Examining Justice and Conflict between Mining Companies and Indigenous Peoples: Cerro Colorado and the Ngabe-Bugle in Panama

Article excerpt

Mining in indigenous peoples' territories often results in explosive conflict. Yet the management literature has rarely focused on this topic. Our paper explores this gap by examining justice and conflict surrounding decision-making at Tiomin Resources Inc. ' Cerro Colorado copper mine on Ngabe-Bugle land in western Panama. We introduce an indigenous cultural framework for justice, which builds upon conventional dimensions of distributive, procedural and interactional justice. Our case study of the Ngabe-Bugle highlights the complexity of the roots of conflict between indigenous peoples and mining companies and their linkages to community perceptions of injustice. We conclude that indigenous cultural (including spiritual, environmental, social and economic) dimensions of justice must be addressed in order to reduce the potential for conflict.

INTRODUCTION

"The people have been trying for twenty years, through various...means, seeking justice.

We are tired, we wish to rest.

We want peace; as everywhere else in Latin America, we are looking for peace. "

Marcelino Montezuma, President of the Ngabe-Bugle General Congress (quoted in Andrews, 1996)

Conflict between indigenous peoples and the international mining industry is widespread, and hostilities can be deeply entrenched and explosive. Community blockades, lawsuits, adversarial negotiations, public protests and non-governmental campaigns are common examples of the conflictual relations that exist between many indigenous groups and mining companies around the world. At the extreme end, such conflict has also resulted in violence, civil war, death, human rights abuses, and sexual assault on indigenous women and girls. While each situation is unique, conflict over minerals can have significant costs to both companies and local indigenous communities. Furthermore, despite their frequency and potential severity, this form of conflict remains largely unstudied by business management scholars (for exceptions see Banerjee, 2000; Bedford & Warhurst, 1999; Moore, 1998). To date, we have little formal understanding of the roots of such conflict.

Our paper attempts to explore this gap by examining the conflict surrounding decisionmaking at Tiomin Resources Inc.'s Cerro Colorado copper mine on Ngabe-Bug16 land in western Panama, including an examination of cornmunity-company interactions over a company-financed social program. We begin with an overview of the conflict problem and a review of relevant theory. We then develop an analytical framework to examine justice issues from an indigenous cultural perspective, building upon the conventional dimensions of distributive, procedural and interactional justice. Our case study analysis on the Ngabe-- Bugle uses this justice framework to assist in highlighting the complexity of the roots of conflict between indigenous peoples and mining companies, and their linkages to community perceptions of injustice. We then discuss our results and identify key implications and areas for future research.

CONFLICT AT MINING PROJECTS ON INDIGENOUS LANDS

Globally, there has been a continued expansion of minerals exploration and production into areas traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples in both developed and developing countries. The strong international trends towards increased liberalization of markets and the privatization of resource development have encouraged mining investment in less economically developed regions. Technological developments have also meant that companies can now operate economically in more remote areas as well as with lower grade ore. Since the end of the 1980s, international mining companies have focused on three main areas for expansion: Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Africa. These regions have experienced a surge of foreign direct investment in the minerals and metals sector in recent years (Rosenfeld, Sweeting, & Clark, 2000). Latin America is the largest area for new investment and growth (Rosenfeld Sweeting & Clark, 2000). …