Falconbridge forges a fine partnership

Falconbridge 2

At the northernmost tip of Quebec, where it’s so cold the ground is frozen to a depth of more than 400 metres, Falconbridge Ltd. has opened a new mine that is so successful in relations with the Inuit that a native group in the South Seas has come knocking on Falconbridge’s door.

The reasons for the success are deceptively simple: respect and trust. « We learned a lot of lessons,’’ says Falconbridge president and CEO Øyvind Hushovd, referring to the Falconbridge mining complex in the Dominican Republic. « And the beneficiary of (our experience) in the Dominican Republic has been (our) Raglan mine (in Quebec).’’

Raglan is located at Katinniq, about 90 kilometres southeast of Deception Bay where there is a harbour out of which nickle-copper concentrate is shipped to Quebec City, and then transferred to rail cars for shipment to Falconbridge’s smelter in Sudbury.

The main lesson learned in the Dominican Republic was to get rid of paternalistic attitudes and to train local people to take over the running of mining operations. Falconbridge’s vice-president for environment, Dr. Albert Cecutti, calls it moving from a colonizing type of approach to a partnership.

As a result, the  president and CEO of the Dominican operations is a Dominican, as are all but one of the upper management team.

At Raglan, 20 per cent of the 500 employees are Inuit, mainly from the two local communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq. None are in senior management positions. They are heavy equipment operators, mechanics, kitchen staff, secretaries, two are human resource officers, and one already is a trainer.

They may not run things now, but they will, according to both Hushovd and officials of the Makivik Corporation, the development arm of the northern Quebec Inuit.

« That’s our goal,’’ says Robert Lanari, Makivik’s representative on the Raglan Committee, which he calls the clearing house for problems. The committee has six members: Lanari, an Inuit from each of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq, and three senior members of the mine management team, one of whom is the director of the mine.

In the agreement between Falconbridge and the Inuit, « On purpose we didn’t put in numbers (of Inuit) who would run things,’’ says Lanari. « We just said `as many as possible. In general, the agreement is based on good faith.’’’ After a pause, and I could imagine him grinning at the other end of the telephone line, « We’re hoping for 99 per cent.’’

There are only about 8,000 Inuit in the area, « So there’s a small pool to choose from,’’ he says. But, with the mine open only a year, already Inuit are pushing to get upgraded. And « There are all sorts of educational programs in place so students can get to CEJEPs (Quebec high schools) and then to university….

« Everything’s not perfect. Every day we have problems, and we do have disagreements. But the company is ready to discuss and find solutions. Up to now, we have a very positive opinion of Falconbridge. They’re putting a lot of good work into the committee.’’

So much so, it seems, that the Kanaks of New Caledonia have come calling. New Caledonia, mid way between Australia and Fiji, is rich in nickel deposits. The Kanaks want to develop some of those deposits, and they asked for help from Falconbridge. They liked what they saw at Raglan and in the Dominican Republic.

Falconbridge agreed, and is now exploring and doing pre-feasibility studies in New Caledonia. « It’s a major challenge from a social point of view,’’ says Hushovd.

He believes strongly in partnerships with local communities. « But it takes time. The Raglan agreement took four years. Communities are not always well organized.’’

Partnership, of course, is another word for participation, a major component of sustainability since it adds so powerfully to the self-reliance and strength of communities.

« We want to be proud of what we’re doing,’’ says Hushovd. « In the end, sustainability is a moral responsibility.’’

It can also be unexpectedly profitable, as New Caledonia is proving.

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