Addressing the Social LicenseMon, 10/22/2018 - 17:22
Managing social matters is key for the success of mining projects but can all projects have a social license? Marvin Rosales, Country Manager Mexico of environmental consultancy CTA, believes the answer is no. “The greatest failure in Mexican mine operations is that companies do not address social issues from the exploration phase,” he says. “Not every mining project will have a social license, but even in the mining regions with the most opposition to projects it is possible to have projects developed through a socially-focused plan,” he says.
Unfortunately, Rosales says many operators decide to ignore local communities until the project is profitable and worthy of development. “When companies eventually decide to acknowledge local communities, they are already offended and opposed to the project,” he says. “Miners often face social obstacles that could have been managed from the beginning.”
In approaching locals from the outset, it is crucial to establish an orderly plan of what is to be offered to the communities throughout the whole mine cycle. For example, Rosales explains that geologists usually promise certain things to the community that the operator ignores. But regardless of who promised what, locals will expect this promise to be fulfilled and failing to do so could damage the social relationship.
CTA strives to prevent this from happening by making the initial approach to local communities and gathering the required data to create a fitting social plan. “This implies having regular meetings with locals to explain the project, the people involved on it and the processes they have to follow for asking clarification or giving feedback about the project,” he explains. CTA conducts its assessment with a highly-qualified staff that has extensive experience in the industry. “Our industry expertise is broad as 90 percent of our clients and cases are specialized in mining,” he says. CTA has collaborated in Mexico with Goldcorp, Coeur Mining, Minera Frisco, Fresnillo and Agnico Eagle, to mention a few.
Due to this expertise, Rosales says the central and southern regions of Mexico are the most complicated for obtaining social licenses, normally because there is a strong mining tradition in northern states like Chihuahua, Sonora and Durango. “The difficulty often lies in tropical areas with large indigenous populations, which we believe are the most conflicted with the mining industry in Latin America,” he says.
NGO’s often find in indigenous communities a far-reaching sentiment. “I think there is a sense of animosity that dates back to the Spanish conquest,” he says. “So, it is easy for indigenous communities to be opposed to mining companies as they can perceive mine operations as a foreign invasion intended to take away their resources.” To better tackle this issue and foster mining activity, he says it is crucial for local governments to intervene along with mining companies in addressing social matters. “Governments should have a specialized department to oversee the relationship between local communities and mining companies,” he says. “This department should aim to inform communities about the industry and the benefits it yields.”
To get communities on side, he says miners can also make extra effort not to damage local resources. He suggests governments work from a regulatory front to enhance mining performance. “We have seen that Mexico’s mining norms are lagging as they are scarcely updated due to political processes,” he says. For example, laboratory provisions follow EPA’s standards but at a slower pace. CTA has an ISO17025 certified laboratory operating in Guatemala and outsources mainly to Canada and the US to process its samples taken in Mexico. “I advise operators to carefully vet laboratories that comply with international standards to guarantee high quality of their reports,” he says.