Creating the conditions for real participation, constructive dialogue, accountability and problem-solving in situations of low trust and high power asymmetries in environments with weak regulatory frameworks is a recurrent challenge in community-company relationships. This asymmetry is particularly detrimental to communities in natural resources projects with high social and environmental impacts. Communities have an interest and a right to engage in decision-making processes that affect their lives. It is thus important that they have the skills and can access the expertise and the resources to negotiate with companies and governments on a more equal footing.
In 2016, the PeaceNexus Foundation launched the “multi-stakeholder fund”. Mostly funded by companies, this mechanism aims to provide funding that can support communities to become better equipped to negotiate with companies. Any initiative funded directly by a company would see its neutrality questioned, regardless of the company’s intentions. Indeed, any mediator, expert or impact assessment funded by a company would inevitably be perceived as carrying the company’s own interests. However, there is also evidence that local communities and NGOs would accept company financial support if channeled through a transparent mechanism where they are involved in its establishment and its operation from the start. This is, in essence, what the multi-stakeholder fund concept of PeaceNexus tries to achieve.
A pilot phase is currently in elaboration in Morocco. Since 2015, PeaceNexus has facilitated a discussion to bring together a number of national stakeholders (three large natural resources companies, the Moroccan employers’ national association, the National Council for Human Rights and a national network of NGOs). The goal is to establish a national initiative to support the provision of independent mediation services and awareness raising activities to promote dialogue between businesses from the extractive industry and communities. So far, there is an initial agreement on contributions, on the governance structure and on next steps to establish this “national program of mediation” which will be supported by a multi-stakeholder fund and respond to requests from Moroccan actors.