Alternative Mining Indaba - Meaningful Company-Community Dialogue Remains a Key Challenge

Commentary, 25 February 2016

By Ida Westphal

The 7th annual Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI, Indaba meaning ‘conference’), hosted by the ecclesiastical Economic Justice Network, took place from 8-11 February 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. The AMI has grown steadily since its inception in 2010, and this year brought together about 300 representatives from international and national civil society organisations as well as representatives from mining affected communities from across Africa.

The AMI has grown steadily since its inception in 2010, and this year brought together about 300 representatives from international and national civil society organisations as well as representatives from mining affected communities from across Africa..

The AMI was held in parallel to the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba (Mining Indaba), the biggest mining conference on the African continent with more than 7000 attendees. The AMI seeks to draw attention to the virtual exclusiveness of the critical discussions on the future of African mining that take place at the Mining Indaba mostly reserved  to companies, business associations and government representatives due in part to its high entrance fees (£1,300.00).

A Reciprocal Need for and Interest in Dialogue?

Since 2010 the AMI has shifted its strategy from confrontation to dialogue, now stressing the importance of communication between CSOs/communities and businesses in the spirit of becoming “frenemies,” as noted at the AMI, understood as partners that disagree on important issues  but who nonetheless manage to work together. The AMI organisers for example encouraged delegates to join discussions during the Sustainable Development Day of the Mining Indaba, dedicated to the interplay between mining and development.

Despite these efforts, companies did not attend the AMI. The CEO and President of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM), Tom Butler, in a brief intervention  expressed the broad hope that the current commodity crisis might be an opportunity ‘to do things better’ during the next uptick in commodity prices. As Butler noted, the sector has historically been seen as not communicating very well with communities, but there are signs of a shifting paradigm. ICMM encourages its member companies to engage in dialogue.

The AMI organisers also struggled anew in 2016 to convince business representatives to officially receive the final AMI Communiqué at the end of the traditional protest march to the Mining Indaba; intended delivery to a representative of the African Union failed.

While the AMI organisers emphasized their pro-dialogue attitude throughout the conference, numerous participants repeatedly challenged them by drawing attention to the imbalanced power relations between companies and communities. Numerous presenters noted that the most obvious manifestation of the power imbalance is evident in who sets the agenda for dialogue: most often this is decided by the company as the more powerful actor.

Aspects of Informed and Inclusive Dialogue

More tangible issues related to informed and inclusive dialogue received particular attention during the AMI. A number of examples from the South African mining sector raised at the AMI are worth highlighting.

Under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (2002) Social and Labor Plans (SLPs) have to be submitted by companies before a mining license can be granted or renewed. A study conducted by the Center for Applied Legal Studies at the Witwatersrand University, to be published by the end of March 2016, found that SLPs are rarely developed and even more rarely followed up on in consultation with communities, even though SLPs outline how the mining activity will contribute to economic growth and socio-economic development for the community. Unfortunately, the AMI Communiqué missed the chance to pick up clear recommendations in this regard.

However, reacting to an intervention of a CSO representative during this year’s Mining Indaba, Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani made a public commitment to publish these plans in the future - an outcome that illustrates the importance of dialogue between the private sector and civil society.

Another issue reflected by the AMI Communiqué was the challenge of ensuring inclusive dialogue between companies and communities in the presence of traditional leaders. For example, Xolobeni community members reported alleged complicity between companies and traditional leaders, leaving the community itself behind. In fact, these discussions point towards a known dilemma in the company-community engagement sphere. At last year’s Mining Indaba Sustainability Day, significant time was dedicated to the influence of traditional leaders on company-community interactions.

Perceptions of the International Framework

AMI dialogue also spotlighted a disconnection between the international human rights framework and its relevance to the effects of mining activities on the ground as seen by civil society organisations. There was a perceptible mistrust by the AMI delegates towards international instruments such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the Africa Mining Vision. It was interesting to note that consistently, delegates invoked none of these frameworks as part of the solution partly due to the circumstances of their negotiation but mostly due to a lack of their implementation. In fact, delegates made a demand for a new inclusive and internationally binding legal instrument on human rights.

In an ironic twist to this, it was the World Bank Group and the German development cooperation agency, rather than human rights organisations, who hosted a side event during the Mining Indaba on human rights and mining. 

Importance of Multi-stakeholder Platforms in Limited Contexts

While the AMI conference demonstrated a high level of frustration among community members and supporting CSOs with regard to the will of corporations to engage in meaningful dialogue, not all is lost. One of AMI’s successes is the establishment of national (NAMIs) and provincial (PAMIs) mining indabas which are the foundation of the work of AMI in participating countries. Country reports throughout the AMI reported successful examples of companies and governments engaging in dialogue in these contexts, especially in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Extractive Sector Forum (ESF) initiated by the IHRB-Nairobi Process together with the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya is another example of a multi-stakeholder platform addressing the communication gaps between CSOs/communities and the private sector.

The discussions at the AMI confirm that formats focusing on national or even more confined contexts involving respective actors are timely initiatives. There continues to be a critical need to bring all stakeholder groups together for informed and inclusive dialogue. Such efforts have a crucial role to play in translating the international framework into workable solutions at local level and translating state obligations into greater realization of rights for individuals and communities. This year’s AMI slogan - ‘making natural resources work for the people, leaving no one behind’ - will be a relevant one for years to come.

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