Mineral deposits are often situated under land closely associated with indigenous peoples – through claim, custom or ownership. This association creates specific obligations for companies, as well as unique challenges and opportunities that require great sensitivity to understand and address.
Indigenous peoples are often historically disadvantaged, discriminated against and dispossessed of their lands. They are also likely to be more vulnerable to negative impacts from industrial developments, particularly those that adversely impact culture and natural resources. But they also potentially have much to gain from the positive impacts of a mining project if appropriately engaged. Addressing these issues requires special attention to the interests and rights of indigenous groups across all stages of the mining project life cycle.
Legislation in some countries requires mining companies to engage with indigenous peoples and, in some cases, to seek their consent before starting a mining operation on their land. But in most countries, neither indigenous peoples nor any other population group actually have the right to veto development projects that affect them.
However, ICMM member companies have committed to ‘work to obtain the consent of indigenous communities for new projects (and changes to existing projects) that are located on lands traditionally owned by or under customary use of indigenous peoples and are likely to have significant adverse impacts’. ICMM’s view is that all responsible mining companies should consider free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) as a principle to be respected to the greatest degree possible.
Engaging with integrity
Ensuring inclusivity is a key principle in community engagement and while it’s important to acknowledge the role of elders and other traditional community leaders, it’s not automatic that those who occupy formal leadership positions represent all interests in a community. In particular, companies need to have reach to groups within the community who are frequently excluded from decision-making processes, often women and young people. During engagement with indigenous communities, company representatives should make it clear that they are committed to acting in an inclusive and non-discriminatory way.
Where traditional decision-making structures exclude particular groups, it may be necessary to obtain their input by less direct means – for example, via community needs surveys and baseline studies, or through informal discussions with small groups. Also, company representatives should endeavour to explain to traditional decision-makers that, while they respect existing structures and will work through them wherever possible, it is important for the company to understand how its activities might affect all groups within the community.
In recognition of the often unique concerns of indigenous communities and the potential vulnerability of indigenous peoples ICMM has developed specific guidance and resources for mining companies on engaging with indigenous peoples. The Indigenous peoples and mining: good practice guide outlines principles for positive engagement that foster respect for the rights, interests, aspirations, cultures and livelihoods of indigenous peoples