Skip to main content

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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LandGrab (Processes of indigenous community resistance to large extractive projects and their struggles for autonomy in Chile and Peru)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2018-10-31

This project is situated with a context of socio-environmental conflicts and struggles around extractives projects. This phenomenon fits within global concerns on climate change justice, human rights and the protection of nature. In short, the research context forms part of an age-old developmental conundrum pitting economic development against environmental protection. Geographically the project is located in Chile Peru and Brazil all highly dependent on natural resource extraction for their (economic) development. LandGrab focuses on communities where nature is valued and defended by many, resulting in conflict, struggles and resistance to attempts to extract nature. Concretely this means examining cases from mining, hydropower and forestry projects.

LandGrab interrogates is that of community-led alternative proposals for development that can unleash some local autonomy away from the dependence on the extractives projects. Finally, the project also focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) related strategies by large firms aimed at resolving conflicts and obtaining local support for the project. Given the different actors (community, NGO, government and business) with differing, often competing agendas that unfold within this context it helps us to appreciate the complexity and multitude of interactional power dynamics at play within the contexts that LandGrab grapples. The central objective of this fellowship is, through ethnographic fieldwork to address the subject of development alternatives and socio-environmental conflicts where CSR strategies are executed by companies.
Alto Bío Bío, southern Chile - emblematic hydroelectric dam conflict during 1990s in Chile. Conducted interviews with activists in Santiago in late Nov 2016 and then 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 late Dec 2016 for five days and again Sep 2017.

Southern Chile – the Enel hydropower project in Neltume where part of the Mapuche community who considers water sacred has its own vision for a self-determined development based on its cosmology. The community is also 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. Urban community in favour of mine. Interviews - community from both sides, fishermen, government officials and the company.

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.

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.

Academy of Management, Boston, USA. Aug 2019.


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.
I expect my research to advance knowledge around comprehending socio-environmental conflicts between communities and business, and especially the role played by CSR in attempting to resolve these controversies. Moreover, I hope my findings will show how CSR related initiatives, aimed at resolving conflicts and improving community relations result in achieving the contrary, i.e. exacerbating conflict and deepening community fissures and coherence.

I also hope the research shows how communities, that are organized with their own visions of organically driven development, anchored in their own cultural values can successfully resist and oppose megaprojects being sited in their territory.

Socially speaking the project will show how communities can strengthen their collective rights, identity and livelihoods, as well as showing how the contrary when an extractives project imposes itself into the community, albeit temporarily improving economic conditions. LandGrab should also demonstrate how indigenous communities, in areas of limited statehood can organize and strive for a development on their own terms, albeit with challenges and still thrive, in line with their own ancestral values and cosmology that does not prioritize economic growth but instead places co-existing in harmony with nature as their underlying philosophy for life.