NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced a plan on Thursday to fight poverty in the developing world in partnership with the mining industry, which often is accused of exploiting the poor and the environment.
The Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative has initial commitments of $100 million each from two philanthropists -- Canadian financier Frank Giustra and Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecommunications billionaire listed by Forbes as the world's third richest man.
The initiative will start in Colombia and hopes to expand to Peru, Mexico and other Latin American countries soon. It would then move on to other continents.
Giustra, a major figure in the Canadian mining industry who so far has enlisted 20 mining companies and organizations in the coalition, said he would also donate half of all his future income from the natural resources business.
Clinton said the coalition of businesses would work with non-governmental organizations and local authorities to improve health and education and promote sustainable development.
"Ultimately our goal is to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, and give all people a shot at a better life," Clinton said, noting that despite economic growth in some Latin American countries, the gap between rich and poor had grown.
"We will also focus hard on sustainable development," he said.
The mining sector has been taking steps to overcome its historic reputation for making profits at the expense of the environment and taking advantage of indigenous populations.
"Mining happens in almost every country in the world," Clinton told a news conference at the New York headquarters of his charitable organization, the Clinton Foundation.
"You can either have good mining or bad mining," he said.
Radhika Sarin, campaign coordinator for environmental group Earthworks which monitors the global mining industry, said it was interesting to see companies such as Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp, the world's second-largest gold company, involved as they have major operations in Latin America.
She said mines have not tended to bring sustained economic growth to the remote rural areas where they are often found because there tends to be only a short spike in employment for manual labor in the construction phase.
Once established, mines are not labor intensive, relying on high-tech skills instead, and the impact on the environment can hurt farming.
"That's often one of the main concerns of mining-affected communities. They really question how much they're benefiting from the overall gains that are being made," Sarin said.
The rights of indigenous communities to have a say in exploiting natural resources is also a hot button issue throughout Latin America, Sarin said. She welcomed the initiative but said: "Its success will depend on how they incorporate the affected communities into this process."
Among those already signed up as supporters are the London Stock Exchange, the Toronto Stock Exchange and the World Gold Council. Companies involved include South Africa's Gold Fields Ltd, the world's fourth largest gold producer, and Canadian nickel-miner Teck Cominco. It was not clear what their donation would consist of.
"Once we demonstrate that an entire industry can rally behind an initiative like this, we hope to engage other sectors and other businesses," Clinton said.