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A Call for a rights based Operational Grievance Redress Mechanism in the mining sector

By Midzi Lydia Fadzai

Zimbabwe is open for business and this confirms why several mining sector investors have shown interest to invest in the country richly blessed with vast resources such as platinum, gold and diamond. Zimbabwe has managed to attract mining investors who will operate under the wing of the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC). With the strong interest and passion by Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) to promote transparency and accountability by enhancing engagement between communities and mining sector players, this article thus outlines the efforts being made by the organization to achieve this. With this background in mind ZELA took it upon itself to train the ZCDC staff on Business and human rights in a move to ensure they cascade these lessons in the discharge of their duties in their mining operations. The training is ZELA’s drive of promoting respect of human rights in the conduct of business by corporate actors.

ZCDC which has twin responsibilities of being a mining player and regulator leaves it with a huge mandate. Therefore, because its state owned communities have a lot of high expectations. As they say charity begins at home it is imperative that ZCDC leads by example and practice responsible mining investment to set pace for the new investors in diamond sector such as Chinese-owned Anjin, Akaro resources and Vast resources. ZCDC as a key player in the mining sector has to respect community rights through transparent and accountable operations which are sensitive to community development. A lot of CSOs have been advocating for mining sector linkages to ensure community benefit from their natural resources. The current system used by communities to air their grievances to the mining companies have proved to be ineffective. Communities are closer to CSOs working in the mineral sector in terms of sharing their grievances more than they can with the mining companies. Some of the complaints that were received by ZELA from community members include violation of cultural rights including decimating graves, excessive use of force by ZCDC security officers among others.

Therefore, the operational grievance redress mechanisms (OGRM) must be effectively applied to access remedy and access information (section 62 of the constitution) as part of the principles of good governance. ZCDC complained that communities report directly to ZELA and other CSOs whereas they are nearest to them. ZELA was tasked to review the current operational grievance system and recommend areas of improvement. The public interest law organisation took it upon itself to go back to the community and feedback them on the progress made by ZCDC and therefore evaluate whether the current OGRM system is effective.

On the 8thand 9th of October 2019, ZELA convened a meeting with ArdaTransau relocated families and Hot springs communities to harvest ideas on an ideal OGRM. Communities evaluated their system and the consensus was that the system being used was ineffective as they would be no feedback from the companies on their complaints. The issues raised by the communities indicated a system which lacks feedback, effective communication, representation of all concerned stakeholders therefore communities continue to be so far away from the companies yet they are so near to them. The current environment is not enabling for the communities to access mining companies. The main challenge remains access to information, remedy and redress.

What Should an Ideal OGRM Look Like

An operational grievance mechanism should be rights based and the companies should be very responsive which is one of the constitutional provisions in Zimbabwe that communities access remedy and information. Operational grievance should be locally based and easy way to channel information from the company to the community and vis-versa.

What Is the Benefit of Using OGRM?

OGRM are important in that communities and companies get to address issues before they become too intense including coming up with preventative measures, precautionary measures, identify systematic issues, improve project outcomes at a lower cost, help to prioritize supervision and promote transparency and accountability. OGRM are important for companies to manage operational risk while ensuring positive project result.

Why Is It Important to Have a Model OGRM?

The need to have a model OGRM arose from the poor complaints handling system by mining companies which has a risk of projects lapsing before the correctional measures have been implemented. An OGRM is critical to identify the root cause of problems and come up with corrective measures which are well informed and participative. Quick response to grievances can cut costs as preventative measures can be implemented to reduce the impact on communities whilst attaining benefits and profits. Constant engagement between mining companies and communities reduces the negative impacts of the mining operations, the good in the mining projects buried in the adverse effects can be unraveled to attain local beneficiation. In some instances, community’s expectations are too high for mining companies but constant dialogue between the two results in feasible corrective measures. The constitution of this country calls for citizen participation in decision making processes on matter affecting them. Therefore, this move would be a good implementation of our constitution towards the overall goal of ensuring community benefit from local resources. The OGRM will also encourage transparency and accountability in the mining sector.  

Conclusion

It is imperative that mining companies and the communities engage directly. ZCDC should lead by example and create engagement platforms for communities to air their grievances and participate in decision making processes concerning their local resources and public services. The operational grievance redress model being developed by ZELA will lay bare what mining companies have to adopt and it is envisaged that this will enhance relations between investors and the locals. After all, it’s not about profit but responsible investment.

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