Community Engagement in Mining: Sharing Experiences and Best Practices

Community Engagement in Mining: Sharing Experiences and Best Practices
Image by István Mihály from Pixabay

By Caitlin Sievert and Ainsley Butler

Resource-rich countries are home to 3.5 billion people. When these resources become a source of conflict between communities, corporations, and government, opportunities for community development are often lost.

The immovability of natural resources renders the role of communities located near mining operations of critical importance throughout the mining cycle. The quality of engagement between governments, industry, and communities — including those that host artisanal and small-scale mining — determines the extent to which outcomes of mining contribute to sustainable development.

Some observers wonder whether community engagement within the mining sector is a tool for public relations or a genuine attempt to build corporate–community relationships and benefits. When done well, community engagement enables inclusive development by fostering relationships based on mutual understanding and facilitating the sharing of responsibilities to create inclusive initiatives that sustain the benefits of mining in communities.

CIPS recently hosted a panel discussion on community engagement and mining at the University of Ottawa. Bringing together experts from the government of Canada, the artisanal mining sector, and academia, the panelists explored various examples of community engagement and relationship building in the mining sector.

It can be difficult to determine one tool or method of community engagement as a guarantor for success. Community engagement should be an ongoing dialogue. Good community relations can mitigate the risks associated with mining operations. For example, communities often fear environmental disasters in their backyard because of mining activity. Engaging the right actors to discuss environmental management and planning can be integral to ensuring understanding and co-operation.

Regular, frequent consultations are de rigueur. Successful corporations utilize community engagement to learn about the culture, practices, needs, and desires of communities, which helps them learn how to work together to create mutual benefit, such as capacity building and infrastructure development.

It follows that communities also have an active role to play. From Canada’s Inuit communities to artisanal and small-scale mining communities in Sierra Leone, those wishing to share the benefits of mining must be prepared to engage with mining operators to vocalize the benefits they desire.

Community engagement efforts often reveal an asymmetry of information between corporations and communities. There is, therefore, a role for government and public sector organizations to play by helping to bridge this knowledge gap. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) provides information to help foster indigenous community–corporate engagement. NRCan has produced a number of tools that promote responsible mining practices, identification of socioeconomic opportunities, and establishing successful partnerships.

Non-governmental organizations also help to bridge the knowledge gap and often focus their efforts on community engagement for communities with weak governance. For example, the Diamond Development Initiative has created the first mining standard that addresses the poor socioeconomic conditions related to artisanal diamond mining. In these communities, engagement can be difficult given the informal nature of many mining operations and the secretive culture of artisanal mining. A history of confrontation between government, formal authority, and artisanal miners can further hinder engagement efforts.

Artisanal and small-scale mining often occurs near large corporate mining concessions. This proximity can add to the complexity of community engagement. Artisanal mining  standards help empower artisanal miners to engage with large-scale miners in order to deter social conflict.

Although many case studies have sought to blame weak state governance and regulatory environments for the social conflict around mining, research suggests that corporate–community conflict often occurs because of the scarcity of local economic opportunities. For this reason, identifying community needs (such as livelihoods) can be a powerful tool in preventing and alleviating conflict by creating shared value benefits.

All known cases of successful community engagement have depended upon the initiative and efforts of highly dedicated individuals. While corporations and communities can create a multitude of codes and policies for engagement, when these are not applied in practice, community engagement is nothing more than an idea.

Caitlin Sievert is a recent Master’s of International Development graduate from the University of Ottawa. She has worked with Ainsley Butler at the Diamond Development Initiative on the creation of responsible sourcing protocols that address the specific conditions of the artisanal and small-scale diamond-mining sector. She has also worked with refugee communities in the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, where she conducted her thesis research on refugee experiences of double-exile. 

 Ainsley Butler is an international development practitioner focused on economic development and international trade. As program director at the Diamond Development Initiative, Ainsley manages the Maendeleo Diamond Standards, a certification process to connect artisanal diamond miners to responsible supply chains. She is a board member of the Organization for Women in International Trade (OWIT-Ottawa) and Artistri Sud. Ainsley is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris; she was a visiting graduate fellow at New York University.

Special thanks to fellow panelists Catherine Peltier Mavin (NRCan) and Paul Haslam (University of Ottawa), and to moderator Jim Delaney (World University Service of Canada).

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