Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Working to Level the Playing Field for Mining-affected Communities

For governments and mining companies interested in respecting the human rights of resource-rich communities, there are piles of research, handbooks, guides, and toolkits from industry associations, the International Finance Corporation and an army of consultants. Yet for local communities, who are already at a serious disadvantage, such guidance is scant—much less the human and financial resources needed to understand and act on the information before rights violations occur.

That’s why Lien De Brouckere, director of the Global Rights' Natural Resources and Human Rights program, and two partner organizations launched an initiative to develop an intercultural and comprehensive toolkit written for and by mining-affected communities. This toolkit will help level the playing field by giving mining-affected communities across the world access to information and tools to better understand and protect their rights, participate in the decision-making processes that will affect their futures, and share in the benefits of the project.  Lien and her colleagues at Futuro Sostenible (Lima, Peru) and Sustainable Development Strategies Group (Denver, Colorado) have laid the groundwork for this initiative over the past two years by collecting existing guides and toolkits written for resource-rich communities around the world. This library is now available online.

Lien traveled to Afghanistan in November 2013 to train leaders from local resource-rich communities on the social and human rights impacts of large-scale mining.

To further this initiative, a few weeks ago Lien participated in the fifth annual Global Exploration, Mining and Minerals (GEMM) Dialogue, which was hosted by the Responsible Minerals Sector Initiative at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.  There, Lien and her partners from Peru and Colorado hosted a working session about how to fund community capacity-building and empowerment with participants who included representatives from government, intergovernmental organizations, mining companies, non-governmental organizations and academia. About 100 people from Canada, the Americas, and Africa attended the GEMM Dialogue; roughly a quarter of the participants joined Lien and her partners for the discussion, which focused on key priorities and challenges linked to community capacity-building, including participants’ experiences with how to fund that work, whether through the support of governments, companies, other organizations, or mixed funds.

Two important points emerged from the working session. First, representatives from mining companies expressed how beneficial it can be for them to have an informed and unified community with which they can engage. The mining company representatives found that with a community governance structure in place, the company is more certain of who the appropriate community representatives are to engage with, which reduces opportunities for conflict when the company engages with groups who may not legitimately represent the community.  They also observed that when community members understand their rights and have an established community decision-making process, the company’s engagement with local communities is more efficient and productive. An organized and informed community makes it easier for the company and communities to reach equitable agreements, especially around local employment.  In all, they found that the stronger and more capable the community, the more durable the community’s relationship was with the company.

The second point was the need to begin educating and empowering communities before the mining project starts, and the role that government (especially local or regional) needs to play in this education process.  Communities greatly benefit from knowing their rights, strengthening and articulating their decision-making processes and governance, and learning about the mining process before mining companies and federal government officials arrive on their lands.  This way, they are better prepared and empowered to make decisions and work out agreements that will ensure that their rights are protected, their decisions respected, and that if the project proceeds, they share in the benefits—whether in the form of jobs, business opportunities, financial compensation, or improved access to clean water and electricity.

Lien and her partners look forward to continuing to grow the library of community toolkits.  With more funding, Lien and her partners will start facilitating community-to-community exchanges among communities in Peru, Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will help foster learning and guided analysis of what community strategies have worked well in what context, and what challenges have been most difficult to overcome.  This work will benefit the participating communities, and ultimately result in a toolkit developed by and for mining-affected communities, supporting their knowledge and decision-making regarding mining activity that affects their lands, livelihoods, and self-determination.

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