By SPPA Alumna Sasha Hanson Pastran with input from Alexandra Mallett, Italo Alves and Erica Franca

Pedro Bigolin Neto, Sasha Hanson Pastran, Lisa Mills, Erica França, Ítalo Alves

Pedro Bigolin Neto, Sasha Hanson Pastran, Lisa Mills, Erica França, Ítalo Alves

After years of research, writing, and coordination, the Brazil case study group of the global Governance of Natural Resources (GNR) project came together to present their work at the Latin American Studies Association conference (LASA) in Boston Massachusetts, May 24-27, 2019.

The theme of this year’s LASA conference was “Nuestra América: Justícia y Inclusión” and the goal was “to promote a hemispheric vision of justice and inclusion in an era when global politics is too often built around walls and securing borders and not on fostering social justice and democracy.”

This international research collaboration was about just that. Scholars came together from four different universities in Brazil, Canada and Germany, to study how Brazil’s mining sector functions, from law to practice, from a macro level view to micro-level case-studies. They asked who the players are, what the issues are, and how change happens, from both state, business and civil society perspectives. The outcomes were three research papers with many interlocking themes and a story worth telling: 

1- Navigating Mining Governance Changes in Brazil: Feeling the pressure from below?
By Alexandra Mallett, Erica França, and Ítalo Alves

2- Does Participation Matter? Challenges and Perspectives from the Environmental Licensing Process of the Retiro Project (São José do Norte / Brazil)
By Pedro Bigolin Neto

3- Unearthing Power: A decolonial analysis of the Samarco mine disaster and the Brazilian mining industry
By Sasha Hanson Pastran and Alexandra Mallett

It was striking how similar many of the conclusions were, coming from three distinct research projects with different data and timelines. The gap between law and practice was one major theme, connected to the theme of rampant corruption in the sector. Brazil has a word for this — “jeitinho” — to refer to a way of doing things that isn’t the formal way, but the accepted way, to get around bureaucratic or political barriers to get what you want. State-corporate collusion was also an aspect of this theme of corruption that served to weaken trust in the legal and regulatory system to serve citizens and solve mining disasters and conflicts, such as that which transpired after Samarco’s mine dam break of 2015. Low public resources to effectively monitor and apply regulations was also an issue that came up time and again. And in the two case studies, the authors found community organization and advocacy key to having more participatory and inclusive decision-making around the outcomes and impacts of mining projects.

The presentation was well received, with other scholars from around the world engaged and interested in the outcomes of the research and  possibilities for future collaboration, like publications. One of the authors will be returning to work with the victims of the Samarco mine disaster for greater compensation and justice. It is the hope that engaged scholarship like this will continue to spark human to human links that are so vital to understanding and changing a global industry like mining. That is the vision of the GNR project, with an even larger scope than Brazil.

The overall GNR project is being led by Carleton University, by professors Graeme Auld (Principal Investigator), Alexandra Mallett, and Lisa Mills, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Mitacs. Its objective is to explore the processes and mechanisms of change in governance and outcomes in the forestry and mining sectors in Canada, the United States, Australia and Brazil. Researchers have spent years digging up data, meeting key informants, and recounting important stories from the field. The project will run until 2020, contributing to a greater understanding of natural resource industries worldwide.

It has been an honour and privilege to work on this project. We thank the funders, the research participants, the collaborators and the support from Carleton University to embark on this research. It has been very rewarding and we are all extremely grateful.