JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – New research by international relief and development organisation Oxfam America has found that oil and mining companies are increasing their stated commitments to human rights, including, in some cases, adopting policies in favour of securing community approval prior to projects moving forward.
The research reviewed the public policies of 28 oil and mining companies. Five of the companies surveyed, namely Inmet, Newmont, Talisman Energy, Rio Tinto and Xstrata with total market cap of $180.58-billion, have made explicit public commitments to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), a number which has more than doubled since a 2009 Oxfam America report.
Another eight companies, including Anglo American, BP and Repsol have made somewhat qualified or indirect commitments to FPIC, which requires communities to be informed about oil, gas and mining projects in a timely manner and given the opportunity to approve or reject a project prior to the commencement of operations.
“Too often, communities have no say in the decision of whether to extract resources from their backyards and receive little information about these projects,” said Oxfam America president Raymond Offenheiser.
“With more than half of the world’s poorest people living in countries rich in natural resources, the increasing trend of companies incorporating human rights in their policies is encouraging.”
The report also found that almost two-thirds of the companies surveyed have incorporated the concept of community consent, or less strong concepts such as community support or social licence, in their policies regarding development activities, either directly or indirectly through their commitments to other standards.
Some companies that only referenced consultation or community engagement in 2009 now have policies more aligned with community support or social licence principles, including ExxonMobil, Total, Shell and Barrick Gold.
“With intensified conflicts over land, water and mineral rights, business as usual is simply not going to cut it,” said Offenheiser.
“Companies need to work with communities to ensure they have a meaningful voice in the decision-making process and that projects are designed in ways that respect human rights.”
Oxfam said the change within companies in the last three years was likely owing to the intensification of controversies and conflicts surrounding oil and gas and mining projects, coupled with new international lending standards set by the World Bank’s private sector lending arm – the International Finance Corporation.
The World Bank group’s commitment to the extractive industries sector has averaged $910-million a year over the last five financial years.
“In order for oil and mining companies to survive in the coming decades, they need to transform themselves from primarily resource extractors to development partners. Companies that fail to implement the policies will be at a competitive disadvantage," said Offenheiser.