Natural-resources extractive companies are profiting financially and socially when they consult with affected communities before and during the construction of projects.
“Rio Tinto and De Beers, for example, have negotiated agreements with communities to avoid harm and provide benefits. In so doing, they have gained local support for projects, and communities have seized opportunities for development,” said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI). “But more work needs to be done. Too often, the rhetoric in support of community engagement does not match the practice.”
The report, Breaking Ground: Engaging Communities in Extractive and Infrastructure Projects, takes an in-depth look at international community engagement standards and how they often fall short of providing guidance to companies and communities. The work follows WRI’s 2007 report, Development Without Conflict, and is designed as a user’s guide to help companies and local community liaisons implement successful standards on-the-ground.
“Many national laws and financial institutions’ policies require companies to implement some type of community engagement in extractive and infrastructure projects, but do not necessarily provide guidance on how to do so,” said Kirk Herbertson of WRI, lead author of the report. “When local communities participate in the design and implementation of a project, they are more likely to understand and support the changes brought about by the project.”
In one of the examples from the report, community engagement during the construction of a natural gas project in the Philippines saved a U.S. company millions by allowing the company to complete construction ahead of schedule. In another example, from Guatemala, a mining company helped rebuild its damaged reputation by inviting local communities to test and monitor water quality, as a way to provide credible assurances that a mine was not polluting their water source.
WRI’s accompanying video documentary on Thailand’s Mae Moh coal power project shows what happens when companies and governments refuse to engage the communities they develop. Hundreds of people filed a lawsuit against the government-controlled Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), alleging the coal mine and power plant poisoned them with toxic sulfur dioxide emissions and mine dust, and damaged their crops. On Tuesday of this week, which is officially the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Week, a Thai court ruled that EGAT must compensate each of the victims and restore the environmental damage of the coal mine.
Extractive industry experts said at the World Bank conference that they continue to recognize the importance of engaging communities in mining projects, despite the ongoing economic crisis.
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