Letter to the Editor: CSR counsellor should be applauded

An editorial in The Northern Miner criticized Canada’s Extractive Sector CSR counsellor, Marketa Evans, for “shooting another blank” in reference to the office’s second case, involving First Quantum Minerals’ Guelb Moghrein mine in western Mauritania and a nearby community (T.N.M., April 16-27/12).

We disagree with this characterization and believe that the counsellor’s conclusion was the correct decision and her involvement helpful to both parties.

The Northern Miner correctly points out that the Office of the CSR Counsellor is not a “first-resort mechanism”. Communities and companies caught in a dispute should first try to resolve their issues through local dispute-resolution mechanisms, including those developed by companies, before seeking a third party, such as the CSR counsellor, to intervene.

The CSR counsellor was, therefore, correct in her decision to close the case after bringing First Quantum Minerals and the nearby community together to use the dispute-resolution mechanism established by First Quantum as a starting point. The CSR counsellor’s services will still be available to these two parties should they not reach a mutually satisfactory outcome by working together locally. Hence, the CSR counsellor should be applauded for the role she played in this case. While the role played may not have been a large one, her actions brought two parties at odds with each other together to begin the process of problem-solving.

The counsellor’s mandate alludes to the need for mining companies to develop their own dispute-resolution mechanisms that are considered credible and accessible by local communities to address concerns. Local-level dispute resolution is a critical component to any mine’s community engagement strategy and both the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada encourage their members to establish such mechanisms through their respective programs: Towards Sustainable Mining and e3Plus.

From family law to commercial disputes to complex environmental and land use issues, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has proven to be an increasingly effective and preferred method of resolving conflicts. ADR techniques, such as collaborative problem-solving, consensus building, and facilitation and mediation have become mainstream for complex multiparty disputes over the past decade.

These types of conflict-resolution approaches build trust and working relationships. They allow parties to share information and enable creative resolution of disputes. They are effective because they respond to real world challenges and foster problem-solving in a way that traditional tools, such as litigation or social protest, cannot.

The International Finance Corp.’s compliance/advisor ombudsman (CAO), who employs a similar process to that of our own CSR counsellor, has a positive track record going back to 2000 and has recently accepted its 100th case. The office has a positive reputation based on its history of settling over half of disputes through mediation and collaborative problem-solving.  The remaining cases are either ongoing or were referred to the compliance arm of the office. As Canada’s CSR Counsellor employs a process modelled after the CAO, we should look to our international counterpart’s success to measure the potential of our own counsellor.

The MAC and the PDAC represent a wide breadth and depth of this sector, both domestically and internationally, and we believe that it remains in the best interest of the companies and the communities within which we operate to find local, collaborative solutions.

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO, Mining Association of Canada, Ottawa
Ross Gallinger, executive director, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Toronto

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