Oxfam back in the fray against mining

Oxfam America today announced a new, what it describes as, “initiative to promote the rights of communities impacted by oil, gas, and mining industries.” The NGO goes on to say that “as oil, gas, and other commodity prices reach record levels, investment in extractive projects is growing. More than 60% of the world’s poorest people live in countries rich in natural resources. Many poor communities have no say in the extraction of resources from their land and receive little information about these projects.” The latter is of course far from true in the case of most mining companies, but there are still some rogues out there.“Too often, oil, gas, and mining projects don’t benefit people in countries that are rich in natural resources, but whose population is extremely poor. These extractive projects should not add to poverty and powerlessness – natural resources can and should help communities overcome these challenges,” says Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “In order for this to happen, however, communities need to know how mining and energy projects will impact their lives and lands and how revenues from these projects will be used.”Oxfam says it “calls on international oil, gas, and mining companies to show their respect for:

  • A community’s right to know by providing complete and timely information about how their work affects communities – environmentally, socially, and economically – and how much extractive industries are paying governments for natural resources
  • A community’s right to decide by requiring extractives companies to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of communities affected by oil, gas, and mining operations. For indigenous peoples in particular, FPIC is a critical means of protecting sacred lands and cultural identity.

These points are well accepted by most mining companies and have been the focus of a great deal of work by the ICMM.

“Empowered with this information, communities are better able to share in the benefits of extractives projects. Revenues can go to real community needs like education, health care, and jobs, and communities can judge if these projects are a benefit or a burden,” said Offenheiser. “More often, contracts and revenues are kept secret leading to an environment that fosters embezzlement and corruption, which has contributed to the failure of extractive projects to help alleviate poverty.”

“Many extractive industries projects promise wealth and new job opportunities,” says Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam America’s Regional Director in West Africa. “Unfortunately, many projects, like gold mining in West Africa, have failed to deliver. These industries create few jobs for locals, and communities rarely see the benefit. Communities need to be empowered with information to have more control over the management of the natural resources necessary to sustain their livelihoods.” Oxfam says that in 2005, gold accounted for more than 50% of Mali’s total exports of $297 million, but information about mining revenues is inaccessible for the vast majority of citizens. And despite Mali’s gold wealth, it remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. How exports approaching $300 million are expected to do much for a country like Mali, the NGO does not explain.

Additional information on Oxfam America’s new fad is available at: www.oxfamamerica.org/rights-resources