesmen of Canadian business who was born in Hungary — said he relished the chance to defend the company.
“I would love to go outside where they are demonstrating,” he said. “I’d love to go to Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Bay Street and I’d like to show them.
“I’m not talking about job creation, I’m not talking about taxation, I’m not talking about the fact that we are creating prosperity by our operations that we do otherwise those mines would provide zero jobs and zero opportunities.
“I’m talking about voluntary contributions. We don’t need boards for that. We don’t need advisers for that. It is part of Barrick’s DNA.”