The Office I head up is focussed on preventing and resolving social conflicts between Canadian mining companies overseas and project-affected communities. Our approach is to try to resolve conflicts through “mediated dialogue.”
The Office acts as an honest broker to see if people can find workable solutions to social conflicts.
Mediated dialogue is emerging as an important global technique in conflict reduction and resolution, but many still remain sceptical that it can deliver effective results. In the absence of direct experience, people lack a good understanding of what can be accomplished, and why they should try it. What’s a company/community mediated dialogue process really like? How can dialogue be used as a way out of corporate/community conflict and mistrust?
Shedding light on these questions is a new series of videos produced by the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard University on behalf of the former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie. Through the lens of three real-life case studies of corporate/community conflict, the videos give us insights into how mediated dialogue can deliver positive results.
According to executive producer Caroline Rees, each video illustrates a dialogue process, often still ongoing, “where each party feels they have gained substantially from the dialogue.” Even in situations of “intense conflict and distrust,” she notes, “it is worth thinking about…the possibility of entering into a dialogue. But recognizing that doing that directly is going to be at best challenging…doing that with a third neutral party that can help you build a dialogue over time is likely to be a more promising avenue.”
Each film describes the origins of the conflict, how and why the company and communities came to consider mediated dialogue as a way forward, how the process unfolded, including progress and setbacks, and what outcomes were achieved. The stories are uniquely told in the voices of those who took part: community members, company representatives, non-governmental organizations and mediators.
Four videos were produced, three telling stories of different dialogues, and one summarizing the lessons learned. Some key takeaways:
- In each case, companies were doing what they thought they should be doing, implementing community development initiatives, complying with host country laws etc.
- Violence, or the threat of it, was often the “shock” required to re-evaluate corporate behaviour – and find a way to do things differently
- By the time of the shock, distrust was usually high – communities feared being tricked or duped by the company
- Both sides were initially sceptical about this type of approach to resolving conflict and it was only with significant investments of time and training that progress was made
- The participation of a third party neutral proved critical to success as a way to enable an initial conversation
- The dialogue process was successful in building respect and trust, and in creating agreements, even in instances where litigation was in the background
- Dialogue processes can build trust, and respect, and create agreements, but many people express a need for continuous relationship building
- Ignoring community grievances rarely makes them disappear. In each case profiled, communities had long-standing grievances that only became more hardened over time
- Mediated dialogue is never a linear smooth process
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Marketa Evans is the Government of Canada’s Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor. The CSR Counsellor is a special advisor to the Minister of International Trade. The Counsellor has no policy-making role and does not represent Government of Canada policy positions.