More consultation, less exploitation: the extractive industries and community consent

Governance, Private sector, Rights

The relationship between the extractive industries and affected communities is too often characterized by exploitation and conflict. Michelle Katz and Augustine Niber explain how a report on the public commitments of mining, oil, and gas companies will help support positive engagement between companies and communities, leading to improved rights.

While oil, gas and mining companies around the world exploit natural resources and boost their profits, affected communities often suffer from the consequences and these projects too frequently pave the way to protests and violent conflict.

Can greater corporate transparency in terms of community engagement lead to improved community rights? Oxfam recently released a new report, the 2015 Community Consent Index (CCI). The report reviews publicly available corporate commitments on community rights and community engagement; 38 oil, gas and mining companies are covered. The CCI aims to document and influence corporate policies and public
statements regarding Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and community engagement more broadly.

The report is meant for a number of different stakeholders including companies, civil society, and affected communities. FPIC commitments by companies can help build trust among stakeholders and particularly affected communities, as well as mitigate risks of social conflict and reputational damage. For civil society and affected communities, the report can serve as an advocacy and engagement tool for their work in improving the social performance and policy of companies and defending community rights.

Can greater corporate transparency in terms of community engagement lead to improved community rights? Augustine Niber, Executive Director for the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Ghana thinks so. I had a chance to sit down with him and hear his thoughts when he was in the US to speak at the launch of the 2015 Community Consent Index. Here is what he said:

Could you share your overall impressions of Oxfam’s 2015 Community Consent Index?

The CCI is a great resource and single source of information on the public commitments of a large number of companies operating in the extractive sector around the world. Of the companies surveyed, those with public commitments to FPIC do not extend beyond indigenous people. This is instructive. Oxfam’s definition of FPIC (which applies to both indigenous peoples and other local communities) mirrors how the concept is emerging within the African context.

How will civil society organizations (CSOs) be able to use the index?

The index will be a very useful advocacy tool for CSOs. For CSOs in Ghana it will serve as a collaborative link to our recent report, The Right to Decide: Free Prior Informed Consent in Ghana. Oxfam’s index provides us with relevant information regarding companies operating in Ghana – Newmont Gold is an important example. CSOs in Ghana will use both of these reports to empower communities in demanding compliance and accountability
from companies with commitments on FPIC and human rights, however limited the commitments may be, and also demand the inclusion of FPIC in extractive laws of the country and the policies of companies that have yet to adopt the FPIC principles.

Can you tell me a bit about your report findings?

Our report explains why, in the African context, the concept and principles of FPIC can and should be applied more broadly than solely as a right of indigenous peoples. In line with how Oxfam recognizes the principle, in the African context, FPIC should extend to include all local communities affected by an extractive project (whether indigenous or otherwise).

In line with this idea, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Directive on the Harmonisation of Guiding Principles and Policies in the Mining Sector requires companies to secure consent from ‘local communities’ prior to exploration as well as in subsequent project phases. Additionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) applied FPIC beyond indigenous peoples in its 2012 Resolution on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Natural Resource Governance.  ACHPR called on states to take measures to ensure that all communities affected by an extractive project (whether indigenous or otherwise) are able to participate and give consent for the use of their natural resources. The Pan-African Parliament and African Mining Vision have also adopted similar resolutions and action plans outlining the importance of community consultation and consent in natural resource governance.

Key findings from our report in Ghana showed that the majority of participants (community members surveyed for the research) have knowledge of the FPIC concept and find it critical in the mining sector in order to bring about a healthy co-existence of companies and communities helping to eliminate or limit conflicts between them.

Another interesting finding was that a majority of community members indicate that they often participated in decisions related to community development, but rarely in discussions or decisions around mining. Those decisions are generally reserved for community chiefs and opinion leaders and have typically been related to corporate social responsibility projects and replacing destroyed properties rather than free prior and informed consent of the communities for the projects themselves.

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The community of Akatakyieso in Ghana has been affected by gold mining. Most of the farmers in the community lost access to their fields and received inadequate compensation form the mining company, Anglo Gold Ashanti. The mining activity affected the forest surrounding the village and destroyed their water resources and access to forest products. Villagers are also concerned about the effects that blasting will have on their buildings. Credit: Jeff Deutsch / Oxfam America

Author: Michelle Katz
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.