Community concerns and grievances are always at play on any project, but too many times companies get caught up in a “battle of the experts” when trying to solve those problems.
“Trust is fundamental in any aspect of the project so we don’t have a battle of the experts,” said Ginger Gibson, Director for the Firelight Group, at the recent PDAC Conference in Toronto, Ont. “With trust, we can believe the Minister when he says ‘the water is safe to drink,’ because everyone understands that the extracted project beside them is operating safely.”
Gibson was part of a panel that included Robert Coleman, Director of Trade Planning, Coordination and Responsible Business Practices at Global Affairs Canada; Jay Schlosar, Director of Communities at Teck Resources; and Gina Barbieri, Principal Ombudsman for the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), examining the development of mining projects and the local communities where these projects take place – and the inevitable concerns that can lead to intractable conflicts when trust erodes.
This “battle of the experts” occurs when community objections are raised and third-party experts are introduced from both sides, the panel agreed, with the result being greater distrust and entrenchment.
“The battle of experts’ paradigm; we need to design a process that addresses the community’s concerns,” says Gibson, whose Firelight Group provides research, policy planning and negotiation services to indigenous and local communities. “We need to ask the question: What is the process you are designing? How is it engaging? There is no point in grievance design if it doesn’t produce a resolution.”
Working predominantly in negotiating and implementing Impact and Benefit Agreements, Gibson feels that North American companies could learn a thing or two from how indigenous communities handle dispute resolution.
“I think we could learn a lot about solving problems from indigenous processes, like South America,” she says. “We as non-indigenous people can be arrogant in this regard.”
“It is not what is done, it is how it is done. Local people don’t care what you have paid for consultants, they don’t trust the results,” said Gina Barbieri, Principal Ombudsman for the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO). “You need cooperative fact finding.”
The discussion, moderated by Aidan Davy, COO of ICMM, addressed head-on how with the advent of social media and the increasing inter-connectedness of NGOs worldwide, the expectation that the mining industry addresses community concerns in a transparent and fair manner is quickly becoming the norm.
For Barbieri, it doesn’t matter how much companies pay for experts, because without incorporating indigenous community input, it really produces no resolution.
“This is a long-term engagement that we need to foster,” she said, “because this is an asset.”