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Local communities need to be included in mining developments, Munk conference told

"Trust has to be earned"

indigenous communities want respect and communication (photo by Kieran Alkerton)

Mining may be controversial but it isn’t going away anytime soon, moderator Paul Cadario warned the audience at the start of a daylong conference on the geopolitics of mining held last week at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

“We all take for granted what comes out of the earth, and nobody’s proposing that we give up our cellphones or stop constructing buildings or turn off our electrical power plants,” said Cadario, a former World Bank senior manager, former president of the University of Toronto Alumni Association and now an advisor to the Munk School.

Cadario’s view was echoed at the close of the conference by Keith Stewart, a part-time U of T lecturer and Greenpeace campaigner. “We would have to move to a world without extractive resources if we wanted to get rid of mining. That’s very difficult to envision.”

The conference was organized by a group of Munk Master of Global Affairs studentsCo-organizer Hannah Cohen noted that the very venue of the conference could be considered controversial, as the Munk School is named for Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold mining company.

Speakers at the two panel sessions – on economic development and responsible and sustainable business practices – included representatives of the mining industry, NGOs, journalists and academics. In the audience were Munk students, academics, people who work in the mining industry and anti-mining activists.

Since the members of both panels were in agreement that mining wouldn’t stop in the foreseeable future, discussion focussed on how to mitigate the negative effects of mining on local communities and how to ensure that those communities reaped some benefits from mining and maintained some control over it.

Teo Dechev, CEO of mining company Mundoro Capital and a U of T mineral engineering graduate, said her company makes a point of involving the local community right from the start. “You have to ask what the community wants,” she said.

However, companies such as Mundoro usually don’t have much money to allocate for corporate social responsibility (CSR). “We believe that corporate social responsibility has to come in at the beginning, but that’s the point where you really don’t have the money to allocate for CSR.”

One problem is that mines are usually started by smaller operators which then sell out to larger companies when the mine proves to be viable, added Rotman grad Mark Kostove, who works for a company that partners with mining companies on health initiatives abroad. “There’s a break between exploration and production,” he said. “The junior (companies) make promises that the new operators claim they don’t know about.”

Kostove said his own firm, Fio Corporation, is fighting malaria in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on behalf of a mining company. Corporate social responsibility is just good business, he said. “Healthy workers make healthy profits. If your miners are sick with malaria, they’re not going to be very productive.”

But, he added, sometimes it’s difficult working with local groups, some of which have conflicting interests. “The challenge is developing trust. You’re not from there [the region where the mine is being planned], so the people there are wondering whether you have their best interests in mind. That trust has to be earned.”

U of T political science PhD student Joaquim Bardallo Bandera argued for inclusive development. “Indigenous peoples want a respect for their rights, a respect for the present and a respect for the future. But most of all, they want to be informed.”

That dialogue is starting to happen, at least in Canada, said Anthea Darychuk, a research coordinator with Engineers Without Borders’ Mining Shared Value project. “The tide is changing, at least in Canada,” said Darychuk, a U of T Master of Public Health graduate. “Some First Nations communities are now in true partnership with mining companies.”