Engaging with extractive industries and mining stakeholders …

Uranium deposits at the Grand Canyon

Public–private partnerships in international development is a new government of Canada strategy. Mining is a key sector and an industry where Canada has a clear competitive advantage. Metals have been and still are a key component of progress. Worldwide demand is continuing to rise quickly. Companies doing exploration, extraction and processing are not just here to stay but to grow and thrive! Canada is among the largest mining nations of the world. Its mining companies are present in over 100 countries. Today, mining is more than extraction; it is also about actively engaging with local governments and communities to create a better future. Within Canada, there are also many First Nations communities impacted by mining. The government is increasingly using its diplomatic resources and its agencies abroad to partner with mining companies to promote socially responsible mining.

What has this got to do with those of us who work in the social sector, particularly our partners in the WASH Canada network?

As with any large-scale shift in policy, there are challenges but also opportunities. There are many well-documented cases of mining projects with very negative impacts. Plus, Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) are key areas affected by mining and certainly of interest to us. If we are concerned about the ultimate impact of this industry, it behooves us to take advantage of the opportunity, with the shift in policy, and get engaged right from the start.

I recently had the opportunity to do exactly this!

On behalf of WASH Canada, I participated in two multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions organized by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s, Center for Excellence in CSR and its Environmental and Social Responsibility Society. The series aims to provide a safe space to hold conversations in a collaborative spirit, so as to increase the extractive industry stakeholders’ understanding of each other, and the key challenges facing the sector. So far these multi stakeholder dialogues have been held at: The CIM Toronto Convention (May, 2013), World Mining Congress (Montreal, August 11, 2013); and Quebec Mines (Quebec City, Nov 12, 2013).

In the spirit of engagement, I joined the organizing task force before the last dialogue session held at Quebec Mines. Our team helped plan the sessions and I volunteered to moderate a reality-based fictional case study to help bring out real world concerns in our discussions.

It was useful to meet a wide range of stakeholders (from mining companies, native communities, NGOs, consultants, governments, academia) and hear their perspectives. Not surprisingly, all is not as it first seems. You realize that there are no clear ‘bad guys’ around the table and have to let go of most of your preconceptions.

The following is a summary of key takeaways from the discussions at our table –

• It is important to participate. Find a seat at the table and listen carefully to the complexities facing various stakeholders, before adding your opinions and concerns to the discussions.

• Work to empower those who most need to speak but do not have the technical skills or know how (typically from the native communities). This is in the interest of all parties and will strengthen any final agreements.

• Work collaboratively to find long-term solutions to the challenges faced by all stakeholders. A narrow focus on the immediate term will not deliver sustainable benefit.

• Recognize that all interacting parties automatically enter a social ‘humanitarian’ contract that, in the final analysis, will be far more important than any signed business agreement.

• Put in place mechanisms to have the formulae for good agreements and any success stories ‘broadcast’ so that they can be replicated where possible

• Optimizing outcomes of mining is beyond the capacity of any single stakeholder. Agreements that meet the interests of most will ultimately have the best impact on a company’s bottom line. These kinds of agreements will also generate better outcomes and a more sustainable future for the local communities and governments.

The next multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions are scheduled for March 3, 2014, Toronto (PDAC) and at the CIM 2014 Convention (May 2014, Vancouver). I strongly encourage concerned stakeholders and WASH partners to find a seat at the table!

Lotika Shaunik Paintal

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