I first heard the words “meeting under the mango tree” as a euphemism for having a predictable, easy to access process for enabling community members to raise issues and concerns in a safe and familiar place. There is no fixed agenda and no one-size-fits-all for these exchanges. With one company we set up drop-in centres in each local village with a designated community officer in attendance everyday. Another made it known that a company person would be available “under the mango tree” for two hours every market day. I was hoping this blog would achieve something similar – the regular, free and open sharing of ideas and experiences. It hasn't worked so I'm taking a break and having a bit of a rethink. In the meantime I'll be reposting a "best of" selection from time to time.
I've written before about ten must-do-actions for a stronger social licence. These come from personal experience working in company-community relations on mine sites in Africa.
This new / different / alternative take on doing what matters comes from local communities, reflecting directly on their concerns for the well-being and development opportunities for individuals and the collective community. Developed by the Responsible Mining Foundation, the Mine Site Assessment Tool (MSAT) and based on wide-ranging testing and consultation, the set of fifteen questions is intended as a starting point to constructive engagement at any mine site, big or small. The second part of the toolkit – borrowed and included below - provides brief explanations of why each of the fifteen issues is important and needs to be taken seriously.
01 Local Employment
A company that publicly discloses the numbers of local people who work at its mine site can demonstrate its commitment to investing in the economic development of local communities. Disclosing specific data on women workers helps the company to show they are making sure that their recruitment and workplace practices do not discriminate against women. And a company can give a more complete picture of the employment situation by showing how many local people work for its contractors.
02 Local Procurement
A company that buys goods and services locally is able to support business development and economic growth in the local region. When a company gives information on local procurement, it is helping local businesses to identify opportunities to become suppliers to the mine site, and it is also showing how it is encouraging local businesses to become suppliers.
03 Air Quality
Air pollution is a major concern for many communities affected by the presence of a mine, as air pollution can affect their health, their food crops, their livestock and sometimes their livelihoods. When a company publicly discloses data on air quality around the mine, and discusses with communities about how it is managing air quality, it can build trust and reduce fears related to dust and air pollution.
04 Water Quality
A company can make its public information on water quality much more useful for affected communities by regularly disclosing water quality data at each point where it collects such data. The company can also build trust by specifying when and where water quality dropped below safety limits, and by discussing with affected communities the efforts it is taking to manage water quality.
05 Water Quantity
Access to water is a common source of conflict between mining companies and affected communities, particularly in water-stressed areas. A company can show its respect for affected communities by disclosing the amount of water it is taking out of local sources and by discussing with affected communities how its water use takes into account the water needs of local people.
06 Rehabilitation and Post-Closure
For a company to be able to leave behind a positive impact on the area around its mine site, it needs to make sure that affected communities will have sustainable livelihoods when the mine closes. This includes making sure that local people will be able to rely on healthy natural resources (land, water, etc.) and economic opportunities. The company will also need to discuss and approve the mine closure plan with affected communities to take into account how local people want to see the area when the mine closes.
Tailings dams can be very dangerous for people, livestock, and the environment. If tailings dams collapse, they can release large amounts of waste that can cause deaths, smother rivers, bury homes, destroy livelihoods, and seriously impact the environment and local communities for years to come. A company can show that it takes this issue seriously by disclosing practical information on its tailings dams, by making sure these dams are clearly signed and made safe to prevent accidental injury or deaths of people and animals, and by regularly testing the warning systems.
08 Safety of Communities
Mining is often dangerous for local communities, as accidents and conflicts can result in deaths and injuries. A company can respect local communities and help keep them safe by publicly disclosing the number and circumstances of any deaths that happen. And although it is impossible to guarantee that mining-related emergencies will never happen, a company can reduce any negative impacts by developing crisis management and emergency response plans. By including affected community members in testing these response plans, companies can help make sure the plans work well in the case of a real emergency.
09 Community Complaints and Grievances
A company that respects local communities wants to be able to know, and respond, to their concerns. This involves setting up a formal process (called a community grievance mechanism) that enables individuals or groups from affected communities to register their complaints, in order to have these issues remedied by the company. Community members are more likely to trust and use these complaint mechanisms if the company discloses how the mechanism is being used, and what steps are being taken to make sure that complaints are being dealt with effectively.
10 Safety and Health of Workers
A safe environment is one that keeps workers physically and mentally healthy. Safe working environments are generally more productive, and mine sites with good safety conditions are better able to attract workers and investors. A mining company can avoid and reduce safety risks by giving its workers appropriate protective equipment and suitable toilets and handwashing facilities that are safe for women and men. Transparent monitoring of working schedules can also prevent potentially abusive practices.
11 Women Workers
Women workers are most vulnerable to unsafe and hostile working conditions at mine sites. A company can show its respect for women workers by taking steps to prevent harassment and gender-based violence, as well as by giving women workers appropriate working clothes and protective equipment. Appropriate training is essential to help women and men understand the role gender plays and to advance gender equality in the workplace.
According to the International Labour Organisation, no person should be employed to work at a mine site unless that person has received the necessary instruction and training to be able to do the work competently and safely. So training needs to cover not only health and safety and emergency measures, but also technical skills. Educating and training workers can then lead to a more productive workforce.
14 Decent Living Wage
A living wage is one that enables workers and their families to afford a basic but decent lifestyle, live above the poverty level, and be able to participate in social and cultural life. A living wage is a fundamental right. A mining company that takes steps to make sure its employees and the people who work for contractors are paid a decent living wage can strengthen its relationship with workers, improve worker morale and productivity; and demonstrate that it respects the rights of its workers.
15 Worker Complaints and Grievances
A company that respects its workers wants to be able to know, and respond, to their concerns. This involves setting up a formal process (called a worker grievance mechanism) to give workers a means of registering complaints in order to have their concerns remedied by the company. An effective grievance mechanism will lead to more positive relations between the company and its workforce. A company can promote confidence in the grievance process by disclosing how the grievance mechanism is being used and how the company is taking steps to make sure that complaints are being dealt with effectively.