The Office has received some media attention in recent months, particularly two CBC-TV stories. We are of course heartened by the interest in the Office, but I think it might be useful to give readers some insight into what CBC edited out from the broadcasts. I hope that this additional information may help advance a more informed discussion about the merits of the Office.
Some clarity on the facts first: the Office’s operating budget, which I have say over, is $200,000 per year. Our single largest expense out of this budget so far has been on official translation of documents. That budget supports both our mandates: conflict resolution and conflict prevention (of which no mention was made). Similarly to other places I have worked, I don’t know what the office space lease looks like. There was mention of “47 trips” I had taken in the past three years – creating the impression of lots of international travel, perhaps not very cost-sensitive. In fact, more than half those trips were to Ottawa, to meet with parliamentarians, civil society groups, other departments, or to attend training sessions.
Since the Office was a “start up,” these discussions were mission critical. Most of my other trips have been within Canada, to meet with mining companies or civil society groups. I have only taken one trip to Africa, and that was in the course of our public consultations on the review process. This seemed reasonable, since the Office is meant to be used overseas in large part. In any event, all of this information is publicly available on our website, under “Proactive Disclosure.”
All of our outreach is designed with care and purpose. Indeed, if we did no outreach, we would be rightly accused of not being accessible. We share our expertise and learnings freely, and are often asked to do so. Last year, we fielded over 200 inquiries, across a wide range of stakeholder groups, for information and expertise.
More substantively, the broadcasts edited out some of my key points: that we are setting up the first office of its kind in the world, and this type of work takes patience and consensus building. In response to a question on our mediation process, I pointed out that we had in fact already received two requests for review, both of which proceeded to step 4 of our process, “informal mediation.” That volume is well within expectations. For instance, over the past 10 years, OECDWatch notes that the 40+ National Contact Points have received a total of 213 cases.
There is growing demand and need for alternative mechanisms for resolving corporate/community conflict. The expansion of non-judicial grievance mechanisms is a key element of the new UN Principles on Business and Human Rights. The World Economic Forum recently noted that “effective conflict resolution” is one of the six key building blocks for responsible mineral development.
In my interview with CBC-TV, comments also edited out, I noted that the costs of corporate/community conflict in the extractive industries are high for all sides (including fatalities in one-third of all cases studied) and that the risk of such conflict could be considerably mitigated through the use of new tools such as the collaborative problem-solving tool of this Office. I pointed to one global best practice mechanism in particular – the World Bank’s CAO – with 12 years and 100 cases under its belt. That World Bank office started slowly, with just a case or two for the first couple of years, and they now have some 25 open files. It takes time to build awareness and trust, and our process has been around for less than 18 months.
Our job, I also mentioned in my interview, is in part to build a constituency for dialogue based on conflict resolution, and to raise awareness in Canada of the benefits such an approach can provide for both companies and communities. For those people who might like to explore the potential benefits of company/community dialogue – including opportunities to build trust, strengthen long-term relationships, share information and learn – the Office provides a way to do so. For many communities, a legal process is simply too expensive or too long; but our Office never precludes that in any case.
Finally, to build some balance into the broadcasts, I would have expected to hear from at least one or two members of the constituencies we primarily serve – Canadian extractive companies or project-affected communities. We have spoken to hundreds of stakeholders from these groups, and they have consistently validated our approach. CMJ
We invite you to contact us and learn more.