Capacity building session for community leaders on the environmental and social obligations of semi-mechanised mining companies in the East Region
In Cameroon, semi-mechanised mining in the East Region is causing severe environmental impacts: soil, air and water pollution, soil erosion, forest destruction... As for social impacts, the industry is responsible for the expropriation and grabbing of agricultural land and water resources, as well as poor working and living conditions for communities, child labour, and even the loss of lives due to the failure to rehabilitate sites after exploitation.
Yet mining investors in Cameroon are subject to environmental and social obligations that ensure that their activities do not harm the environment or communities. Rather, the latter should benefit socially. However, the contents of the various texts related to these obligations are not always understood by the communities.
In light of this situation, the Network for the Fight against Hunger in Cameroon (RELUFA) organised a workshop on 27 May 2022 at the Maison de la Femme in Batouri, as part of the LandCam project and with co-funding from the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP). The general objective of this workshop was to introduce community leaders to companies' environmental and social obligations in the semi-mechanised mining sector, and to provide them with the tools to monitor them. In the long run, the knowledge and monitoring of these obligations by the communities neighbouring the mining sites of the Kadey Department should contribute to the improvement of their living conditions.
The Batouri workshop was attended by 26 participants, including 5 women, with representatives from the regional council of the East Region, the Batouri town hall, local organisations, and local community leaders such as traditional and religious authorities.
Different items were on the agenda of the workshop:
- An interactive approach to the presentations and the sharing of experiences between all those present at the workshop;
- Learning about environmental and social obligations and the tools and techniques for monitoring these obligations on the ground;
- Sharing materials, including presentations and legal texts that frame mining activity in Cameroon;
- Identifying opportunities for support from RELUFA to help communities defend their rights in the context of mining in their respective locations.
The first module dealt with the environmental obligations of semi-mechanised mining companies in Cameroon. Specifically, these include the obligation to carry out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), complete with an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) as an annex, as well as the obligation to implement measures to mitigate social and environmental impacts as set out in the ESMP and the obligation to rehabilitate sites when the activity ends.
The second module focused on the social obligations of semi-mechanised mining companies. These include the obligation to recruit and train a local workforce, the obligation to ensure favourable working conditions for workers, the obligation to source locally, and the obligation to contribute to local development.
Closing the presentations was the third module, which dealt with the monitoring of these environmental and social obligations. Monitoring is the systematic collection and analysis of information to track progress against existing plans and check compliance with established standards. In other words, it is about carrying out a civic watch to ensure that rights have been taken into account and respected, and to participate in the monitoring of the project, particularly its impacts and the implementation of measures to mitigate its negative impacts.
After these presentations, the participants had the opportunity to react, share their experiences and make suggestions. The reluctance of mining companies to recruit local workers was noted. One participant denounced the dishonesty of nationals who, when they obtain an exploitation permit, sell it to foreigners, especially Chinese companies, thus creating opacity about the real owners. Others also spoke of their ignorance of the laws and decrees governing the mining sector, and suggested that the Mining Code, or a simplified document, be made available to traditional leaders and communities.
With regard to monitoring, almost all participants shared the steps they have been taking to report the disturbances and abuses they have suffered as a result of mining. This includes, for example, lobbying local representatives and parliamentarians, and making complaints to the operating companies. They pointed out that their efforts are sometimes undermined by the military, who also guard the mining sites, and by Cameroonian interpreters who engage in influence peddling or corruption.
Another fact that participants complained about was the lack of, or difficult access to, the terms and conditions of foreign mining operators who do not respect their obligations, for example towards their employees (lack of work contracts, low wages, unfair dismissals, etc.). To be more effective, the participants suggested that monitoring actions, hitherto undertaken by community leaders, should no longer be carried out in a dispersed and isolated way, but that all stakeholders in the defence of community interests (community leaders, traditional chiefs, CSOs, local and national representatives...) should work in a concerted and collegial manner.