Cumulative effects assessment (CEA) remains an Achilles heel in the licensing of mining projects on indigenous lands. This is true around the world, but especially in the European North. Yet rather than legislating to protect indigenous rights and address CEA failures, governments tend to rely on companies to mitigate cumulative impacts through corporate social responsibility.

A mine in northern Sweden. Photo: Matti Berg.

This paper considers whether these voluntary actions actually improve companies’ CEA performance and so provide grounds for indigenous communities and decision-makers to trust the industry more.

It presents findings from a systematic review of corporate impact assessments for 56 mining concession permit applications on Sami lands in Sweden. It shows how companies that adopt additional voluntary measures provide somewhat richer assessments. Overall, however, the performance remains poor even for the  supposed frontrunners, with persistent lack of clarity on assessment methods and limited analysis of consequences, social and cultural impacts, and interactions with other (past, present or future) projects.

The authors conclude that progress in voluntary actions in regard to assessing cumulative impacts has only led to cosmetic improvements in CEA performance. They call for governments to take a stronger regulatory role and argue for recognition that indigenous communities have the right to lead or co-manage impact assessments on their own lands.