The relationship between Indigenous communities and mining companies has proven to be key to maintaining a mining project in Mexico. As the sector’s social landscape becomes increasingly complex, miners must recognize the voice of communities and get involved in what happens on their land to develop win-win relationships, say industry experts.
Today, more companies are prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, which is a reinforcement of the good practices mining companies have been implementing for years, said Miguel Romero, Lawyer, CGC Tax. As part of this development, the approach toward Indigenous communities has gained more relevance.
For over a century, Mexico has granted Indigenous peoples legal titles to their ancestral lands, but many have seen mining firms given rights to this land after the government prioritized mining over other land uses in the 1990s, Reuters explained. Nevertheless, communities can still appeal to courts, as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s revoking of two mining concession titles that had been granted in 2003 and 2009 to the company Minera Gorrión in Puebla. In this case, the court determined the Mexican authorities were obliged to facilitate the right to prior, free and informed consultation of Indigenous peoples on regarding company initiatives.
The current goal of many mining companies operating in Mexico is to prevent such issues by building close relationships with nearby Indigenous communities from the get-go.
“The first factor to consider when we talk about Indigenous communities is inclusion,” said Alfonso Caso, Managing Partner, AOSENUMA. He explains biocultural aspects need to be approached with respect, centered on human rights. “Communicating and being accepted by these companies is what becomes challenging. We need to learn so much to approach them that we might have to learn new codes and behaviors to create an effective approach,” Caso said.
In Mexico, 11 million people identify themselves as Indigenous. “Where our projects are located, we live along 224 people from the Otomi culture. Because of this, we have had to create different strategies to have a successful approach and project development,” explained Lourdes McPherson, Development and Community Relations Director, Minera Adularia.
McPherson explains that to build this strategy, the company created a social, health and environmental baseline study to fully understand the community and to be able to offer something that would really be responsive to their needs. “It is a challenge for communities to accept us. They have lived on that land and will continue to do so, which is why we have the responsibility to adapt to them,” she said.
To McPherson, communities are not “different.” They are not isolated, but active. Companies have to give them a voice, therefore. However, companies do not have to act by themselves. “Generating alliances with academia, government agencies and civil society would be fundamental to make sure we integrate these communities in the base of our strategy,” McPherson added.
Margarita Bejarano, Director of Corporate Affairs, Argonaut Gold, explained that conscious businesses go beyond financial earnings. “While it is essential for business to be profitable, it is possible for businesses to have a higher purpose that values social utility.” Bejarano added that companies will find a higher purpose where they recognize that business is a driver of human development. Therefore, companies should listen assertively, be understanding and communicate in a way that those who are not industry insiders could understand.
“To communicate empathetically, one must listen first to motivations and anxieties. Communication is the missing piece that sometimes hinders the industry. That is why it is so crucial to communicate with communities, consulting them on the development of any kind of project,” said Bejarano.
Building solid foundations around credibility can also contribute to a better community approach. Faysal Rodriguez, Senior Vice President Mexico, Torex Gold Resources, said that for the company, highlighting that they have the will to combat underdevelopment and poverty in communities has been effective on their work with these communities.
“We have collaborative development agreements, where we explain that while no interest goes above that of our investors, we aim to grant them a similar power in order to create stable conditions for both parties,” said Rodriguez. He shared that academics have helped Torex Gold in approaching the communities. The company has also created local projects that generated a positive economic spillover for the communities and strengthens the trust they have in the company.