Discussion Note #2 Video Series: Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, Harvard University

Our second Discussion Note introduces a recent 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, Harvard Professor John Ruggie.

Through the lens of three real-life case studies of corporate/community conflict, the videos show how mediated dialogue can deliver positive results.

The stories unfold in four 30 minute videos. 

Accessible, Effective, Independent, Predictable, Responsive, Transparent

Views expressed herein are those of the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor

Errors and omissions remain the responsibility of the Office

October 2012

The Office's new discussion note series highlights research studies or global good practice, closely connected with the Office's mandate of conflict resolution and prevention between Canadian extractive sector companies and project-affected communities.

What's a company/community mediated dialogue process really like? Many companies, communities and their NGO or legal advisers lack confidence in, and understanding of, such an approach. 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 Harvard University's CSR Initiative, bringing to life the voices of participants. According to series producer Caroline Rees, each video illustrates a dialogue process, often still ongoing, "where each party feels they have gained substantially from the dialogue..."

Ms. Rees notes that the videos illustrate how, even in situations of "intense conflict and distrust, 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 necessary to act as a shock 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

The stories unfold in four 30 minute videos.

'Making Monkey Business' involves a hydro-electric power plant and surrounding communities in the Philippines, where the World Bank's Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman catalyzed and facilitated the dispute resolution process, with the local Conflict Resolution Group Foundation as mediators. 'Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes' involves a copper mine and indigenous communities in the Peruvian Andes, with the early involvement of the Oxfam Mining Ombudsman as a catalyst of the dialogue process and Futuro Sostenible as mediators.

'The Only Government We See' involves an oil and gas company and local communities in the Niger Delta, with mediation by the New Nigeria Foundation.

The concluding film weaves together the three case stories, to highlight a range of common themes that may offer new insights to others who find themselves looking for a way out of company-community conflict.

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