Alison Colwell, Associate Director, Advisory Services, BSR

I have been fortunate to travel to communities around the world, welcomed into the homes of people who I consider family, friends of friends, and even strangers. No matter what country I’m in, I try to treat my hosts with respect, be considerate of their norms, and show my gratitude for their hospitality. But I am not always clear on how I can demonstrate these values in different cultures: Is it respectful, or disrespectful, to take my shoes off at the door? Should I finish all of the food on my plate, to show how delicious the meal was, or leave a little behind, to show that there was enough to eat? How do you greet others properly: a handshake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek?

While at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) 2013 Convention last week, I attended the CSR Event Series and Aboriginal Program sessions and contemplated how my personal experience compares to communities around the world that “host” mining companies. How can these companies treat their hosts with respect? How can the host communities be partners to co-design, manage, and monitor initiatives that contribute to sustainable development and are aligned with the community’s vision? What happens if some members of the host communities do not welcome the mining operation or other economic activity (e.g., a factory or farm), while others do?

Key themes discussed during PDAC 2013 include:

  • Partnerships: Communities are not only “host communities” to mining operations but also potential partners that identify and implement solutions to contribute to local hiring and sourcing, develop long-term sustainable development solutions, and monitor impacts.
  • Transparency and Collaboration: Companies should develop agreements with aboriginal and indigenous communities that establish the consultation process, land access for exploration and operations, and impacts and benefit agreements, among other issues.
  • Dialogue and Trust: A community relations professional with decades of global experience with mining exploration said communities ask the same three questions: (1) What is in it for me?, (2) What will happen to the water I drink and the air I breathe?, (3) What will be left for my children? Companies need to conduct assessments and studies to respond to these questions with data and robust plans for the mitigation of negative impacts and to co-develop strategies with the community to maximize benefits. Companies should also engage in ongoing dialogue to build trust and to listen to the expectations and concerns of community members.
  • Due Diligence: In addition to conducting environment and social assessments and baseline studies, companies should be familiar with host country laws; any gaps between international standards and national law; national, regional, and local contexts; and cumulative impacts. Companies should implement international standards such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, IFC Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability, and Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, among others.
  • Dispute Resolution: Disputes should be resolved quickly and ideally through dialogue at the local level. Companies can enable this through ongoing dialogue, grievance mechanisms, and remedy processes. For example, Canada has established a dispute resolution office for the extractives sector, as well as a process for project-affected people, through the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor.

We are all at times hosts and guests, and this relationship is considered across many global communities to be one of the most important, even sacred, aspects of human society. When guests take the time to understand their hosts’ worldviews, expectations for sustainable development, and visions for the future, and work to develop trust and empathy, we often can find a common ground and collaborate for outcomes that are better for both parties.


For more on BSR’s work in the extractives sector, please see our recent articles “Top 10 CSR Issues and Trends for the Extractives Industry in 2013” and “Mining in Latin America: Navigating the Divide Between Policies and Local Opinion.”