How accountable are mining companies for their environmental and social impacts? TI-Cambodia’s work to empower communities to protect their land

Cambodia environment

19 April 2021

Cambodia is home to some of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots. These ecosystems are precariously protected through a patchwork of wildlife sanctuaries that are under constant pressure from mining, land clearing and hunting. 

Transparency International Cambodia is working to strengthen the process for evaluating applications for mining exploration licences across the country, with a special focus on Environmental and Social Impact Assessments.  

The importance of a transparent Environmental and Social Impact Assessment 

Before obtaining an exploration or mining permit, a mining company is required to assess the potential impacts of their proposed mine on the nearby environment and community. This Environmental Impact Assessment is an important process for informing community members and decision-makers in government about how a proposed mine will affect them.  

Part of the process needs to include consulting with the local communities – explaining to people what the likely negative impacts are as well as the benefits, discussing ways to reduce harm, such as through environmental monitoring and rehabilitation, and negotiating compensation, resettlement and job opportunities. 

The problem is that mining companies do not always consult properly with affected communities – which is necessary to conduct a thorough social and environmental impact assessmentWhen consultation does occur, often a mining company will consult directly with a village chief or local government authority rather than members of the community – the people most directly affected. 

How can a community consent to a mining project if they are not given adequate and accurate information about how mining will actually affect them? And how can a community ensure their environment will be protected if they do not know how the environment will truly be affected? 

TI Cambodia has spoken with women and men in communities affected by mining across the country’s north-eastern provinces. People are frustrated and confused. Many feel powerless to have any say over what happens on or near their land.  

In surveys and radio talk shows organised by the Chapter, people raised fears about water contamination and land clearing; confusion about how funds provided by mining companies are supposed to be spent on community development; and anger at the lack of proper compensation for the loss of agricultural land. They didn’t know where to go to raise their concerns or make a formal complaint. 

TI-Cambodia’s is working to empower communities to protect their land 

TI Cambodia is working to address this problem at a number of levels. At the topmost level, the Chapter is speaking with representatives from the national government and mining companies about how they can do a better job of consulting communities on environmental and social impactsThe Chapter has developed guidelines and training to explain what a proper community consultation process requires and how government and companies can strengthen their engagement with local women and men. This means explaining the mining activities that are planned in the area, providing clear and relevant information about the potential impacts, listening to people’s concerns and responding to what they need, such as adequate compensation or mitigation measures to reduce environmental harm.  

At the grassroots level, TI Cambodia is working with members of the community and village leaders to help them understand what the process of approving a mine involves, and how they can get a seat at the table to negotiate better outcomes. The Chapter is connecting local people and local leaders with companies and provincial and national authorities and supporting them to speak openly with each other to share their concerns. 

They are also equipping local women and men with the skills and resources they need to monitor the impacts of mining on their local communities and environments. In the Prey Lang rainforest areas in northern Cambodia, the Chapter has partnered with an environmental conservation project, Greening Prey Lang, and DPA Cambodia to raise awareness among the community and local authorities on the Environmental Impact Assessment process. 

The road forward 

TI Cambodia’s longer-term strategy is to have community members and leaders engaged in the process of monitoring the impact of mining. This means building up their knowledge and capacity to observe and record environmental and social impacts, like water pollution and forest management.  

At the core of this work, TI Cambodia is working to engender a more democratic, more participatory and fairer process – one in which the local women and men who live in the communities affected by mining can have a say in how mining will affect their homes, their farms, their forests and their waterways.  

And people are listening. The Ministry of Mines and Energy has now acknowledged TI Cambodia’s recommendations and has agreed to organise more consultations with the local authorities and women and men from affected communities to hear their concerns and respond with solutions. The Ministry has also expressed appreciation for the opportunity to engage with civil society organisations and hear from their experience and insights.  

These are significant steps towards a better process – one that puts environment and community at its heart. 

The Accountable Mining Programme’s global research found critical corruption risks related to poor environmental impact assessments.  

  • If impact assessment reports are not publicly available and there are no clear and transparent criteria for environmental approval, this creates a space for environmental approvals to be given or denied for political reasons. 
  • If the relevant government authority doesn’t have the skills or resources to verify the contents of the report provided by the company, then mining applicants could deliberately provide misleading or incorrect information that underestimates the potential impacts of their mining project. 
  • If the relevant government authority is unable to monitor company compliance with impact mitigation and management plans, this could open the door for mining applicants to commit to conditions they have no intention of fulfilling. 

Supporting the community’s capacity to demand transparency and scrutinise the company’s commitments is an important step towards making this process fairer, clearer and cleaner. 

Photo: Unsplash/Stone Meng Eang

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