June/July 2012

Case closed

CSR Counsellor’s decision helps clarify role

By Virginia Heffernan and Peter Braul

In February, the office of Canada’s CSR Counsellor, Marketa Evans, decided to close a case against First Quantum Minerals’ copper-gold mine in Mauritania before formal mediation could begin. It was the second case to be brought to the Counsellor since 2010, when the office was created, and many were looking for evidence of the Counsellor’s capacity to mediate these disputes.

Eventually, the representative of a community near the Guelb Moghrein mine, 250 kilometres northeast of the capital city of Nouakchott, was told to take concerns about pollution, labour practices and stakeholder engagement back to First Quantum’s local grievance office for consideration.

This decision is being viewed positively by some. “The Counsellor was successful in bringing the two parties together,” said Ross Gallinger, executive director of PDAC. And essentially, that is all that Evans’ office could have done. In a final report on the case, her office states that it is not a “first resort mechanism… In this case, an operational level mechanism does exist and we have encouraged the requestors to access that first.”

Another positive outcome of the process, Gallinger said, is that First Quantum has agreed to consider hiring a local convener to raise awareness of its existing grievance process.

Senior advisor Erica Bach notified CIM Magazine that Evans could not comment on the specifics of the case, but Evans did respond to assertions that the office is ineffective. She said the office’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) method builds trust, allows parties to share information and fosters problem solving in a way that traditional tools, such as litigation or social protest, cannot.

“ADR techniques – ranging from collaborative problem solving to consensus building to facilitation and mediation – have become mainstreamed for many complex multiparty disputes,” Evans wrote in an e-mail to CIM Magazine. “The push to enhance and expand processes like this office is expected now to gain further steam, as the newly endorsed Ruggie Framework – the UN Guiding Principles – explicitly includes the expansion of all forms of access to remedy.”

Still, MiningWatch Canada argues that the process is toothless as long there is no obligation on behalf of either party to participate. “This process does not facilitate in any way people having access to information, to responses or any sort of resolution,” said Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach coordinator for MiningWatch. “As far as clearing the air (on the First Quantum case), I don’t think it worked,” he remarked.

CIM Magazine’s attempts to reach First Quantum and the community representative, Ahmed Mohamed Lemine, were unsuccessful. So whether the community’s concerns are being resolved on the ground remains unknown.

With only two cases under its belt, it may be too early to judge the effectiveness of the CSR Counsellor, said Gallinger, who added that the Canadian government’s overall CSR strategy – of which the Counsellor office is one part – continues to progress and evolve.
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