• Share

Drawing on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to give local communities a voice

11 December 2020

Respect for human rights is one of ICMM’s 10 founding principles and is therefore embedded in all of our members’ strategies for responsible mining, writes ICMM communities and human rights lead Hannah Clayton.

As the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day highlights, COVID-19 has laid bare the structural inequalities in our societies and risks rolling back years of progress in lifting people out of poverty.

With this in mind, respect for human rights will be critical to companies’ efforts to support local recovery and help build forward better. Central to this, is ensuring local communities have a voice and are able to raise any concerns they may have about activities taking place at the mine sites near to where they live. This is a core part of a mining company’s responsibility to respect human rights and is enshrined in ICMM’s Mining Principles. Specifically, the Mining Principles commit ICMM company members to uphold the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the key international benchmark for business respect for human rights.

Part of ICMM’s role is to support and promote good practice, which we often do through the development of practical resources and guidance. Through our guidance on 'Handling and Resolving Local-level Concerns and Grievances', ICMM is one of the first membership associations to align with the criteria in the UNGPs on operational level grievance mechanisms.

In my role as ICMM, I led the development of the updated guidance along with community practitioners from across our membership. Today, on Human Rights Day, I am very pleased to be able to share the Spanish language edition of this guidance. Why Spanish? Of ICMM’s 27 company members, 20 have operations in Spanish speaking countries and we also work closely with the national associations in Peru, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador who collectively reach well beyond ICMM’s membership. In the resource rich regions of South America, companies often face challenges owing to mining-related socioeconomic conflict. While the guidance helps to address just one aspect of this, it is an important resource to guide companies to improve their channels of communication with local communities, so that issues can be resolved before they escalate.

Stakeholders across the globe are demanding more transparency and accountability from companies on their human rights performance. Having a robust grievance mechanism in place is a central part of demonstrating this, and our guidance helps to support our members to benchmark their processes against good practice. 

The guidance takes each of the eight effectiveness criteria set out in UNGP 31 in turn and suggests a range of practical ways in which an operation can design its mechanisms to ensure that it meets the criteria followed by a case study illustrating how companies have put this into practice. It also provides examples of good practices in reporting on grievance mechanisms and offers example key performance indicators for assessing grievance mechanisms, along with suggested approaches for interpreting and applying them for continuous improvement. Additionally, the guidance draws on lessons learned from our company members and other stakeholders operating at site level.

These practice tools and case studies all draw from the theory that company level grievance mechanisms should be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent and ensure that the outcomes are in accord with internationally recognised human rights. The communities that they serve should be consulted and engaged on their design and performance and learning from the concerns and complaints that arise should be addressed by the operation.

Our members have already been using both the English and Spanish versions of the guidance to help guide improvements to their own grievance mechanism processes. An example of this is member company MMG who used the guidance this year to update their own internal stakeholder grievance management procedure, working closely with its operations to deliver country and language-specific training to all employees in the field. Having access to the Spanish edition of the ICMM guidance proved useful for MMG’s Peruvian team, enabling them to ensure alignment of their site-specific mechanism with the UNGP criteria and develop continuous improvement opportunities throughout the process. The ultimate goal of the company-wide update has been to encourage stakeholder feedback on site-specific mechanisms and better engage culturally and linguistically diverse groups, as well as women and children, in MMG’s formal grievance processes.

ICMM company member Glencore also drew heavily on the guidance to conduct a global review of its local-level complaints and grievance processes against the UNGP criteria.  The review identified strengths to be shared across the business, gaps to be closed and will inform internal training materials. The objective of the review was to increase effectiveness of complaints and grievance processes as a means of strengthening relationships in societies where we operate.

Collaboration was a key factor in the success of this work. In developing the guidance, ICMM worked with Shift, the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles. We also had input from community relations practitioners working for our member operations in Peru. This was through a workshop which provided an opportunity for those practitioners responsible for setting up and implementing community grievance mechanisms in Peru to share practical experience and expertise on local context and considerations to pull through into the guidance.  

Whilst primarily aimed at the mining industry, I hope the guidance will also be of interest to other industries that operate alongside communities, such as oil and gas, agriculture and infrastructure. Any company can use this guidance to inform the design, implementation and continuous improvement of their operational-level grievance mechanisms at sites across the world. 

Access to remedy has been highlighted as one of the weak spots for both governments and companies in implementing the UNGPs and will only become more important as we build forward better together post COVID-19. Whilst more remains to be done, including by companies, we hope that this guidance is a useful practical contribution in the right direction.