Raising social accountability issues in the extractive industries

MANILA -- “Open for business”. This was how Philippine President Benigno Aquino III described the Philippine mining sector in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on 23 September 2010.

Aquino said the Philippines, which has some of the largest deposits of gold, nickel, copper, and chromites in the world, aims for “responsible extraction of [its] vast minerals resources”.

AI photoThe statement has sparked a vigorous online discussion among Filipino NGOs, particularly those involved in issues related to extractive industries, governance, and basic sector support.

NGOs are raising social accountability issues that they believe have not been adequately addressed by government policymakers.

These include:

  • relatively weak government oversight over revenues generated by the mining sector;
  • perceived systematic violation of community rights;
  • increasing threat to environmental security;
  • the speed at which extractive companies are moving in; and,
  • lack of adequate monitoring by civil society of extractive industry operations.

Overarching threads in the online discussion are the need for local communities to have access to right and timely information about mining activities, and sufficient capabilities so that they can engage successfully with both government and industry.

Some of the measures that Filipino NGOs have put forward to push for stronger social accountability in the extractive industries sector include:

Providing information.  A better—and balanced—understanding of the sector, particularly how it operates and the laws governing it in relation to community rights, will help prepare community people to deal with the issues.

The information will help them muster the confidence to put up opposition if necessary, deal with concessions, and assert their rights in cases where they have collectively consented to mining projects.

“[Local communities] assume that their rights are not respected or protected, as past experience indicates...resulting in impoverishment, endangerment from environmental disasters,” says one NGO worker.

Providing communities right, balanced and timely information will give them options to decide for or against an extractive project.

Training and preparing communities, especially leaders, in dealing with mining companies and their allies, whether the community is against or for the industry.

The first requirement is to help communities draw up their own definition of “responsible mining”. This should then be transmitted to national policymakers who will be asked to incorporate them into a Philippine Community Standards for Responsible Mining.

The second requirement is to equip stakeholders with Global Standards of Practice that are useful tools for accountability. Communities with adequate knowledge of global standards can adequately monitor whether extractive companies are actually compliant.

Using scorecards and similar tools, community people can judge whether their rights are being respected.

The third requirement is well-coordinated collaboration among community support groups. The collaboration should focus on community education, alternative community development, and community organizing.

It should also increase local capacity to effectively participate in addressing governance deficits.

Joining the advocacy to reform the international mining industry. The goal is to urge the industry to significantly raise its standards so that its activities lead to substantial improvements in environmental management, economic reinvestment, increased local participation in governance and managing benefits, substantial reduction in speculative mining, and increased substitution and recycling.

(Photo courtesy of Amnesty International Philippines, www.amnesty.org.ph)