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Rethinking extractive industries

Rethinking extractive industries

By Rodrigo Arce Rojas with the collaboration of Marina Irigoyen

Populations that are affected and polluted environments show that there is still a long way to go before we can affirm that we are indeed facing a generalized movement of responsible extractive industries. Although there are many companies that assume highly innovative and socially responsible codes of conduct and even leaders of well-known mining companies have made progress in generating a Shared Vision of Mining, this does not reach the representative union instances, worth saying the National Society of Mining and Petroleum (SNMPE). On the other hand, the concerting efforts of social, business and State leaders stand out when establishing the Mining and Sustainable Development Dialogue Group as a multi-stakeholder group.

In this way, we see an evident resistance to building a shared vision of responsible mining. The relationships that have developed between the various actors involved in the extractive industries have not succeeded in structuring a framework of trust and shared vision and each of these actors thinks that they are doing things well, the end result being that distances are maintained, mutual fears and misgivings. This invites us to rethink the relationships that are verified in extractive activities, overcoming linear, sectoral and deterministic approaches.

Heterogeneity within an apparent homogeneous actor

The first thing to recognize is that there are no homogeneous actors with compact positions and interests. The apparent conflicts between local communities and extractive companies are actually multiple and multidirectional conflicts that occur not only within each of the actors (due to issues of power, gender, age, among other factors) but also implicit conflicts with the State that sometimes become explicit. The State itself is complex because there are different positions (depending on its objectives, competencies and functions) regarding the role they must play in the development of responsible extractive industries. Likewise, there are third parties who intervene with different roles and with tangible impacts on the conflict, in one direction or another.

Faced with this diversity of actors, it would be necessary to wonder under what paradigms, beliefs, mental models each of the groups and subgroups approach the relationship. It should also be asked with what type of thinking each of the actors develop the relationship with their specificities. Also, what emotions and feelings are displayed and which together with the other factors become narratives, discourses, attitudes, behaviors and practices. There is no doubt then that we are facing complex systems and it should be addressed as such.

Faced with the finding that extractive activities in any case generate social and environmental impacts, the formula proposed - in most cases where projects are accepted - is that the benefits for all are amplified and the benefits reduced as far as possible. damage. The formula seems simple, but it should be asked whether in fact there is an equitable (re) distribution of benefits and what is the degree of acceptable impact, also by whom. Clearly, the equation is poorly resolved and that is what fuels the conflict.

The actors, their stated objectives and their nature

It would then be necessary to ask each of the actors involved (including their own social diversity) what their true objectives are and if they are all aware of them. Are they personal or collective goals or an integration between the individual and the collective? Are they material goals, transcendent goals, or a mixture of them? Are they objectives of immediate interest or do they have the capacity to address the medium and long term? Do they correspond to conjunctural views or to views that strategically incorporate the medium and long term? Are they fundamentally economic objectives or are they objectives that address sustainability in its entirety?

The clear definition of objectives has to do with the clarity of positions, interests and the consistency of your proposals. It is appreciated that in many cases transactional exchange objectives prevail and more strategic objectives such as those that seek individual and collective well-being within the framework of sustainable territorial development and therefore with a sustainability perspective are lost sight of. It would be necessary to wonder to what extent all actors take as a reference the Sustainable Development Goals to 2030 that we as humanity have imposed ourselves when world leaders adopted a set of global goals to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all in the world. United Nations Organization, UN, a few years ago. By not necessarily considering a more strategic look, the actors lose themselves in more biased and pragmatic visions of their immediate objectives and interests, which affects the quality of relationships. From this perspective, the relationship is considered good to the extent that everyone manages to satisfy their immediate legitimate needs, although it is not necessarily good for the communities themselves and for the environment.

An obvious case is that of employment. Many times, under conditions of poverty and extreme poverty, local communities legitimately cling to job opportunities, which affects their ability to negotiate. An approach that focuses solely on needs can ultimately lead to a clientelist and welfare relationship and also distorts the local labor market, generally affecting agricultural activity that cannot sustain those wage levels.

The needs are legitimate, the problem is when the relationship only or mainly focuses on them. If each of the actors only thinks about satisfying their needs, then the particular interest prevails and does not generate a collaborative, synergistic and constructive relationship of interdependence. Depending on the other, in an asymmetric relationship, also nullifies or affects the ability to release your own capacities, faculties and potentialities. All of this leads us to think about how the power relations between all the actors involved (and within their organizations or institutions) are being managed to see if sustainability is being built or only temporary action is being taken.

In light of this, it is not just about who is for or who is against extractive industries. We have extreme situations in which there are dilemmas about job creation and pollution. It is misleading to appeal to the fact that the population supports the extractive industry when a clientelistic relationship is involved. It is artificial to say that extractive industries generate economic development and prosperity when there are populations that have to live with polluted water, soil and air. Nor is it only a matter of redistributing wealth if the more income the villagers receive has to be at the cost of incorporating heavy metals into their bodies.

The quality of the relationships between actors cannot therefore be reduced solely to the economic measurement of the contribution of extractive industries, be it at the national or local level. The final equation needs to incorporate human rights, dignity, health, happiness, and not consider attacks on the human rights of local populations in the extractive industries as collateral effects of progress.

It is necessary to recognize that in the current way, how the relationships between the actors of the extractive industries are developing have various distortions and biases that do not allow us to see reality in its full dimension. If local populations sacrifice their health for income then the task is imperfect. If local populations concentrate all their development possibilities solely on the basis of the presence of extractive industries, then we have not created conditions for autonomy.

Finally, if local populations perceive that the State is more interested in promoting extractive industries than in guaranteeing their rights, then we can recognize that the task is not complete. Which leads us to ask ourselves, is the State capable of managing mining, do we have the institutional capacities to manage a sector of this importance, or what else do we have to do to have responsible extractive industries? And on the other hand, in what aspects should social organizations, at the intermediate and local level, be strengthened to carry out quality dialogues and negotiations?

All this leads us to the moral and civic imperative to rethink the relationships between the extractive industries actors. Economic growth cannot be called prosperity if it does not help to liberate the capacities, powers and potential of local communities and if it does not guarantee physical health and psychological integrity.

It is a challenge for dialogue to promote rapprochement between the parties, taking care not to affect the enforceability of fundamental human rights, aiming to be a genuine and transformative dialogue.

Let's just consider that in 2016, according to figures from the Central Reserve Bank of Peru, mining exports represented 65% of the total value of the country's exports and generated direct and indirect employment for two million people.


Video: Louis Putzel - China and sustainability in global extractive industries (July 2021).