Community Relations and Human Rights Policies in Mining
The Author, Ignatius Kamwanje, is a Consulting Geoscientist with experience in Mineral Exploration, Mining Geology, ESIA, Ground water Resources and Occupational Safety, Health and Environment. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org – 0999216869
Mining companies believe that mining and mineral processing activities can play a central role in sustainable community development by acting as a catalyst for positive economic and social change. When operating in overseas jurisdictions, a mining company acknowledges the importance of understanding that it is operating in a “visitor” capacity in that country of interest and must engage itself with due respect in all interactions.
Therefore, to achieve a balance between the economic, environmental and social aspects in all phases of the projects, mining companies should strive to adhere to the laws and regulations of the host country, respect and respond to local customs, traditions and cultures, though anticipation for divergence from company policies exist already. They should also strive to contribute to local economic development of communities, be open and transparent in all communications and dealings with communities and respond in a timely fashion to any community-based grievances. The companies need to invest in projects that are of mutual benefit to them and the community, and ensure that any resettlement that cannot be avoided is undertaken in compliance with local laws and such that resettled parties are constructively engaged and fairly treated with the principles of free, prior and informed consent and consultation, embrace sound principles of local procurement and employment that contributes to local economic development, encourage, where practical, suppliers and contractors to adopt the same or similar policies, standards and practices; and undertake activities in a manner that is conducive to ensuring that the local operating company is, and remains, a responsible member of the community.
To assist in the understanding of this Policy by the local communities, there is need to put mechanisms that will outreach the communities. These could be through organising public address awareness meetings that can incorporate dramas, posters, flyers, stories, and engaging media houses. This is one way where the message can be spread to communities effectively. A mining company should create an honest atmosphere through the provision of open and informative policies and communities on the other hand must understand that a mining company also is not there to solve all their problems.
Mining companies face rising costs and increased risks of liability when problems arise in affected communities. As a result, they try to conduct social-cultural analyses and due diligence reviews, including assessment of laws and policies of a host country. However, these companies also develop their own policies so as to manage the impacts of projects on the surrounding communities. In Africa, most mining companies indicate that they use and apply internationally accepted best practices, initiatives and policies that have been developed by financing institutions (lenders, bankers) in order to reduce their exposure to liability and risk and are given a social licence to operate. A Social licence to operate exists when a mining company and its operations have the ongoing approval and acceptance of nearby communities and other stakeholders who are or may be affected by the mining projects. One may be reminded that the social licence is not a formal agreement and rarely carries a legal binding. It is based on the credible relationship between a mining company and communities. It is essential because companies need to manage risks including social conflict and damaged reputation that can affect the feasibility and success of such a project. But the question is; how many of the mining companies have been practicing this on the ground? Practically it’s only a handful of mining companies that have implemented this.
Mining companies are also committed to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The aim of the Human Rights Policy is to provide the overarching framework for the business in respecting human rights. This upholds human rights’ principles outlined in the International Bill of Rights, which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In the same context, there is also additional need to respect the International Labour Organisation’s Core Conventions. Human rights are fundamental principles of personal dignity and Universal equality. Respect for human rights fosters social progress, better standards of life and larger freedom for individuals. Communities should also be empowered on the importance of their legal mandate in order to protect their intellectual, cultural and traditional rights. Some mining companies have claimed to use the Performance Standards from the International Finance Corporation as provided for and in addition to meeting the requirements under these Performance Standards, it is very important for them to comply with applicable national laws and policies, including those laws implemented by a host country under obligations from international law.
Human rights policies should also be directed at increased capacity and voice of the poor and vulnerable communities especially women to influence decisions in mining at community level, issues demanded and influenced by the poor people, cross cutting issues raised and action points emerging from mining forums organized by rural communities, people mobilised, empowered that are able to demand their rights from service providers on mining and local people that access information on rights and their entitlements related to mining.
In Malawi, most communities are not aware of the mining laws and policies. It is a common observation that the communities just hear them being mentioned or discussed in different media outlets. They know very little of the Mines and Minerals Act, Mining Policy, other documents related to mining etc. Suffice to say, it is only the government officials and other CSOs that are engaged in the development and review of mining laws in Malawi. The general overview is that the current mining policies are not fully enforced in Malawi and lack clear stipulation of community benefits, community outreach, protection and engagements, mitigation measures to affected environment etc.
In order to create straightforward, steady and sustainable development in the mining sector in a way that contributes to sustainable development and is integrated into the formal economy, governments need to develop a consistent policy for the sector.
This policy should be based on four strategic pillars namely:
– Poverty reduction/alleviation to the surrounding communities, the workers and the country as a whole.
– A good business climate for mining sector.
– Stabilization of government revenues from the sector
Besides, a mining company should also create an honest atmosphere through open and informative policies. To embrace a culture of human rights dignity within the communities, issues related to mining should also be discussed amongst the government officials, chiefs, communities themselves, mining companies and this can be facilitated through formation of Village/Area Development Committees so that the communities should feel a sense of belonging to the mining projects operating in their area.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 56 (December 2017).