Editorial: PSG Investigating UK mining in Peru
Update 117. 30 September 2006
Conflicts between mining companies and communities in the areas where they operate are nothing new in Peru.
However, they are becoming increasingly commonplace, leading often to violent stand-offs. Disputes arise for a mixture of reasons. These include environmental damage from spillages or the contamination of rivers, the violation of community lands without proper authorisation or consultation, a reluctance to share the profits of mining activities with local authorities, and sometimes even physical destruction of entire communities.
With mineral prices at record high levels - and the profits of mining companies - frictions have become ever more intense. There have been instances of conflict all over the Peruvian highlands in the past couple of years, from Puno in the south to Piura in the north. Since the outcome of Tambogrande - when locals managed to stop a project that would have involved the destruction of part of their town, moving the flow of their river and possible damage to local agriculture; one of the most productive in Peru - communities have felt more empowered.
A new bell-weather in the tussle between communities and corporations is the Majaz project in northern Peru, a potentially enormous mining scheme that has provoked conflict with local communities. Because a British company, Monterrico Metals, is involved, the PSG has been following this project with particular interest. Earlier this year, we hosted a meeting at the House of Commons attended by representatives of both local communities and the company. MPs are increasingly concerned by the standards adhered to by British companies.
One of the points of agreement reached at that meeting was the desirability of sending an independent fact-finding mission to look into the Majaz project. An expert delegation, coordinated by the PSG, will travel to Majaz next month. It will include top experts on the environmental and social impact of mining, as well as an MP and a leading British journalist on Latin America. We hope that the delegation will bring important outside assistance to illuminate the issues surrounding this debate.
The new APRA government in Peru has promised to take a more active role in mining dispute resolution than its predecessor, whose overriding concern was to attract investment irrespective of the social or environmental costs. However, we are still a long way from a new deal where the interests of local communities are taken properly into account. And although companies talk of 'corporate social responsibility' and the need to acquire a 'social license', these tend to be phrases designed more to calm nervous shareholders than to satisfy often angry local stakeholders.