A few months ago, the phone rang early in the morning; Barrick wanted us to conduct an independent effectiveness review of the company’s community grievance mechanisms. The idea was to verify to what extent the company walked the talk now that all sites are supposed to have a functioning procedure. We decided to review all site procedures and dissemination materials and conduct interviews with key staff.
Grievance mechanisms are a critical component to community engagement. They allow community members and other stakeholders to file a complaint requesting corrective action for alleged negative impacts caused by a company. They give communities a voice and a means of holding companies accountable. They help companies gauge the mood in the community and defuse tensions before they snowball.
Indeed, one of the interesting things we found during our review was the concern among some Barrick grievance officers in instances where there was a lack of grievances. Most companies would see that as a signal there are no problems. But the insightful officers wondered if this could reflect a lack of public confidence in or awareness of the mechanism and encouraged the community relations team to make inquiries. This was a great example of company staff going beyond the easy answer and applying rigor to their approach.
In fact, I would describe the overall results of the review as encouraging. Barrick is among a handful of mining companies that can fairly claim that all of its sites have a functioning formal community grievance mechanism. There is variation in the way the mechanism is implemented at different Barrick mines, with each site adapting to local circumstances. Sites in Australia and North America, for example, take a more informal approach towards complainants based on the notion that ‘trust is based on a hand-shake.’ In contrast, complainants in other jurisdictions prefer paper forms with lots of signatures because that instills confidence. Yet in all cases, the procedure is backed up with specific registration and documentation.
It was truly exciting to discover a number of international leading practice examples across sites. For example, the Cowal mine in Australia provides a public record of how it deals with each individual complaint and encourages people to use the mechanism as an engagement tool. The Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic discusses each complaint during the weekly management meeting, which allows for an expedited high-level response. The Lumwana mine in Zambia is one of the few sites in the world that has a recourse mechanism involving third parties. The Lagunas Norte mine in Peru has developed catchy radio spots to advertise the mechanism and the Veladero mine in Argentina uses door-to-door visits to raise public awareness.
These are just some examples that show how and why Barrick has become a leader at implementing effective site-based grievance mechanisms.