Corporate Responsibility - Developing principles on Resource Development on Indigenous land: Frameworks for Negotiation of Mining Agreements

Frameworks for Negotiation of Mining Agreements

Corporate Social Responsibility

One possible framework for negotiations between mining companies and Indigenous peoples is 'Corporate Social Responsibility'.

This approach is based on acceptance by companies that they cannot continue to operate profitably over the longer term unless they can win support for their operations from the wider society, including Indigenous peoples. This means that companies may adopt certain policies and act in particular ways not because it makes money for them in the short term, or because they are legally required to do so, but because they believe that this will ensure support for their business activities in the wider community.

One very important aspect of corporate social responsibility involves the policies of companies towards the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples.

In 2001 Rhonda Kelly and Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh compiled a Report for HREOC entitled 'Corporate Social Responsibility, Native Title and Agreement Making'. This included an analysis of the policies of eight major mining companies in relation to the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples. It found that while most companies accept the idea of corporate social responsibility in principle, they vary greatly in what they mean by that idea, and in the extent to which what they actually live up to their policies in practice.

Rhonda and Ciaran identified six distinct approaches which companies might adopt in relation to the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples. All of these approaches are listed below, in order to provide a starting point for the discussion of a Corporate Social Responsibility framework for making agreements. Approach 1 is the least favourable to Indigenous interests, Approach 6 the most favourable. Obviously some of these approaches would not be seen as amounting to socially responsible behaviour by companies.

Approach 1

Companies publicly oppose, and/or work covertly to undermine, legislation and policy designed to protect or promote Indigenous rights and interests.

Approach 2

Companies fail to acknowledge the existence of relevant legislation or the fact that their operations affect Indigenous rights and interests, and fail to develop policies or programs which address the impact of their operations on Indigenous peoples.

Approach 3

Companies publicly acknowledge the existence of Indigenous rights and interests, but lack the policies and practices required to give substance to that acknowledgement. Some firms which adopt this approach may conduct programs or activities which relate to Indigenous peoples but these either are required for performance of specific legislative obligations (cultural heritage protection) or are justified on commercial grounds (employment of local Aboriginal people).

Approach 4

Companies are in the process of changing their policies and practices and are taking significant initiatives in recognising Indigenous rights and interests, but they have yet to develop coherent policies, practices and monitoring systems across a range of issues and/or have yet to change their approach to Indigenous peoples in fundamental ways.

Approach 5

Companies have clearly articulated policies which reflect their recognition of Indigenous rights, support these policies with substantial resources and have systems in place for monitoring their achievements against policy goals. However in at least some areas their commitment to Indigenous rights and interests is limited to the extent required to comply with legislation, and/or they have yet to translate policy into specific practices in some relevant areas (for example negotiation of native title agreements).

Approach 6

Companies have policies, practices and resource allocation in relation to Indigenous peoples which are consistent with a human rights based approach, with the result that the requirements of state or national legislation are exceeded where this is necessary to give effective recognition to Indigenous rights.