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MBA student gets research boost from Going Global grant

By Moira Finn

Whether waiting in train stations or enduring long bus rides, the backpack traveller has ample time to reflect. And for Kristen Baker, many hours of travel in Peru last spring were spent pondering the corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards of Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

In the months to come, the Memorial master of business administration student will have the opportunity to do more than merely think about these issues. Thanks to a $3,500 Going Global grant, she is returning to South America to conduct field research on the social and environmental impact of mining activities by Canadian companies in developing countries.

Ms. Baker is one of 10 recipients of the Going Global grants awarded by Memorial University's International Centre and School of Graduate Studies. The funding is to supplement the cost of conducting field research in a developing country with the aim of increasing the number of graduate students conducting international development research in developing countries, enhancing the understanding of the research supported by Memorial University among stakeholders and the community.

During her past travels in Peru, Ms. Baker heard repeatedly of conflict and social discord brought about by foreign mining operations in the mountainous country. One project of particular controversy is a silver mine operated by Canadian Bear Creek Mining Corporation -- a project which non-governmental organizations and environmental groups claim pollutes waterways and is ruinous to fishing and farming industries, despite the company's assertions that its practices meet the regulations in the region.

Though already interested in international development and CSR, this experience -- and the guidance of research project supervisor Dr. Natalie Slawinski -- helped the 27-year-old St. John's resident to hone a research proposal to investigate how government regulation and non-governmental organizations affect Canadian mining operations in developing countries.

"Canadian mining companies are increasingly operating in developing countries where they are often subject to less stringent regulations than they face in Canada," Ms. Baker explained. "Faced with fewer regulations, and looking for ways to reduce costs, these companies are less likely to adhere to the same levels of corporate social responsibility than they would at home. With less attention to CSR, their operations can create social or environmental problems in the host country."

The Going Global grant will help cover travel and living expenses for Ms. Baker as she conducts interviews and carries out other primary research in Peru in early 2012. And while she expects this research will bring to light the impact of mining on Peruvian communities, Ms. Baker hopes it will ultimately contribute to a movement compelling Canadian companies to behave ethically while operating abroad.

"Kristen has the passion, academic strength and intellectual curiosity to carry out such an ambitious research project," said Dr. Slawinski. "I have no doubt this project will shed light for companies, policy makers and civil society on how Canadian companies can behave more responsibly and sustainably when operating in developing countries."

Ms. Baker hopes to complete her research by spring 2012 and, not surprisingly, would like to work in the area of social and environmental sustainability before possibly pursuing a PhD.