Indigenous mining relationships: Is the mining industry expanding its ethical credentials?

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Indigenous mining relationships: Is the mining industry expanding its ethical credentials?

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Indigenous mining relationships: Is the mining industry expanding its ethical credentials?

Subheading text
Mining firms are being held to stricter standards that consider indigenous rights.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 1, 2023

    Indigenous communities' cultures, practices, and religions are closely related to their environment and native lands. Meanwhile, many of these indigenous land claims contain rich natural resources that governments and industries want to mine for various market applications, including materials needed for global renewable energy infrastructures. Novel partnerships between mining companies and indigenous communities may see a fair resolution to these ongoing conflicts of interest, and in a manner that can lessen the direct ecological impact on indigenous lands, waters, and cultures.

    Indigenous mining relationships context

    The people of Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc in Canada’s British Columbia province practice reindeer herding and hold spiritual connections to the land; however, this tribe’s land claims contain resources like copper and gold that have led to disputes between the tribe and the province. The grounds of the Sami people in Sweden and Norway are also threatened by mining, with their traditional livelihood of reindeer herding and fishing in danger because of alternate land uses.   

    States and their laws ultimately justify the infringement of aboriginal rights if it leads to societal development, though consultation with the indigenous communities in question is often mandatory. For the main part, mining companies continue to mine first and deal with the consequences later. In instances like destroying livelihoods on Papuan indigenous lands, they mention how the land is state property and that monetary compensation has been paid to the communities. The use of force is common in conflict-prone countries as well. 

    By the late 2010s, many mining companies began releasing corporate responsibility statements to demonstrate their environmental and social responsibilities, often to improve the industry's perception. Likewise, a small but growing number of these firms are trying to seek consultants to inform them on how best to work with indigenous cultures.   

    Disruptive impact 

    The mining industry has been facing increasing delays in getting projects approved, and this trend is expected to continue. The main reason for this trend is the growing criticism of the industry and the pressure applied by indigenous communities, environmental groups, and concerned citizens. The sector is now held to higher standards regarding indigenous rights and environmental impact assessments. They will need to engage more closely with local communities and address ecological concerns before starting operations.

    Indigenous people now demand a greater say in how mining projects are planned and executed on their lands. Mining companies will have to engage in meaningful consultation with these communities, respect their rights, and obtain informed consent before starting mining activities. This process could lead to delays and increased costs. However, it could also establish a new standard that is more sustainable in the long term.

    Countries are also exerting more effort to collaborate with indigenous peoples. For example, Sweden and Norway are looking to give the Sami people more control over their lands. This move is part of a broader trend toward recognizing the rights and sovereignty of indigenous peoples worldwide. As more indigenous communities stage protests against the unethical use of their lands, governments and mining companies may receive increasing pressure from human rights groups and, more importantly, ethically-minded consumers and investors.

    Implications of indigenous mining relationships

    Wider implications of improved indigenous mining relationships may include:

    • The effects of mining on the environment receiving greater public scrutiny as indigenous struggles are exposed.
    • Increased documentation of the use of force and crimes against indigenous people done to access their restricted lands. 
    • Governments facing increased pressure to compensate indigenous communities for the historical abuse of their lands and cultures. 
    • States and companies creating opportunities for dialogue and mutual understanding, which can help to build trust and reduce social conflicts. 
    • Companies being able to access traditional knowledge and expertise by involving indigenous peoples in the mining process, which can lead to more efficient and sustainable mining practices. 
    • The development and adoption of new technologies that are better suited to the needs of indigenous communities. 
    • Opportunities for local indigenous employment and skills development. Likewise, mining companies may increase their hiring or consultations with social scientists and anthropologists.
    • Mining companies being required to adhere to specific laws and regulations related to indigenous rights and land use. Failure to comply with these laws can lead to legal disputes and reputational damage.

    Questions to consider

    • How can states and companies ensure their relationships with indigenous communities are based on mutual respect and understanding?
    • How can indigenous communities ensure that their rights are protected in the context of mining projects?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: