L'institut Nord-Sud



Ten Ways for Mining Companies to Work Better with Indigenous People

February 29, 2012


Forbes CSR Blog

Why is there such a big gap between what’s important to indigenous people and how mining companies are addressing their priorities?

As a follow-up to the piece I wrote last week (see: Why the Future of Mining Depends on Social Change) I felt it was important to explore this question and to provide some direction for what should mining companies could do differently to improve their relationships with indigenous people.

I got perspective on this issue from Joseph K. Ingram, President and CEO of The North South Institute, Kelly J. Lendsay, President and CEO, of the Aboriginal Human Reource Council, and Leonardo A. Crippa, Senior Attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center.

The context is complex. On the one hand, positive change has been made at a global level. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was introduced in 2011, the International Finance Corporation’s Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment and Management (HRIAM) was developed in 2010, and there is a growing recognition within the mining sector that implementing the right to free, prior and informed consent is key to improving relationships with indigenous people.

At a local level, however, the situation remains bleak. Many countries have no legislation that protects the rights of indigenous people. Many developing countries have inconsistent policies that fail to balance human rights with mining rights. In order to secure financing and a license to operate, corporations need to conduct social and environmental assessments, but these assessments often exclude the human rights principles developed by the United Nations.

According to The North South Institute, “the root of the conflict is the enormous power imbalance between communities on one hand, and companies and governments on the other”.

There’s no simple solution to this conflict. Based on input from The North South Institute, the Aboriginal Human Resource Council and the Indian Law Resource Center, I’ve developed a list of ten ideas to help corporations have better, more inclusive relationships with indigenous people and communities.

  1. Spend time learning the history and culture of local indigenous people with the goal of building relationships and trust.
  2. Acknowledge the right of indigenous people to informed consent; engage third party experts, chosen in consultation with affected communities, to assess and verify local conditions.
  3. Ensure communities have timely access to all relevant information about any proposal affecting indigenous territories and offer resources in formats that are culturally appropriate, available in indigenous languages, and easy to understand.
  4. Recognize that indigenous people are seeking the same community goals as corporations: better education, more employment and improved economic opportunities.
  5. Understand that indigenous people look at time horizons and development differently and that actions taken must benefit future generations.
  6. Remember that there are unique rights that are protected and advanced by indigenous people. Indigenous people have a stewardship relationship with the land; they support development but they must also care for the land.
  7. Be realistic. It takes time for communities to respond to employment and business opportunities that are presented by extraction projects. Mining companies need to spend time working with communities to understand and act on those opportunities well in advance of the approval stages.
  8. Establish co-management and co-responsibility. Accountability begins with shared responsibility for targets and outcomes.
  9. Support local economic development. During the course of a mine’s operations, indigenous communities need to diversify and develop their own economies so that once the mine leaves, there are sustainable gains.
  10. Ensure that the community has a consent process in place prior to initiating environmental and social impact assessments.

It’s important to view inclusion as a shared value opportunity. “By building partnerships of respect, investing in ways that help Indigenous communities and people build supply channels and skilled workers, and learning best practices to recruit, retain and advance the indigenous workforce, corporations can create new business opportunities and increase their bottom line,” says Kelly Lendsay from the Aboriginal Human Resource Council.

The world’s largest annual gathering of the mineral exploration industry kicks off this Sunday in Toronto at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s Annual International Convention, Trade Show and Investors Exchange. This will be a great opportunity for the industry to consider the input that I got this week and to think about new ways of improving relationships with indigenous people and communities.