Collaboration between mining companies and NGOs is likely to become more common, thanks to the Canadian International Development Agency
’s (CIDA) new preference for public-private partnerships. In September 2011, the agency announced its support of CSR projects that three Canadian NGOs developed with mining companies in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Peru. That move has stirred up controversy in many circles and was hotly discussed at a conference on public-private partnerships for sustainable development in the extractive industries, held by McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development
(ISID), in March.
This was the first conference of its kind for ISID, which was founded in 2008. According to ISID’s founding director Philip Oxhorn, the organization has only recently seen the promise that mining holds for public-private partnerships in international development. “We didn’t talk about it in 2008,“ he said. “About a year ago, we started realizing this was the area we wanted to focus on for public-private partnerships.” As such, challenges in collaboration between extractive industries and communities, and facilitation of public-private partnerships were central to the discussion during the three-day event.
In the face of CIDA’s cancellation of funding for campaigning NGOs, the meaning of the agency’s new direction was also the subject of debate. In his keynote address, Ian Smillie, chair of the Diamond Development Initiative, indicated that while CIDA partnerships with industry are neither new nor rare, the controversy is that CIDA-supported projects are now focused more on creating Canadian commercial advantage in developing countries. Because such partnerships will be subject to scrutiny, he said, NGOs involved ought to expect repercussions, ensure the “purity” of potential funders, study the communities’ impressions of the corporate partner and research its relationship with government.
According to Oxhorn, however, misinformation about public-private partnerships is fuelling the adversarial attitudes between mining companies and NGOs. “There are a lot of people on all sides that are caught up with the way things used to be when the relationships were much more confrontational,” he pointed out. “That’s not helping anyone, including the communities. It’s much more rich and involved than is often portrayed.”
The ISID conference was intended to “find out through discussion where the stumbling blocks are,” Oxhorn remarked. “What we want to continue doing at the institute is to provide a public platform to enrich the debate.”
The panel on resource extraction and indigenous communities made clear those communities want to play an active role in their futures. Tony James, chief of the Wapichan people in Guyana, explained the origins of the land conflict that has mired 60,000 indigenous Guyanese. Only a portion of the area recognized as Amerindian land after Guyana’s independence was titled as such, and this included mining concessions – in some cases on sacred sites – that Aboriginals were not told about. He described the profound social impacts on indigenous communities that have come with mining projects, and pointed out that development can mean different things to indigenous people.
At the laws, institutions and challenges of good governance panel, Riccardo Rossi-Ricci, president of the Ottawa-Gatineau chapter of the Society for International Development, asked whether addressing basic needs in infrastructure, education and health should remain the responsibility of government and whether mining companies act as surrogates when they take over this role.
Along with critical challenges to overcome, plenty of success stories were shared as well. At the successful private sector strategies for community engagement panel, Susan Stocker, manager of sustainability and community investment at Teck Resources Limited, offered insights on how her organization has achieved successful partnerships. Teck has partnered with Unicef on its Zinc and Health initiative, and managed to solve legacy water issues at a project in Chile by partnering with Oxfam. Together, they developed dialogue tools that could address the needs of the local people.
Valerie Pascale, CSR manager at Goldcorp, spoke about her company’s partnership with Right to Play. The program they run together, called “Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth,” or PLAY, is designed to use the power of sport to develop leadership qualities in disadvantaged youth. Pascale said success depends not only on the proverbial early start, but also on providing a contact person for the communities and taking into account that any strategy needs to be customized to the context and the culture.
Oxhorn believes public-private partnerships, like those supported by CIDA, offer a new model for success in international development that goes beyond CSR. “For me, CSR is what companies need to do to maintain good relations with the community, and particularly with their shareholders and governments back home,” said Oxhorn. “But what we envision the partnership to be is an actual collaboration between the two so that more of the value added remains in the community. CSR is often seen as being one-way – the corporation to the community – and I don’t think that is sufficient.”