Book demonstrates how extractive industries can address conflict, build trust with communities

Women protesting against a mining company in Ghana.Giant mining, timber, and oil and gas projects provide lessons in how companies can act to address conflict and build trust in communities their activities affect, according to a new book from the International Institute for Environment and Development.

This matters because there are many places, particularly in the developing world, where communities cannot rely upon legal channels to address their grievances about companies’ social and environmental impacts.

The work of the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, has increased awareness about the potential of company-community grievance mechanisms to help fill gaps left by weak legal systems.

“Leading oil and gas, mining and forestry companies are starting to establish their own formal mechanisms to address and resolve local citizens’ grievances,” says co-author Dr Emma Wilson.

“Grievance mechanisms provide a channel for communities to identify concerns and for companies to address these concerns before they escalate. As part of an effective overall strategy to engage with communities, these mechanisms can help companies to build trust with stakeholders, reduce operational risks and enhance the way they manage project impacts and community relations.”

The book includes research from Africa, Asia, the Russian Far East and Azerbaijan that provides insights into how different grievance mechanisms are designed and what affected communities think about them.

Its report’s case studies include grievance mechanisms used: by BP Azerbaijan for the 1768km Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and in the 1.4 million hectares of timber concessions run by Congalaise Industrielle des Bois in the Republic of Congo;

Again, in Sakhalin Energy’s ‘Sakhalin-2’ offshore oil and gas project in the Russian Far East; by Anglo American across its global operations, by TVIRD in mining projects in the Philippines; and by Kaltim Prima Coal in Indonesia.

“It is important that companies resolve grievances in a systematic way and that they have local staff on the ground who can engage appropriately and sensitively with communities,” says co-author Emma Blackmore.

“Companies can make use of the traditional approaches that local communities already use to make decisions and settle disputes. They can also support activities that build the capacity of government officials and communities to take part in a more informed and meaningful way. This book highlights some examples of how this has been done, and some of the challenges of such approaches.”

David Vermijs, independent advisor on business and human rights and the author of one of the chapters in the book writes: “A grievance mechanism is not just a mechanical process or a tool, but requires a change in corporate culture: a fundamental shift in how the company deals with conflict and stakeholder engagement.”

Writing in the book’s foreword, Caroline Rees, CCEO of Shift, who has worked closely with Professor Ruggie, says:

“This book makes an important contribution by bringing to light a range of powerful case studies of how companies, often with communities, have built grievance mechanisms that have both enjoyed a good measure of success and offered important lessons. The cases convey varying perspectives on the mechanisms they review, including the crucial perspectives of affected communities themselves.  Together, they offer valuable insights into the considerable challenges, and the equally considerable benefits, of effective company-community grievance mechanisms.”

By: Maxwell Awumah

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