Power Dynamics in the Extractives Sector

by Alicia Aleman Arrastio and Ferdinand Muhigirwa SJ

In the extractive sector, there is always a power dynamics between the following different stakeholders: multinational companies, businesses and investors, local authorities, workers and their representatives, international supply chains with their various intermediaries, and consumers of goods. Furthermore, these powers need to be considered in the context of the dramatic consequences of environmental degradation (Laudato Si, n. 51) in the life of the poorest and the excluded. This calls for “a radical paradigm shift to improve the situation in many countries” (Message of the Pope Francis, July 15, 2015).

In the extractives sector, there is greater heterogeneity among stakeholders than what is usually admitted both in the world of activism and the academia. Communities are not homogeneous and there are usually controversial conflicts of interests and visions of the future within those communities. Those conflicts of interests and visions can be explicit or implicit, and should be studied with extreme care and analytical rigor. According to our experience, in many instances, the leaders “representing” the communities in an extractive project do not have a clear, common and shared vision of what they want from the project. This is also a known issue with indigenous peoples/communities dealing with extractive industries and development projects in certain places of Latin America. Authors such as Victor Bretón Solo de Zaldivar have written extensively about this gap between the “grassroots” and the “leaders” in terms of visions of the future, interests and discourses. A related factor is “cooptation of the leaders” and internal fractures within the communities, such as those between the young and the elderly, women and men, the more educated and the less educated and the more mobile and the less mobile. Romantic and homogeneous views of the communities do not help in the search of sound explanations of what happens in reality, which is much more complex and messy than some of the narratives used to blame and condemn.

Second, we believe there is a confusing use of the term “State” when dealing with big mining projects. When academia and activists refer to the State, it is usual that they are referring to the “national government or central government”, and a very specific set of elected politicians and appointed officers who may have or may not have a similar vision regarding the project. Also, there is the legislative and judiciary branches of the State and the subnational and local level, which may also be involved in extractive projects. Peru and the specific case of Cajamarca (and more particularly the very well known Conga project) is a scenario where the national, the subnational and the local present conflicting views and interests. According to our experience, we believe the parliament and the judiciary is normally less involved in those power dynamics when dealing with extractives, but this should be studied very carefully. For example, the case of El Salvador and the banning of metallic mining is a specific case of how the legislative and judiciary powers can be involved in mining projects.

Third, when dealing with investors and companies we also consider that there is a tendency to homogenize a reality that is much more complex. The mining sector is full of internal complexities and contradictions. As we have come to know, in the specific case of conflict minerals there have been companies which have been much more favorable to a binding legislation than others, which may not have the size, the vision or simply the interest or knowledge or technology to conduct due diligence. We believe these differences should also be studied to the light of the internal logics and ways of operating of companies according to their origin (geographic, sectorial), trajectory and values.


Justice in Mining is an international advocacy network composed of several intermediary organizations. Thus, we work in different contexts of extraction where our partner organizations (usually, also an intermediary organization such a social centre) may have different degrees of exposure and knowledge of the realities on the ground. Besides that, there is great diversity from social center to social center; some may be supportive or tolerant of the extractives, others may be fiercely opposing or silent. There is not a single response to the different situations. Our key word is always accompaniment to our partner organizations to deal with the situation through peaceful and democratic dialogue. This means participation in discussions about legislation, dialogue with companies and the complete set of stakeholders that are present on the ground and the government. Many Justice in Mining partners have been active in creating or enabling spaces for the participation of the grassroots and the weaker stakeholders (through training and leadership programs). As with the State, the Church is also internally too complex in order to generalize. There are contexts where the Church or members of the Catholic church have been very active in protecting activists, demanding rights, negotiating, etc, and contexts where the Church (or some of its members) have remain silent or have negotiated with the companies. Javier Arellano has written some articles about this. In Justice in Mining, we are struggling to deal with this diversity, and have arrived to a common ground: the respect of human rights and the promotion of dialogue with the most ample and democratic participation possible. In Justice in Mining, we are trying to promote justice in mining, genuine dialogue, solidarity, paying special attention to the voices that are often excluded,convinced “that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others” (Laudato Si, n. 70).



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