The business combination between AngloGold and Ashanti in April 2004 was the start of a long and complex process of not only combining the physical assets of the company into a single operating and accounting entity, but it also involved a multi-faceted process with the stakeholders of the company, both internally and externally, particularly in Ghana.
The change of effective control of the company from an Accra-based entity to a Johannesburg-based company (albeit that both Ashanti and AngloGold are largely owned by international shareholders and that the government of Ghana is now a significant shareholder in the combined company and is represented on its board) was an emotive and understandably unwelcome change to some employees and communities. It also provided an opportunity for national and international NGOs to increase pressure on the new company and to deal with issues that might not have received adequate attention in the past, or which could not comfortably be raised with a local company.
The former Ashanti’s relationship with local NGOs tended to be burdened with mistrust and mutual suspicion. AngloGold Ashanti’s relationships with these NGOs have progressed over the past two years, as have direct relationships with community members. Admittedly, however, these paths have not always been smooth or without acrimony and much remains to be done to establish common ground and a way of working.
AngloGold Ashanti has, however, indicated its intention to engage in dialogue with local Ghanaian civil society groups, such as Third World Network Africa (TWNA) and Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (Wacam), and foreign groups they work with such as the UK-based ActionAid (which released its report: Goldrush – the impact of gold mining on the poor people in Obuasi in Ghana – download ActionAid Report (PDF - 1.57MB) and AngloGold Ashanti response (PDF - 15KB)). Since the merger, AngloGold Ashanti has been working towards the development of constructive relationships with these and other parties.
A significant challenge for AngloGold Ashanti is that mining has been taking place in one form or another at Obuasi for more than 100 years and that the company has to deal with significant environmental legacy issues from the past while at the same time addressing the challenges of present mining activities. In fact, many of the issues and much of the research referred to in recent reports by these groups predates the business combination between AngloGold and Ashanti.
AngloGold Ashanti is in discussions with Wacam regarding the setting up of a joint investigation group which would investigate legacy issues and current and future areas of concern. Issues that have been raised and would be considered by such a committee are land issues and damage to property, environmental concerns and concerns relating to human rights. In particular, AngloGold Ashanti has indicated that it is committed to:
In more general terms, the company has been considering and addressing the issue of artisanal and small scale miners (See case study: AngloGold Ashanti’s approach to artisanal and small-scale mining) which is of concern to both the company and the community as it has led to safety and health issues for employees and community members alike, sabotage of company property (including broken tailings pipes which have contributed to environmental problems), disruptions to production and human rights issues. The company is aware of the challenge it faces in finding a balance between the obligation to protect its assets in ways which do not infringe human rights and at the same time recognising that small scale mining is a legitimate means of earning a livelihood in a gold-rich area.
Related to this and other community issues, the company is dealing with its relationship with both the police and army services in areas in which it does business. AngloGold Ashanti has applied to become a signatory of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and while this has not yet been formalised, the company has sought to adhere to the Voluntary Principles. As part of this commitment the company is currently reviewing its policies and practices in respect of human rights and is standardising human rights training across the group.
AngloGold Ashanti has, over the past two years, taken a number of steps to address environmental pollution issues at Obuasi. Following a strategic environmental review conducted in 2005, five major environmental risks were identified and plans have been put in place to start dealing with them.
The five areas that have been identified as requiring attention are:
In addition, the company is aware of concerns raised by local residents and NGOs in respect of elevated levels of heavy metals and arsenic in and around Obuasi.
One of the most significant areas of concern was the safe disposal and rehabilitation of an area in which some 10,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide which had been stockpiled at the Pompora Treatment Plant at Obuasi following the collapse of the arsenic market in the early 1990s. (See Report to Society 2004: Arsenic remediation at Obuasi). This stockpile came about as a by-product of gold mining at Obuasi and has been safely placed in a lined storage facility to prevent any further environmental contamination.
As in a number of other places in the world, gold and base metals at Obuasi are strongly associated with naturally occurring deposits of arsenic (arenopyritic orebodies). When the host rock is crushed to release the gold, arsenic, together with base metals, may be released into the tailings or waste residues.
Although water sampling programmes have been conducted over many years, a new programme to identify areas of land and water courses containing high concentrations of arsenic was initiated in December 2006. The following has been put in place.
In line with the group’s policy to implement ISO14001 (see case study: Implementing ISO14001 at AngloGold Ashanti), Obuasi mine was recommended for certification as having been in conformance with this standard by independent auditors DLIQ. The key risk areas and issues identified above are being addressed as part of the ISO14001 system implementation.
In an effort to initiate a formal process of engagement directly with communities in Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti held two Sustainable Development Workshops in Obuasi in August 2006 – the first for internal role players and the second for external stakeholders and interested parties. More than 50 people attended the second session. Key issues addressed included:
Following concerns raised first by Third World Network (TWN), and later by ActionAid, relating to the alleged presence of arsenic, mercury and zinc in oranges grown near AngloGold Ashanti’s mining operations in Obuasi, the company has put in place a number of measures to review and address the situation.
It should be noted that there is a level of naturally occurrence of arsenic in the soils in the Obuasi area, as is quite common where certain types of gold-bearing ore is found. It is unclear at this stage whether existing arsenic levels are naturally occurring or due to mining activities.
In the first instance, the company has had an initial meeting with TWN and has indicated its willingness jointly to investigate the matter and to submit specimens for independent testing. The company has also requested that any scientific data in the possession of TWN be shared with the company so as to take the matter forward in an objective and methodical manner. The company would share its own initial research with TWN at the same time.
The current plotting of natural water courses and arsenic and heavy metal pollution through the Geographic Information System (GIS) will be used to tie in the location of orange groves with the water courses in attempt to understand the source of possible contamination.
AngloGold Ashanti has also commissioned preliminary chemical analysis of fruit (oranges, yams, plaintains) grown in the Obuasi region to determine if arsenic was present in unusually high amounts and if arsenic was associated with particular tissues (peel, seeds, flesh) in order to optimise the sampling and analytical procedures for more representative and statistically sound sampling in the future.
The results of the project (which are of a very preliminary nature and should be subject to further analysis) are presented below. Arsenic was detected in all samples. The lowest concentrations were found in the flesh, which is also the portion consumed in the highest quantities. The levels of arsenic in the fresh (undried) flesh of the oranges and yams were generally low, and within the acceptable limits for consumption as part of a normal mixed diet, depending on how many are consumed daily. The levels in the fresh flesh of plantains was moderate. The levels in the dried fruits were higher, and the levels in the seeds and peels of all the samples were high.
Further research needs to be undertaken:
AngloGold Ashanti is confident that working with stakeholders appropriate measures can be put in place to protect the community.
Measures to address the problems could include:
AngloGold Ashanti is committed to establishing a scientific research protocol to further investigate the issue and to do so in conjunction with other stakeholders.
Note: The UK statutory limit for arsenic in fresh produce is 1 mg/kg (1 ppm), and one sample of plantain fruit plus seeds, all the orange pips, and all the unwashed yam peel exceeded this. The fresh and dried flesh of the oranges, yams and most of the plantain was below these limits. The results are quoted in parts per billion (ppb) and parts per million (ppm).
Oranges: Arsenic was present at very low concentrations in the undried (fresh) fruit flesh of the two oranges (22+5 ppb, or 0.02+0.005 ppm fresh mass), and at moderate concentrations in the undried peel (237+11 ppb or 0.237 ppm) and undried pips (995+364 ppb or 0.995 ppm). Aresenic concentrations were of course higher in dried orange fruit flesh (206+48 ppb or 0.206 ppm),dried peel (831+39 ppb or 0.831 ppm) and dried pips (3403+1573 ppb or 3.40 ppm).
Plantains: Arsenic was present at low concentrations in the undried (fresh) fruit flesh of the two plantains minus-seeds (81+94 ppb or 0.082+0.094 ppm fresh mass), and moderate concentrations in the undried fruit-plus-seed (264+152 ppb or 0.264 ppm) and undried peel (236+34 ppb or 0.236 ppm). Arsenic concentrations were moderate in the dried fruit fleshminus seeds (208+246 ppb or 0.208 ppm), and high in the undried plantain fruit-plus-seed (691+445 ppb or 0.691 ppm), and in dried peel (1 482+151 ppb or 1.48 ppm).
Yams: Arsenic was present at moderate concentrations in the undried (fresh) fruit flesh of the two yams (155+44 ppb or 0.155+0.04 ppm fresh mass), and at high concentrations in the undried peel (22 060+2 143 ppb or 22+2 ppm). Arsenic concentrations were higher in dried yam flesh (387+90 ppb or 0.387 ppm), and extremely high in the dried peel (97 966+15 670 ppb or 98 ppm). It must be noted that the peel was contaminated by adherent microscopic soil particles, which are virtually impossible to remove, and this would have added significantly to the contaminant load (the true levels of Arsenic in yam peel are probably one to two orders of magnitude lower as plant to soil Arsenic transfer co-efficients are between 0.01 and 0.1). However, if yams are not rigorously cleaned and peeled before baking and consumption, the levels of arsenic found in the peel could be experienced by the consumer, and surface dirt on the surface of the fruits and vegetables is the highest risk factor identified.