Community Engagement Crucial to Mexican Mining IndustryWed, 02/12/2020 - 12:01
As mining has modernized, the understanding of the need to deliver benefits to local communities impacted by mining activities has grown. Engagement of local communities and the respect of land rights have now become an integral part of a mining company’s operations, said the panelists at the Mexico Mining Forum 2020.
The second panel of the forum was moderated by Gabino Fraga, Director General of Grupo GAP. Fraga led the highly-experienced panel in discussing how Mexico’s mining industry is bridging the gap between companies and communities, and how mining players are adapting their community outreach as they learn from the past.
Michael Harvey, the former Director of External Relations at Newmont Goldcorp and speaking in his capacity as a specialist in government relations, sustainability and communications, explained the positives and negatives of the country’s mining industry. “After working in Brazil and Venezuela, it is clear that in Mexico there is far more access to government officials. It is easier to arrange meetings with high-level officials here,” said Harvey. However, the rule of law is not always taken seriously as a central point of focus within a successful mining project by government officials, he added.
José Tovar, Community Relations Manager at Alamos Gold, outlined the increasingly problematic cleaving in understanding between communities and mining companies. “We cannot deny that the main risk with mining work has been the social operating license and there is a growing trend of social conflicts around mining projects,” he said.
A strong community relations program, which values the considerations of the local community and brings benefits directly to the people, is essential to solving this issue, Tovar said. Rather than considering community outreach a secondary concern, it must be incorporated into the business’ core strategy and be given the same consideration as factors including security and finances are. In this way, community trust can be won and growth can be generated for the local economy and the company. “The mining industry has all the potential to be an ally for sustainable growth in the territories where we operate,” he said.
Daniel Santamaría, Vice President of Minera Gorrión, Almaden Minerals, echoed the need to incorporate the local communities into the strategy of any modern mining operation. At his company’s operation in Puebla state, there is constant communication with the local community, he stated. The community’s insights are given a special status as an important reference point for the project’s development: “As companies, we have a fundamental corporate responsibility to respect human rights, in the participation, communication and confidence of local communities,” he said.
However, Mexico’s vast diversity also plays into the way that companies must interact with nearby residents. Luiz Camargo, Country Head of Minera Cuzcatlán, explained that his company’s assets in Oaxaca demonstrate that a one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement is naïve. Camargo pointed out that Oaxaca does not have as extensive a history of mining operations as other northern states like Sonora. Modern mining practices are therefore less understood in the state. It is the company’s responsibility to explain how mining has advanced, he said. At the heart of this is open communication: “We must explain the benefits that modern mining can bring to the area,” said Camargo. “We offer tours of the mine and have an open-door policy as a company, so that the community can get to know us.”
Gabino Fraga noted that Oaxaca’s migratory history, in which a high-percentage of people leave the state for work, also made the role of women within the local community more important than in other regions. Camargo agreed and explained that through community engagement, which supported education and the acquirement of skills, the company had helped local women increase their wages. “Local production is something that we try to incorporate to encourage the growth of the societies that surround us. Within these actions, we try to incorporate women to reduce the patriarchy that generally surrounds the sector,” he explained.
Santamaría also focused on the need to be proactive in seeking the opinion of the community, and how daily consideration to the views of local people was an important way to develop strong relations and avoid conflicts: “We are a company that approaches the communities directly, we have a team focused on that part specifically. It is essential to complement all our technical work,” he said. Santamaría added that it is crucial that mining companies go beyond the simple delivery of economic improvements to the local region. Strengthening of human rights, the alleviation of poverty and enhancing the access of local people to health and education services is vital, he said.