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Processes of indigenous community resistance to large extractive projects and their struggles for autonomy in Chile and Peru

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LandGrab (Processes of indigenous community resistance to large extractive projects and their struggles for autonomy in Chile and Peru)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2019-10-31

The project found that where indigenous communities are well organized and mobilized they are able to stifle megaprojects through framing around decolonial autonomy and through the skillful use of (inter)national human rights laws. However, companies were also able to instrumentalize CSR and related dialogic initiatives to counter-mobilize and divide community resistance. Ultimately, the level of community cohesion and ability to engage in skillful 'lawfare' were key factors in these conflicts.
I spent 17 weeks across 11 communities conducting (in)formal interviews and (participant) observation with community, NGO, corporate, government actors discussing the antecedents and dynamics of the respective socio-environmental conflicts. I was often invited by community leaders/groups and companies to spend time with them to discuss dilemmas and strategies. Additionally I participated in multiple conferences/seminars as well as published articles based on this fieldwork.

Alto Bío Bío, southern Chile - hydroelectric dam conflict during 1990s in Chile. Interviews with activists in Santiago in late Nov 2016; visited community in early Dec 2016 for a week staying with the son of a well-known indigenous woman activist.

Caimanes, northern Chile. Revisited the village affected by South America’s largest tailings dam to conduct interviews with community and company in Dec 2016 for five days and Sep 2017.

Southern Chile – the Enel hydropower project in Neltume where part of the Mapuche community who considers water sacred. The community is divided with others who wished to collaborate on CSR with the company and accept the dam project.

5 days in Tirúa, Chile surrounded by corporate forestry plantations, scene of conflict and violence. Interviewed community, mayor, activists and company officials.

Higuera, Chile -5 days Feb 2017. Mining dispute between a major copper mine project and ecologists and fishermen defending a biodoversity hotspot and ecotourism.

Cajamarca, Peru – 2 weeks in Apr 2017 where a mega gold mining project “Conga”, by US Newmont Gold saw four deaths of protesters in 2011. A year later project was suspended yet continues with its CSR. Conducted interviews with the community, local, regional government, activists and corporate officials.

Lima, Peru – Interviews with Wampis Amazonian indigenous community leaders who are based at an NGO in Lima, Apr 2017. The community has declared autonomy from Peru in order to live in accordance with its cosmovision. Visited community in Amazon in Nov 2018.

Valle del Huasco, Northern Chile – Chile’s largest goldmine project by Canadian Barrick Gold has caused conflict and implemented extensive amounts of CSR. I conducted interviews with the community and local government over one week in Sep 2017 and Feb 2019.

Paracatu, Brazil – Brazil’s largest gold mine situated next to historic city. Interviews during Oct 2018 for a week with community, activists, journalists and local government actors.

Mariana, Brazil – City affected by dam burst in late 2015. Interviews victims, activists, NGO, church leaders, local government and corporate foundation executives about resistance and remediation efforts for a week in Jan and Aug 2019.

Collipulli/Ercilla/Tirúa - Southern Chilean villages/towns where there is resistance and conflict towards forestry multinationals certified by FSC - Feb-March 2020.

Conferences/Seminars and Workshop Presentations

Political Ecology, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Nov 2016.

2nd Business and Human Rights Young Researchers, St. Gallen, Switzerland Apr, 2017.

Latin American Studies Association, Lima, Peru. May 2017

Nordic Latin American Studies, Gothenburg, Sweden June 2017.

Critical Management Studies, Liverpool, UK June 2017.

European Group Organization Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark. July 2017.

Natural resources and human rights: impacts, conflicts, benefits, stakeholders and governance seminar, Copenhagen. Dec, 2018.

Business and Society journal paper-development workshop, Barcelona. June, 2019.

Critical Management Studies, Open University, UK June, 2019.

European Group Organization Studies, Edinburgh. July, 2019 and 2020.

Academy of Management, Boston, USA. Aug 2019 and 2020.


Maher, R; Monnarciadini, D; Bohm, S (2020) Torn between Legal Claiming and Privatized Remedy: Rights Mobilization against Gold Mining in Chile. Business Ethics Quarterly
Maher, R (2019). Corporate human rights benchmarks: Who’s perspective counts? See disclaimer. Business and Human Rights Journal
Maher, R; Buhmann, K (2019). Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement: Bottom-up initiatives within global governance frameworks. Geoforum
Maher, R., Valenzuela, F., & Böhm, S. (2019). The Enduring State: An analysis of governance-making in three mining conflicts. Organization Studies, 0170840619847724.
Maher, R. (2019). Pragmatic community resistance within new indigenous ruralities: Lessons from a failed hydropower dam in Chile. Journal of Rural Studies, 68, 63-74.
Maher, R. (2019). Squeezing Psychological Freedom in Corporate–Community Engagement. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-20.

Maher, R (2019) Managerialism in Business and Rights: Lessons on the social impacts of a collaborative Human Rights Impact Assessment of a contested mine in Chile in Navigating a
New Era of Business and Human Rights, Edited by Matthew Mullen.
The project uncovered the complexities of CSR and its related dialogic initiatives with communities in contexts of conflicts in the extractives sector. A key finding was how CSR together with NGO and government partners manufactures community consent, thus exacerbating community divisions and internal conflicts. Examples of communities that successfully managed to resist and thwart megaprojects always had the presence of legally astute activists on their side who were able to conduct 'lawfare' together with traditional forms of mobilization and direct action. Ultimately it was rights mobilization that exhausted the companies together with constant mobilization campaigns that left companies resigned to leaving the indigenous territories. However, one case study from Caimanes showed how companies can counter-mobilize against court decisions for the closure of extractive projects. In this case the mining company was able to hold its own community dialogues, referendums with promises of lump sums of cash together with an NGO. Upon reaching a majority of local support it presented this as evidence to courts to revert their decision.
Fundação Renova's model of dam collapse
Fundação Renova's cultural museum
Indigenous community sign
Resettled house from Ralco Dam, Chile
Lake Neltume
Wampis autonomous government meeting (including author)
Main square in Cajamarca with anti-mining slogan on mountain
Ralco Dam in Alto Bio Bio, Chile
Mapuche cultural centre for selling food and drink produce
Church in Alto del Carmen with resistance to mining artwork