Now that the company has decided that it would like to go ahead, more detailed information is available as a basis for discussions between a company and any communities that may be affected. Key issues include:
- Early project design ideas, for consultation and input with communities to advise on areas of environmental, social, or cultural importance. Resources should be allocated to build community capacity to consider these ideas, where needed.
- How the formal Environmental, Social, and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) will be conducted, including how the community may contribute, engage, or be consulted
- The anticipated permitting process, including updates as it progresses
- As the ESHIA is conducted, what impacts are likely, what mitigation measures could be possible, and what are community preferences or priorities in mitigation?
- If impacts cannot be mitigated, is the community still willing to consider the project? What compensation is appropriate for these impacts?
- What shared benefits (potentially contingent on the mineral/oil price) should be included in a formal consent agreement?
- How will agreements be managed?
- How will compensation and benefits be financed and delivered? Monitoring and governance are important to factor in.
- What are the ongoing points of information sharing and decision-making, and how will that take place? How will the company report on new discoveries and initiate further consent processes related to prospective changes to project plans?
- Discussion about grievance mechanisms, how they can be accessed; and whether any adjustments are needed to ensure equitable and inclusive access.
- How will potential changes to the project – e.g., expansion, new/joint operating partners, or early closure – be consulted and decided upon? How might these changes affect existing agreements for compensation or benefit sharing?
Governments that do not recognize Indigenous land rights or who do not require FPIC might award a permit without the consent of a community. Where there is no national recognition of Indigenous rights, international law and internationally recognized Indigenous rights should be the guiding principles. A company committed to FPIC will still seek formal consent from affected Indigenous communities prior to commencing construction or operations.
In the pre-permitting phase, communities need to receive key information from the company in order to be able to provide information about community values and priorities and to inform project design. This information exchange is critical to building trust between company and community and to inform the community’s decision-making about whether to give consent for the project to move forward.
At this stage, the company has confirmed that there is an asset likely worthy of development and is beginning to consider potential project designs (e.g., where to locate a mill, water access points, etc.). Most governments will require an environmental, social, and health impact assessment (ESHIA) in which the company describes any anticipated impacts and how they will be mitigated or compensated. Communities should have significant input into these assessments and should participate in these decisions, before an ESHIA is submitted for government approval.
It is worth noting that company staff are often under pressure from investors or corporate headquarters to secure a permit quickly. However, conflict at sites that do not have community support can be very costly, and communities have the right to insist on careful, informed deliberation at this stage to ensure the development of a fair and durable agreement within a positive relationship.
Communities need to know:
- What is known about the asset (deposit) and any key design considerations (to help the community target feedback about critical lands, cultural sites, or other resources to preserve)?
- When will more be known, and how will the company share that information?
- As design options are explored, what might be the potential impacts (positive and negative) and what are the tradeoffs across options? What are the options for mitigating potential impacts? For impacts that can’t be mitigated, what kind of compensation will be provided and when?
- What are the company’s legal consultation and permitting requirements and what will that process entail (including timeline for information gathering, submissions, etc.)?
It may be helpful for the community and company to agree on key elements of engagement on these questions, including:
- What issues or processes does the community want to be informed about and/or weigh in on?
- How will the company ensure that specialized, technical information is provided in an accessible and digestible manner (e.g., in relevant languages, easy-to-access format, and/or for community members who may not have legal or engineering backgrounds)? Is external expertise needed? How are experts or consultants to be selected, and paid for?
- Are there existing forums or mechanisms – or would it be helpful to establish new forums/mechanisms – where information can regularly be exchanged?
- Once information is received from the company, what processes need to take place within the community to support inclusive deliberation and decision making? Are there others who need to be consulted?
- How can the company help to facilitate community decision-making in a way that helps to eliminate barriers (e.g., by providing logistical or resource support such as transportation, childcare, etc.) while providing sufficient time and space for community deliberations?
In addition to having a clear process and protocol for sharing information, it is important to build in time to digest information in order to identify important questions, seek advice where needed, and support eventual decision-making.
Additionally, internal (within the community) information sharing is important during this phase to fully determine how all parts of the community will be impacted by any decisions, and to ensure that those most affected by any impacts are satisfied with mitigation or compensation measures.
At the conclusion of this phase, the community will be asked for its consent on a final agreement or set of agreements that permit the project to move forward under certain conditions (impact mitigation, compensation, and benefit sharing). Please also see Agreements.
Company staff are often under pressure to expedite the permitting process, but if speed comes at the cost of community FPIC, the project could face resistance, costly protests, time/resource-intensive grievances, and both local and global reputational damage.
Companies have their own check-lists for all the engineering tasks and governmental approval processes that take place in this phase, and yet they often fail to include timely community engagement in these plans. While being candid about levels of certainty, it is also important to give communities the necessary time and opportunity to engage and weigh in on some of the most basic elements of operational design. Early and inclusive consultation about core site components can help inform a design that avoids significant social, cultural, or environmental impacts.
In addition to being a key procedural requirement, a good Environmental, Social, and Health Impact Assessment is critical for securing and maintaining FPIC. Among other things, this should include
- Sex-disaggregated baseline data and gender impact analysis
- Assessment of possible human rights impacts
- Vulnerable persons or groups
- Assessment of possible social impacts associated with the likely influx of people and resources and activities in communities, including violence and conflict at home as traditional roles of women and men shift in response to economic opportunities
- Assessment of potential impacts to culture and cultural heritage
It is important to note that communities’ baseline knowledge around highly technical processes and tools common to industry, such as ESHIA, is often limited. In addition to ensuring that there is ample time for communities to build their understanding of these types of tools, financial and logistical resources may be needed to support communities in accessing anthropological, ecological, and legal advice, as well as other types of technical support.
One often overlooked but critical part of capacity building may simply be helping communities to know their rights and how to exercise them, understand how to utilize grievance mechanisms, and become familiar with other access to remedy – such as governmental mechanisms. Companies may be reluctant to lead in such capacity building, as this is outside of core expertise; third parties can be hired to facilitate these trainings.
Companies should also be aware of their own knowledge gaps and should take the time needed to understand community culture, worldview, traditions, decision making processes, and more.
In this phase, ways that companies can build a relationship of mutual confidence are:
- Regular and predictable information sharing, including information about uncertainties/possibilities (and confidence levels) and processes which may not involve the community
- Make space in their own processes to involve communities (e.g., through Indigenous-led impact assessments)
- Discuss and agree with communities as to the best formats/forums for sharing and receiving information, as well as for dialogue/Q&A, and formal decision-making
- Inquire as to how the company can constructively facilitate – without applying pressure -the community in deliberations and decisions (e.g., providing transportation to meetings, offsetting lost hours by providing meals, ensuring women can participate by providing childcare, etc.)
- Share timelines for when more will be known and commit to sharing updates
- Agree on how and when that information can be shared, how and when the community can be involved in discussion and input, and how a final decision will be made.
- Help to troubleshoot challenges (e.g., if a community needs expert advice in order to understand information or reach a decision, potentially making resources available for them to hire an expert)