Mine-community relations: the case of bauxite mines in Guinea

Jonathan Brun


Paul Maclean is the president of EEM impact and has consulted for companies mining bauxite in Guinea in West Africa for over 20 years. Here he discusses the standards that mining companies need to meet when they’re consulting with and resettling communities as well as the practical realities of meeting these standards.

Una Jefferson: So you and your colleagues have been providing consulting services for bauxite mines in Guinea, in West Africa. Can you start by telling me the kinds of services you provide and how long you’ve been doing this?

Paul Maclean: We have been providing environmental and social impact assessment services and related services, for almost 25 years now. We have been active in Guinea for almost five years. The services that we’ve been providing there began with an environmental and social impact assessment for a company that was expanding its mining operation. They needed environmental and social impact assessment for the Guinean government. In Guinea, a government entity needs to approve any such study as they are concerned if the project meets with the requirements of Guinean law in terms of impacts and recommended mitigation measures.

Una Jefferson: Am I correct in understanding that you’ve also been helping the mine company with their relations with the community surrounding the mine and also with resettling communities?

Paul Maclean: Yes. So as part of the ESIA or the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment process, there is by law, a requirement to do consultation. Some of that consultation is a responsibility of the proponent of the project and some of it is the responsibility of the government entity. The government entity ensures that people have an opportunity to stake their claim in terms of the issues of importance to them. We were involved in helping the proponent conduct those early stage consultations with the various stakeholders in the region. The government afterwards consulted the affected parties and asked them whether or not they had been appropriately consulted and if they received the recommended mitigation measures as part of the management plan.

Una Jefferson: And what about resettling communities?

Paul Maclean: Maybe I should back up for a second and just sort of explain how it got to resettlement because a resettlement isn’t a given in any project. A resettlement as defined by IFC, International Finance Corporation involves POP-Project Affected People who are impacted in such a way that they are going to have to be resettled and it cannot be avoided. In this case, the proponent has to follow a process. The reason I mentioned the International Finance Corporation is because the particular company that we were dealing with was seeking finance from the IFC for its expansion of the project. Resettlement of communities was one of the conditions laid out by the IFC’s environmental and social performance standards and it would have to be met in order for the project to proceed and be accepted for financing.

Una Jefferson: So you’ve just mentioned both government requirements and investor standards. To what extent would you say this company hired you in order to meet government requirements? To what extent was it motivated by investor standards?

Paul Maclean: Almost exclusively by investor requirements. They are the highest standards in the land, in many lands, not only in that part of West Africa. Their standards are seen as the gold standard. The way it’s done is that a social action plan is drawn up which lists all of the measures that need to be implemented. They range in type from management systems to actual management plans that have to be put in place in order for the financing to be approved. The banks or the lender group then retains the services of an independent consultant or an independent auditing body that comes in and ensures that whatever work the client is doing meets their required standards.

Una Jefferson: I want to also ask you about consulting with communities and other stakeholders. How do you go about identifying who to include in this process? I imagine that some of the actors who might be most vulnerable to impact from a mine project might not necessarily be the most influential actors. And some stakeholders like NGOs for example, may not be directly impacted, but they could really influence the mine’s social license to operate?

Paul Maclean: It’s a really good question and I’m afraid I don’t have a great answer because a lot of the work in a stakeholder engagement is done internally by the company. This particular company has been in operation for many years and so they know their stakeholders very well. There are different ways of mapping stakeholders, according to their importance, influence on a project and geography. Aside from the ones that you would expect i.e. the lenders and the government, there are probably two other large stakeholder groups that were of importance. This part of Africa is home to the Western Chimpanzee, whose habitat is right in the zone. And so there are environmental NGOs, biodiversity NGOs who are really concerned about the work that goes on there and already have an active role. So they are a stakeholder with which the client and we have to engage. The other group of stakeholders that are important are of course the local ones that are right in the mine. There is a pattern of land use related to activities that use the land differently. And so those stakeholders and their particular needs and concerns with regard to the project have to be understood. And when it comes time to physically moving people, then it’s a major undertaking and they have to be very closely consulted. Their livelihoods have to be measured. Their inventory has to be taken up, of what they own, what they lay claim to. According to the IFC standards they are to be given at least as good an option when they move as what they had before they moved.

Una Jefferson: What types of accommodations have you seen made for this mining project in response to either impacts identified during the scoping phase or concerns raised by the community?

Paul Maclean: There’s a full range of types of compensation that can be put in place ranging from financial compensation or support in terms of livelihood restoration. So, in the event that there is economic displacement, when people are not able to continue doing what they have done before because of the project, then they have to be somehow given a form of livelihood or presented with options that will meet their needs. Either that or they can be relocated and their same livelihoods can be restored at the new location.

Una Jefferson: I want to talk a bit about that resettlement process. Standards for mining resettlement emphasize the importance of starting early, but due to some of the peculiarities of the mining industry, like fluctuating commodity prices or companies changing hands frequently, it seems like advanced planning doesn’t always happen. For example, it seems fairly frequent for communities to be resettled during the operational phase, sometimes in a really piecemeal fashion. How have you encountered these tensions and how have you negotiated them?

Paul Maclean: Well, we’re just a bit players in the whole process. We fortunately have the backstop of the IFC requirements. In situations where our view and our clients view differs, we could say to our clients that you have a bunch of options here but the only ones that are going to ensure that your financing gets into place is are ones that meet the standards. So we certainly feel the pressures and see the pressures on the clients for reasons that you’ve cited. So yes, the pressures there, yes, it would be ideal for settlement negotiation to start early but in our experience it’s not really much choice because the standards have to be met. Things get delayed until it’s done properly according to the standards.

Una Jefferson: When you say the mining industry is learning how to assimilate these standards or requirements into their processes, what does that look like for the project you’ve been working on?

Paul Maclean: Well, from no prior experience to resettlement that is completely to the gold standard is difficult for any organization. So that’s what it has taken. First of all, it takes understanding by the management of the company that this is how it should be done and that this is how it’s done elsewhere in the world and this is how lending institutions determine the appropriate way to do it in a way that respects people’s human rights and so on. Then it’s a capacity building within the organization to make sure that they have, the resources, financial and human to do this. First time you do anything, you don’t necessarily do it the right way, so you have to have it checked and verified and reviewed and improved. So it’s a process.

Una Jefferson: I’m actually not familiar with how old the IFC standards are, but you’re saying that the capacity still often isn’t there within mining companies to deal with them?

Paul Maclean: Well, it’s probably unfair to make a big generalization about mining company’s ability to do this. I mean there are the larger mining companies who are quite savvy and have checks and balances to ensure that their shareholders, staff, and stakeholders are on this stuff all the time. Smaller companies struggle more, both because it’s expensive to do this properly and they might not necessarily have the means or the prior exposure to doing it that way. The standards have been around 2007 but the World Bank has had guidelines and directives for many, many years but they only become important to a mining company when they need to apply them. And that’s when they start to assimilate the information.