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This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Stoop, N., & Verpoorten, M. (2021). Would you fight? We asked aggrieved artisanal miners in Eastern Congo. Journal of Conflict Resolution. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002720983437
In the context of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo:
- When faced with eviction from their worksites by large-scale mining operations and inadequate vocational reorientation programs, small-scale artisanal miners report a high likelihood of violent conflict erupting.
- For artisanal miners facing eviction, access to rebel networks, past exposure to violence, and/or a positive view of local armed groups make it more likely that they will report an intention to engage in violence against the mining company evicting them and join an armed group.
- Policies aimed at providing company mining jobs for displaced artisanal miners, bolstering credible and effective corporate social responsibility efforts, and establishing “artisanal mining-tolerant zones” should reduce miners’ intention to fight.
Key Insight for Informing Practice
- In the name of both sustaining local livelihoods and preventing violence, multinational companies (MNCs) should take care not to displace local workers by accommodating, and at the very least not stifling, their existing industries.
The expansion of large-scale industrial mining (LSM) in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is associated with increased violence, as clashes have often erupted between local artisanal miners and the LSM companies. To further investigate this phenomenon, Nik Stoop and Marijke Verpoorten examine who is responsible for the violence and why. In 2015, they interviewed 439 artisanal miners in Kamituga, Eastern DRC, who were soon to be evicted from their worksites by Banro, a Canadian mining company active in multiple Eastern DRC towns between 2002 and 2020, about their intention to participate in violence against the mining company. Banro worked in various towns in Eastern DRC and, once in the production phase of their work, would adopt various corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies, such as improving roads and schools, and vocational programs to reorient displaced miners. However, these policies and programs were often underfunded and poorly implemented. In their examination of miners in Kamituga, the authors found that most miners reported an intention to engage in violence against the mining company but also that this intention to engage in violence diminished if the company provided some meaningful concessions, including credible CSR polices and the accommodation of artisanal mining (ASM) operations.
At the time of the authors’ interviews of artisanal miners in Kamituga (Eastern DRC) in 2015, Banro had not yet moved to the production phase to begin its mining operation in the town. The interviews centered on artisanal miners’ reactions to a hypothetical, yet realistic, scenario in which Banro would begin mining in Kamituga. The scenario outlined polices that would be enacted by Banro, including the toleration of artisanal mining in limited areas and vocational reorientation programs. However, in this scenario, not all miners would be accommodated by these concessions due to space and budget limitations. Most miners responded that this scenario would certainly lead to conflict (72%) and it would be violent (64%). In addition, miners were questioned about which forms of violence they, as individuals, would employ in this scenario. Some miners (23%) indicated a “probable” or “certain” intention to fight by destroying Banro property, attacking Banro employees, and using firearms against the company, while the majority (61%) indicated a “probable” or “certain” intention to participate in an organized form of violence by joining an armed group.
With additional data on miners’ experiences and perceptions collected in the interview process, the authors examine what factors make it more (or less) likely a miner would intend to use violence and/or join an organized form of violence. First, access to rebel networks, understood as feasibility of violence, and past exposure to violence increased the likelihood that miners intended to use violence against the mining company (by 12% and 11%, respectively) and join an armed group (by 12% and 8%, respectively). Moreover, miners with a positive evaluation of a dormant armed community self-defense group were 9% more likely to report an intention to engage in violence against the mining company and join an armed group. Additionally, the level at which artisanal mining (ASM) activities were restricted also influenced the intention to use violence. With each hypothetical additional visit from a Banro employee to the mining zone—a measure of restriction—miners’ intention to attack the company and join an armed group increased by 0.7% and 0.8% respectively. In sum, miners were more likely to report an intention to use violence, individually and collectively, if they had access to rebel groups, were previously exposed to violence, and perceived past violent resistance as successful, as well as if ASM activities were restricted. Conversely, miners were less likely to report an intention to use violence, individually or collectively, if they perceived Banro as a positive entity in their larger community and were interested in working for Banro. Miners were 10% less likely to participate in violent actions against the company and 12% less likely to join an armed group if they had a positive perception of the company’s CSR activities, such as funding for schools and roads. Miners were also 6% less likely to join an armed group, but not significantly less likely to participate in violence against the company, if they were interested in working for the company. Finally, reorientation and relocation programs offered by Banro did not appear to influence the intention to use violence, perhaps because historically these programs have not been effectively or fairly implemented.
Based upon their findings on factors contributing to, or mitigating, the intention to use violence, the authors posit three policies that mining companies could use to reduce the risk of collective violence against their operations. Policies aimed at providing company jobs for displaced artisanal miners, bolstering credible and effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, and establishing “ASM-tolerant zones” should reduce miners’ intention to fight. In the DRC, as well as other African countries, there has been a concerted government effort to attract LSM operations, but the authors warn that LSM “is not per se peace-prone,” nor is ASM a “conflict-prone” activity. According to their research, violence is a possibility with the expansion of LSM, especially when it crowds out ASM. Thus, policies should be geared toward formalizing and accommodating ASM rather than pushing it aside.
Multinational corporations (MNCs), or corporations operating in at least two countries, are both a product and an engine of globalization. The global reliance on precious minerals and metals, as well as other natural resources necessary for commodity production, all but guarantee that MNCs will continue to operate. Corporations headquartered in the Global North will continue to seek natural resources in the Global South as global demand continues to rise for new technology, food, and other commodities. There is a whole host of problems with this current model of production, including environmental exploitation, labor abuses, and recurring cycles of conflict and violence associated with MNC operations—all of which amount to the often overlooked structural violence at the heart of the global economic system. Even if this research does not address these deeper concerns, it does suggest policies that can be implemented by MNCs to reduce at least the direct violence occurring in these communities as a result of corporate activities.
A key take-away from this research is the necessity of MNCs respecting local industries to reduce the likelihood of violent conflict. The policies of MNCs should accommodate, and at the very least not stifle, existing local industries in their operating region, thereby protecting the livelihoods of the local population. The research underscores why this is especially important in post-conflict environments because previous exposure to violence and its perceived effectiveness (as measured by a positive perception of the actions of a dormant, armed community self-defense group) are strong predictors of the intention to engage in violence.
Although this research is specific to the mining sector in Eastern DRC, the implications could inform policies of MNCs in other post-conflict countries that aim to prevent the reoccurrence of collective violence. For example, Indonesia produces about half of the world’s palm oil, and MNCs are expanding their plantations in the country to meet the growing demand. Aside from the environmental degradation, the expansion of the palm oil industry into large-scale production at the hands of MNCs threatens the livelihoods of Indonesians by destroying the forests that Indigenous communities rely upon for farming and foraging. Also consider the case of labor rights abuses by an MNC in Honduras. The fresh produce company hires Honduran workers, but the workers allege the corporation is guilty of wage theft, inadequate worker protections, and union-busting, all of which ultimately diminish livelihoods of the local populations. And, lastly, there is the case of a multinational banking and financial services company forcibly displacing local families and dispossessing them of their land for sugar cane production in Cambodia. There are many more cases of MNCs operating in post-conflict environments that violate human rights and, in some cases, displace the local economy. Every country and industry is unique, and policies should be designed to be relevant to the local context. The implications of this research, namely the importance of accommodating and formalizing local industries rather than pushing them out, provide an avenue for mitigating direct violence in the regions in which MNCs operate. Yet, as mentioned above, there is still pervasive, structural violence inherent in the economic relations between the Global North and the Global South. As important as mitigating direct violence is, it is equally crucial to alleviate the less visible, indirect forms violence taking place because of MNC operations. [KH]
MNCs often adopt CSR policies to give back to communities, but are they giving back as much as they are taking?
In addition to direct violence, can a connection be drawn between lack of social infrastructure and services, such as education or health care, in local communities and the devastation wrought by exploitative corporations?
Formalizing ASM activity would inevitably reduce the profitability of large-scale mining, as there is a finite amount of minerals to be mined, therefore what could incentivize MNC operations to accommodate local industries when doing so will cut into their profits?
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Chen, M. (2020, January 22). Honduran workers fight union busting multinational. The Progressive. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://progressive.org/dispatches/honduran-workers-fight-union-busting-multinational-chen-200122/
Bloomberg, M. (2020, February 27). Australia’s ANZ agrees payout to Cambodians locked in land dispute. Reuters. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-landrights-anz/australias-anz-agrees-payout-to-cambodians-locked-in-land-dispute-idUSKCN20L1D3
Ullah, S., Adams, K., Adams, D., & Attah-Boakye, R. (2021). Multinational corporations and human rights violations in emerging economies: Does commitment to social and environmental responsibility matter? Journal of Environmental Management, 280. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.111689.
Human Rights Watch. (2019). “When we lost the forest, we lost everything”: Oil palm plantations and rights violations in Indonesia. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/23/when-we-lost-forest-we-lost-everything/oil-palm-plantations-and-rights-violations
Key words: conflict, artisanal mining, industrial mining, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, collective violence