The mining industry is a source of jobs and economic advancement for the communities it operates in, yet many of those communities see it with a wary eye. As a result, companies are increasingly prioritizing social responsibility in the locations they operate both to benefit local ejidos and for the efficient and effective completion of their projects, agreed panelists at Mexico Mining Forum 2018.
“Governments grant permits but communities grant permission. Everybody thinks it is their gold: investors think it is theirs, farmers think it is theirs, the government thinks it is theirs and the company thinks it is theirs,” said Fred Stanford, CEO and President of Torex Gold, at Hotel Sheraton Maria Isabel in Mexico City on Wednesday. He highlighted the importance of communication and collaboration between all participants for a successful business relationship in mining projects.
Stanford was joined by Fabian Casaubon, Partner at Grupo GAP, Alain Charest, Vice President of Exploration for Evrim Resources, José Rodriguez, Director General of Evaluation and Organization of the Mining Fund, and Carlos Silva, CEO of Carrizal Mining and President of the Mexican Federation for Sustainable Mining.
All panelists agreed that collaboration with local communities through the entire project was essential to avoid conflicts and Casaubon highlighted the importance of early engagement for a successful mining project.
“It is essential to show these communities the respect they deserve from the first step of the projects. Many companies send lawyers to deal with local representatives but it is necessary to send high-level executives to gain the trust of these communities,” said Charest. Silva agreed and remarked upon the importance of acting as allies to these communities. “Communication and empathy are essential to build a strong relationship with them,” he said.
The negative image local communities have of the mining sector is not unfounded, as irresponsible projects have led to contamination and social inequality. “We cause a lot of disruption. When we arrive, everyone is at a similar economic level but we create inequality by making some richer than their neighbors,” said Stanford. “Furthermore, mining companies can put water sources at risk and communities do not know whether to trust us with their water.”
For that reason, “projects have to benefit local communities not political interests,” said Rodriguez. To do so, companies are increasing the participation of the local communities to ensure their interests are heard. For instance, he said that Torex Gold is increasingly involving communities in the decision process for the projects to be implemented. “In Cananea, for example, out of 30 suggested projects three were chosen by the industry and community,” he said.
Silva agreed that leadership from the state governments and companies is important to develop projects that have a good impact on the local population and mentioned Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila and Zacatecas as locations were successful projects have been implemented. “If we want communities to grant us permission they should see us on their side,” said Stanford.
All panelists agreed that a close alliance with local communities was unavoidable. “Mining is the only industry were social responsibility is fundamental. We used to be much closer to the mines than we are now and this has to change. Our role with the communities should be leadership and empathy,” said Silva.