VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Embattled Canadian miner Tahoe Resources has given itself until the end of the year to formalise a comprehensive new indigenous peoples policy as it deals with community protests in Guatemala, that have shuttered operations at its flagship Escobal silver mine for months.
The policy is aimed at formalising and further enhancing the company's approach to engaging with indigenous people across its operations, after its Guatemala operations became ensnarled in legal action by a nongovernmental organisation against the government, which has resulted in the temporary suspension of the mining licence, until formal engagements have been completed.
According to the miner, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court on October 25, 2017, heard appeals of the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the Escobal mining licence. According to Guatemalan law, the Constitutional Court must rule within five calendar days of the public hearing. However, the Constitutional Court is yet to rule.
In its latest news release, the company for the first time recognised the "presence and importance" of the Xinka nation, located near the Escobal mine.
"In conjunction with formalising an indigenous peoples policy, we are working to take a more proactive approach to improving key relationships with indigenous peoples near our operations. It is in this spirit that Tahoe wishes to clarify and specifically acknowledge the presence and importance of the indigenous peoples located in the communities near Escobal, particularly the Xinka," president and CEO Ron Clayton said in a statement.
This commitment follows Tahoe's announcement last week that it had signed the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). As a participant in UNGC, Tahoe is undertaking a review of its policies and practices to ensure alignment with the UNGC's ten principles on human rights, labour, environment and anticorruption.
According to the company, the indigenous peoples policy will serve to enhance the company's existing human rights policy that advocates respect for the rights of all peoples, including indigenous peoples. It will reflect Tahoe's commitment to, and the UNGC's emphasis on, human rights and responsible practices, and will endeavour to encompass the specific and collective rights of indigenous groups.
"We are focused on finding a way to work constructively with the Xinka communities and other indigenous groups across the region. Tahoe respects the rights, customs and cultural heritage of all indigenous peoples, and we are committed to engagement and dialogue in all regions of our operations for the mutual benefit of everyone," Clayton noted.
On July 5, the Supreme Court of Justice temporarily suspended work at the Escobal mine, owing to discrimination and the lack of prior consultation of indigenous Xinka communities, whose ancestral territory is affected by the project. The country's Constitutional Court confirmed the suspension in late August, before overturning it earlier this month. However, the ongoing roadblock prevents Tahoe from restarting the mine, which it said would take about a week.
Tahoe has, in the past, relied on local census information stating that there were no Xinka present near Escobal, and therefore it considered the Energy and Mines Ministry's duty to consult adequate, without hearing from the Xinka.
The indigenous peoples policy will provide a framework for facilitating honest, transparent dialogue between the company and indigenous peoples that fosters understanding of perspectives, cultures and goals, with the aim of creating positive outcomes, such as agreements to help communities manage any impacts and receive direct social benefit from mining activities, the company said.
Tahoe will take a participatory approach to developing the indigenous peoples policy to ensure feedback from indigenous populations near its operations in Guatemala, Peru and Canada.
The Escobal mine is also central to a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan protesters, which the Court of Appeal for British Columbia in January last year ruled can be heard in the British Columbia court system. The Guatemalan protesters allege Tahoe security guards shot at them during a protest outside the Escobal mine in 2013, and are suing the company for negligence and battery. Tahoe in March last year appealed the ruling.