Our community agreements are negotiated agreements with Indigenous peoples, local communities and others. Not every mining or extractives company forms agreements, but we feel they are important in part because they demonstrate respect and commitment to inclusive engagement with communities and land-connected peoples.
These agreements, often the result of many years of engagement, document not only mutual obligations that are both enforceable and auditable, but also codify ‘the how’ – the behaviours expected from our employees and contractors. They help reduce potential effects of a project on communities and their environment. And they help make sure benefits are shared directly with those affected, and empower communities to make decisions about how those benefits are used.
Ultimately, agreements are a mechanism for accountability and provide companies and communities with mutual performance indicators that cover all stages; from exploration through to project planning and operations, including after closure.
Our agreements also provide beneficiary payments, deliver social and economic outcomes and engage with Indigenous groups in cultural heritage, employment, business development, and training and education activities. In Australia, for example, our land access agreements allow us to compensate, via trust funds and other mechanisms, Traditional Owners for the operations and presence we have on their land.
We also have robust management systems for monitoring compliance, and to track and review implementation outcomes. Often, monitoring is done with or by our communities – for example, at our Diavik operations, in Canada, a panel of scientists and local Indigenous people gather every three years to assess our environmental impact and ensure we continue to deliver on our agreement.
Modernising our agreements
In November 2022 we signed an updated agreement with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) aimed at strengthening ties and delivering improved social and economic outcomes for the Yindjibarndi people for generations to come.
Engaging in an inclusive way
The agreements include provisions that stipulate which community members should be involved in the agreement-making process and consulted on impacts and opportunities. We know that mining can be complex, and so we aim to explain our business and processes in ways that are accessible to a broad set of stakeholders. We take care to engage in ways that are culturally appropriate, and that we communicate clearly and openly.
Building a strong understanding of the community
We conduct detailed assessments – involving both government and community groups – to identify the local social, economic, heritage and legal context of each community. This includes assessing possible impacts of our operations on local people – and what opportunities we can bring too. We also build an understanding of relevant community groups, including their goals and expectations, governance structures and decision-making process.
Planning and implementing for mutual benefit
Once we have built a strong understanding of the local context, possible impacts and opportunities, we develop agreements that align our vision and goals with those of the local community. We communicate regularly with our communities, and implement our commitments in ways that contribute to their socioeconomic development.
Monitoring, evaluating, reviewing and improving
We set targets and indicators to monitor progress and performance against our agreements. Both our employees and representatives of the community are involved in monitoring and evaluation activities, and we use a variety of tools such as social risk assessments, communities review and complaints processes, as well as independent review mechanisms such as [example] to agree and implement improvements to existing agreements and their outcomes.
Reporting and communicating
Our agreements touch all areas of our operations – from managing environmental impacts to procurement. We clearly communicate our agreement obligations through [how do we do this on site? Is it part of induction? Do we run training?] We report on our performance internally and externally, in culturally appropriate and accessible ways.
How we approach negotiations
We conduct community agreements in good faith, and approach agreement negotiations based on the International Finance Corporation’s principles. These include:
- Involvement of legitimate representatives
- Willing engagement free from coercion or intimidation
- Joint exploration of key issues of importance
- Use of participatory approaches
- Accessibility in terms of timing and location
- Provision of sufficient time for decision-making
- Mutual respect and sensitivity to cultural and other differences
- Flexibility, consideration of multiple options, and willingness to compromise
- Documented outcomes
- Equal access to the best available information
Laws that guide agreement-making
Compensation and benefits
Mining projects and operations change the life, livelihoods and landscapes of people connected to the land involved. Through our agreements, we work closely with host communities to ensure they receive a fair share of benefits. A good benefit process accurately determines the rightful recipients and then provides benefits fairly, following terms the recipients themselves help develop.
And by providing benefits, like employment, training, and supporting regional economic development, we can providing lasting value and positive outcomes to the communities where we work. Another way we secure long-term benefits for communities is by creating future income streams, such as endowment funds, foundations and trusts. These are built to suit the specific needs of the local community, and can sometimes align with local and regional development plans too.
Financial payments – for the purposes of compensation, benefits or both – can take many forms. For example, payments may be made based on operational outcomes, such as a percentage of profit, or royalties linked to production.
For example, at our Weipa operations, in Queensland, Australia, we established the Western Cape Communities Coexistence Agreement Charitable Trust, with the majority of annual funding placed in long-term secure investments. And at our Kitimat aluminium smelter in British Columbia, Canada, we partnered with the Haisla Nation to buy and operate the Kitamaat Valley Education Society, which serves other local employers and helps build skills within the local community.