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The establishment of a permanent and formal ‘Mesa de Diàlogo’, or Dialogue Table has lead to resolution of the substance of many grievances voiced by communities affected by the Tintaya mine in Peru.
Following a long history of community complaints against the owners of the Tintaya mine in Peru. Local community members, local NGOs including CONACAMI Cusco and Cooperaccion, international NGOs Oxfam Australia and Oxfam America and the mine owner/operator – initially BHP Billiton and then Xstrata – established the ‘Mesa de Diàlogo’ (Dialogue Table) where representatives from local communities, non-government organisations and the mining company work collaboratively to resolve issues raised by the community.
In the 1980s, the Peruvian Government expropriated more than 2,000 hectares of land to develop the Tintaya open-pit copper mine in the high Andes region, displacing hundreds of people. The mine was subsequently privatised and at one stage was owned by BHP Billiton and now Xstrata.
People affected by this mine alleged that the government failed to adequately compensate them for their land or gain their informed consent, with some reporting that they were forcibly evicted and threatened with violence by mine security. Others reported that water and air pollution from the mine and tailings dam has caused the death or illness of their animals, as well as affecting their own health, and loss of traditional livelihoods due to loss of land. Some of these problems continued after the sale of the mine to BHP Billiton.
Oxfam Australia became involved at the request of affected communities through the Mining Ombudsman project in early 2000. Along with others, they facilitated the establishment of the ‘Mesa de Diàlogo’ (Dialogue Table) where representatives from local communities, non-government organisations and the mining company (then BHP Billiton) work collaboratively to resolve issues raised by the community.
In 2004 an Agreement was signed by all stakeholders to maintain the Dialogue Table as a permanent mechanism through which solutions to any conflict or problems will be sought. Xstrata, the current owner of the mine, remains committed to the Dialogue Table. Sub-groups, or Commissions, were established under the Dialogue Table to focus on specific issues relating to land, sustainable development, human rights abuses and the environment. Each of the Commissions is comprised of delegates from communities affected by the mine, company representatives and members of NGOs who assist with the negotiation and discussion process.
An earlier review of the Dialogue Table by Oxfam Australia highlighted some key factors that we believe lead to the success of the Dialogue Table as a mechanism to resolve community grievances. These include the following.
Community Capacity: Initially, the communities were unfamiliar with the negotiating process and the cultures of other parties involved in the Dialogue Table. Some community members lacked the capacity to effectively participate and had an expectation that the various support organisations would always side with them, rather than be an independent party assisting the communities and company to reach a resolution. To address this, community representatives were equipped with dispute resolution skills. Particular attention was also paid to the role of women in community decision making. Skills training in this area focussed on gaining greater input by women that may otherwise not have occurred.
Local, National and International Support: A three tiered approach to providing assistance to the affected communities has been central to resolving some of their grievances. Local organisations – CONACAMI Cusco and Cooperaccion – have helped to implement projects and Dialogue Table outcomes in addition to assisting communities in the negotiation process and with meeting preparations. National level support was provided by Oxfam America’s Regional Office in Peru and the national offices of CONACAMI and Cooperaccion. These organisations have been instrumental in providing capacity building, technical and financial support, information and skills training. Finally, Oxfam Australia was able to bring community grievances to the attention of the former owner BHP Billiton who is headquartered in Australia.
Company Capacity: In the lead up to the establishment of the Dialogue Table BHP Billiton was made aware of community grievances. However, their initial response was to defend their presence and question the truth of the claims made by the communities. The company eventually accepted that the communities’ complaints where legitimate – partly because staff in BHP Billiton’s head office undertook their own investigations and stopped taking at face value reports from mine site staff that had rejected community grievances.
The company had to learn to understand and appreciate the culturally unique methods of seeking local community approval before proceeding, rather than expecting that community representatives would make decisions on behalf of the communities as a whole. BHP Billiton trained staff in human rights and community engagement. BHP Billiton staff were eventually able to demonstrate a commitment to working transparently, negotiating fairly and keeping promises made during the Dialogue Table.
Trust: Establishing trust has been critical to achieving progress. Oxfam America staff have noted that “the parties began to see one another as trustworthy because, by fulfilling their promises and agreements, they demonstrated that they could be trusted... The majority now believe that the attitude of the company has changed since the Dialogue Table; the company is more disposed to negotiate and now the communities see that the company listens to them and is seeking solutions to their complaints”.
Understanding the distinct cultural aspects of the parties and communities involved, that is how communities are organized and decisions made.
Building Consensus: The Dialogue Table uses a consensus approach to decision making – this has been positive because it takes account of the cultural approach to decision making by local communities. Furthermore, taking time to reach decisions in this way ensures all parties 'own' the resolutions leading to the creation of stable and durable agreements.
Facilitator: The early use of an independent facilitator was important to help build trust between the parties, and to ensure that all parties were able to participate fully and fairly.
Participation of an independent, third party: Each of the participant groups in the Dialogue Table emphasised the importance of an independent party to whom the communities could appeal, in this case Oxfam Australia’s former Mining Ombudsman. A report commissioned by BHP Billiton concluded that the “Oxfam Australia ombudswoman was seen by many as a key to success as she was neutral and well-respected.