José Tovar
Community Relations Manager
Alamos Gold
View from the Top

International Standards for Guaranteeing Community Development

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Thu, 04/30/2020 - 11:18

Q: What is Alamos Gold’s approach to community relations?

A: Our vision at Alamos Gold is to create long-standing and sustainable value for all our stakeholders. We work to understand the priorities and cultures of the communities in which we conduct our operations, so as to effectively support appropriate community development programs that provide benefits lasting beyond the operating life of our mines.

In the particular case of our project in Sonora, we believe the mining industry has the potential to promote social development in the region that could last beyond the lifecycle of the mine. To achieve this, we adopted the global Agenda 2030 of the United Nations, specifically the Sustainable Development Goals as well as, nationally, the CONEVAL indicators to measure poverty.

In addition, we work to define strategies for facilitating meaningful engagement with host communities in a spirit of honesty, accountability, integrity and legality. This helps us to manage expectations from host communities. When a community learns that a mine is coming, expectations grow: it is often hoped that the mining company will provide all the services the government is not providing. That is not feasible, nor desirable, that is the role of the government. The company can only provide certain forms of support as allies for promoting regional development in hand with local government, communities and universities.

Q: How does Alamos Gold’s social division work with external stakeholders, including the community and the government?

A: We seek to build trust among stakeholders so we follow three principles for this: respect all, legality and fulfillment of agreements, work to empower others and become an ally.

In this sense, with respect to the government, we seek to form alliances for promoting development. We are not a duplicate government or a parallel state. Rather, we are promoters and development managers. We work to bring governments, communities, academic institutions and the private sector to the table. We strive for an open and enriching discussion about the issues the community faces. Then, we figure out how each one of us can contribute to solving these issues. The spirit behind this is that we are all jointly responsible for regional development.

As for the communities, they should see themselves as agents of their own development. Alamos Gold tries to empower them so that they can promote their own success. If we become allies, we can help each other and strike mutually beneficial agreements with the authorities and other stakeholders. The population around the mine wants development and prosperity. The company is a facilitator that supports the community in the achievement of that development. For instance, last year we signed a collaboration agreement with a local university and local government to promote urban development with a neighborhood community. This tool will become the road map for the community to drive growth.

Q: How do you manage internal conflicts within a community?

A: We constantly aim to promote an open and respectful dialogue among stakeholders. This has proved to be the best way to prevent social conflict. To achieve this, we implement different mechanisms based on best practices by the International Financial Corporation's Performance Standards, such as Grievance Mechanism, Public Consultation, Informed Community Meetings, Minutes of Agreements, Face to Face meetings and the opening of our Community House.

Through these mechanisms, we aim to give voice to all stakeholders, understand their expectations, concerns, and interests in order to manage them appropriately.

If a conflict arises, we recommend establishing an open dialogue with the people directly involved to understand the reason behind it. It is critical to show evidence that you are willing to listen to anybody and give them an appropriate response. This what we meant by respect for all, the assurance that you will be heard, your concerns will be attended, and you will get a response accordingly.

Q: What risk does the indigenous consultation represent for mining projects?

A: I see indigenous consultation as a social management tool. Like any other, it represents challenges but also opportunities. At the moment it presents many challenges, it requires an additional effort from mining companies and local authorities to consolidate a clear and coherent understanding and framework on how to proceed and implement it. But in the long term, I think it will help consolidate and shield mining projects in Mexico. It will bring certainty.

At Alamos Gold, we have already started to question what would be needed in order to implement it, what kind of capacities we need to develop in our team. Currently, our social team includes social science professionals, and, in our projects, we are looking for ways to incorporate the principles of indigenous consultation based on international standards and experiences: prior, free and informed consultation.

Q: What has been Alamos Gold’s main community relations success story in Mexico?

A: I would say the Mulatos Resettlement process. The mining industry faces an ever-growing challenge to effectively manage social performance—particularly project impacts of economic and physical displacement. Displacement, although highly disruptive, can and should represent an opportunity for both companies and communities to produce positive change. Thus, we understood this project from the beginning as an opportunity to improve social performance by serving as a platform to foster collaboration and human rights, as well as catalyze social and economic development.

Our approach followed the IFC Performance Standard 5, encompassing six basic principles: minimize the scope of displacement to the greatest extent feasible; undertake a collaborative planning process with those affected to define the terms and conditions of resettlement; document the planning process in a comprehensive Resettlement Action Plan (RAP); undertake individual negotiations on the basis of the RAP to sign individual agreements; ensure access to an effective grievance management system and provide support programs to ensure the re-establishment of livelihoods and to maximize participation and benefits for vulnerable populations.

The Mulatos resettlement process involved over 70 households and facilitating opportunities for better housing and livelihoods, and basic rights such as land titles and services, education and employment. In 2019, this project was awarded by CEMEFI as Best Corporate Social Responsibility Practice.

Alamos Gold is a Canadian-based intermediate gold producer with diversified production from four operating mines in North America, including the Young-Davidson and Island Gold Mines in northern Ontario, Canada, and the Mulatos and El Chanate Mines in Sonora, Mexico.

Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst