Promoting better policy and citizen agency in the mining sector

The mining sector is booming in many countries across the global South. Governments, communities and civil society organisations are mobilising to reshape the landscape of mineral extraction in diverse ways. IIED’s legal tools team is promoting citizen agency in the mining sector through policy analysis, action research and socio-legal empowerment work.

August 2020 - March 2025
Eric Bisil

Senior researcher (law economies and justice), Natural Resources research group

Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
Two men on the side of a mountain; one bends over to pick up two sacks, the other carries them on his shoulders

Artisanal miners working in the Lualaba province, Democratic Republic of Congo (Credit: Afrewatch, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Despite decades of research and action to ‘reverse the resource curse (PDF)’, whether there has been progress is a moot point.  

Mineral extraction is largely failing to contribute to inclusive and equitable outcomes – especially in the dozens of resource-dependent countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. And mining’s ‘discontents’ – unequal distribution of benefits, dispossession of natural resources, breaches of human rights – still stand in the way of the wellbeing of many communities. 

The gains in awareness and transparency in the sector, including new widely adopted global norms, have yet to lead to concrete improvements in the lives of many communities impacted by mineral extraction or generate greater accountability for the citizens that ‘own’ and must benefit from natural resource endowments. 

With growing pressure on resources and increased scrutiny of business as usual, people are mobilising for serious change in the mining sector.

What is IIED doing? 

Supporting civil society organisations to improve mining sector governance 

Civil society organisations (CSOs) play a critical role in channelling the concerns and supporting the agency of communities affected by mineral extraction to actively shape policies governing the mining sector. The legal tools team is involved in a variety of activities to assist CSOs:  

Conducting policy research and reporting 

We produce policy analysis on critical and overlooked themes relevant to the mining sector:  

  • We partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to produce a briefing note (PDF) on how best practice guidelines to protect community land rights are relevant to small- and large-scale mining.
  • We developed a multimedia project to explore the complexities of investment disputes around large-scale mining in Colombia, addressing issues such as artisanal mining, protected areas, environmental protection, human rights and investor-state dispute settlement. 
  • We are carrying out policy analysis on extractives in Mali, in collaboration with universities, civil society organisations and governments under our ‘ALIGN: Advancing Land-based Investment Governance’ project.

Designing research tools 

In partnership with the Sustainable Development Strategies Group (SDSG) and the Columbia Centre for Sustainable Investment (CCSI), we launched the Community Development in Mining Collection – a catalogue of community development requirements in the mining sector in over 50 countries.  

This new research tool aims to increase public access to laws and agreements related to community development obligations in the mining sector. We aim to catalyse greater transparency, public discourse and evidence-based policy advice on design and implementation of new laws.

Additional resources

Blog: Mineral exploration goes unchecked as demand escalates, by Abbi Buxton (February 2022)

People and nature first: safeguards needed in mining exploration, Abbi Buxton (2022), IIED Briefing

Reversing the resource curse through legislative community development, Brendan Schwartz, Kristi Disney Bruckner, Ahamadou Maiga (2021), Publish What You Pay | en français

Briefing note: Tenure rights in large-scale and artisanal mining: Implication of the Tenure Guidelines, Abbi Buxton, Brendan Schwartz, Lorenzo Cotula (2021), FAO

Project: Mapping community development requirements in the mining sector (2021), interactive catalogue

Blog: Unpacking regulatory chill: the case of mining in the Santurbán páramo in Colombia, by Anna Sands (December 2020)

Blog: Foreign investment, knowledge and international arbitration: inside a research trip, by Nicolás Perrone (June 2020)

Blog: Mining reforms have left Colombia’s artisanal miners behind, by Jimena Sierra, Brendan Schwartz (April 2020)

Long read: Investment disputes from below: whose rights matter? Mining, environment and livelihoods in Colombia, Lorenzo Cotula (2020)

Foreign investment, law and sustainable development: a handbook on agriculture and extractive industries, Lorenzo Cotula (2016), Pocketbook

Bringing community perspectives to investor-state arbitration: the Pac Rim case, Thierry Berger, Saúl Baños, Lorenzo Cotula (2015), Research report | en español

Reconfiguring investment contracts to promote sustainable development, Lorenzo Cotula, Kyla Tienhaara (2013), Book chapter