For oil, gas, and mining companies, gaining access to land and water can make or break a project. For many communities living on that land and relying on that water, the stakes are much higher. Their land is their lifeline, and this can be lost when they don’t have a say and their rights are ignored. “The first I heard of the [Benga Coal in Mozambique] mine coming was when the trucks and machines were in my field,” said a Mozambican woman interviewed by Oxfam in November 2014. “I asked them what they were doing and they told me approval had been given…I had no choice but to move.”
Today, Oxfam launched a new report reviewing the public policy commitments of 38 oil, gas, and mining companies around issues of community engagement and rights, with a particular focus on free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). FPIC is seen as the “gold” standard in terms of community engagement, defined as the principle that indigenous peoples and local communities must be adequately informed about projects that affect their lands in a timely manner, free of coercion and manipulation, and should be given the opportunity to approve or reject a project prior to the commencement of all activities.
For indigenous peoples, FPIC is established as a right under international law. For others, it is a process which helps to safeguard other human rights and to reduce the risk of social conflict. Oxfam recommends that oil, gas, and mining companies adopt an explicit and public policy commitment to FPIC and develop detailed accompanying implementation guidelines.
Over the last year, Oxfam reached out to 38 companies and invited them to discuss their FPIC or other community engagement policies with us. We spoke to companies headquartered in the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, and South Africa, among other locations. Oxfam developed a spectrum of community engagement applicable to extractive industry projects that ranges from low (one-way information sharing) to high levels (recognition of FPIC). The figure below summarizes companies’ public commitments along the spectrum. All 38 companies in the sample at least commit to consultation or dialogue with communities.
Here are some highlights from the report:
- More companies respect the right of indigenous peoples to Free Prior and Informed Consent
Fourteen mining companies now have public commitments to FPIC for projects that affect indigenous peoples–almost three times as many as in 2012. This is a significant and welcome development that emerges from the recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights and right to self-determination. New FPIC requirements established by the World Bank’s private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Council on Mining and Metals helped to turn the tide on the issue. Nonetheless, civil society and project-affected communities now must ensure that these policy commitments translate to practice on the ground. More work needs to be done both to support companies aiming to implement FPIC effectively and to hold them accountable when they fail to make good-faith efforts to meet their policy commitments. If not, these commitments will be reduced to mere green washing.
- Existing FPIC policy commitments remain weak
The FPIC policy commitments we reviewed provide little detail on how FPIC will be implemented in practice. Further, they fail to provide unequivocal commitments to withdraw from a project if a community says no to a project. In addition, the commitments apply only to projects that will affect indigenous peoples (unlike FPIC commitments from several of the largest food and beverage companies, which apply to any project-affected local community). This represents a missed opportunity for companies to build trust and facilitate shared decision-making with all project-affected communities.
- Oil and gas companies lag behind the mining sector on their public commitments to FPIC
Not one of the 17 oil and gas companies in Oxfam’s sample has publicly committed to FPIC. This is unacceptable. A few oil and gas companies claim that although they do not have explicit FPIC commitments their policies align with the concept of FPIC. This assertion is not enough. Oxfam views a comprehensive policy framework—which includes a public FPIC commitment—as vital to promoting corporate accountability and respect for human rights. Also, transparency of policies and commitments is critical to give local communities a more meaningful role in controlling their resources and to build trust between companies and communities. In short, companies need to dust off their policies and put them in the public domain to ensure accountability.
- Companies reviewed say little publicly about gender in the context of community engagement
The impacts of the extractive industries are not gender-neutral. Women face a particular disadvantage, bearing the brunt of the negative impacts while receiving few, if any, of the benefits. They also often face exclusion from decision-making processes. Gender analysis requires specific attention in order to mitigate negative impacts and ensure equal participation. Yet, few of the 38 companies included in the sample had any mention of gender in the context of community engagement in their publicly available policy documents or guidelines.
In light of these findings, Oxfam recommends that companies:
1. Adopt an explicit and unambiguous policy commitment to Free, Prior and Informed Consent and develop detailed accompanying implementation guidelines, making these publicly available;
2. Extend FPIC commitments to include all project-affected communities, while recognising FPIC as a right under international law for indigenous peoples;
3. Conduct thorough monitoring and evaluation of FPIC processes being implemented and disclose information publicly in a language and form understood by the community while these processes are underway; and
4. Develop clear and overarching commitments to gender that respect the rights of both women and men, provide equal opportunity and equal access to mining benefits for both women and men, and involve both women and men in consultation, negotiation, and decision-making processes.
For more findings and recommendations from this research, please see www.oxfam.org/communityconsent.
The entry posted by Emily Greenspan, Oxfam Senior Policy Advisor, Extractive Industries, on 23 July 2015.
Photo: Near the community of Ka Chok, Cambodia, villagers are concerned about a mining concession granted to a Vietnamese company. Local farmers were not consulted about the concession and worry that they will not have access to farm lands in the forest. Credit: Patrick Brown/Oxfam