Dawid Danilo Bartelt, book author and Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Mexico, addresses the constraints of businesses and the potential of civil society in mitigating conflicts in Latin America caused by extractivist activities.
"Experience shows that there is hardly any progress unless civil society is strengthened. Companies are trapped in structural conflict that is easy to understand; their goal is to increase their shareholder value. That which interferes with this goal is not desired. However, the public discourse has evolved and there is a lot of pressure since civil society in Latin America is well organised. There is conflict happening on a national level, but also on a Latin American level. This means that the opposition has grown stronger and is better organised.
The transnational companies that are involved have revenues that are comparable to the GDP of small countries like Bolivia. On the other side of the table, we have small organisations that try to put forward their interests under very unfavourable political as well as legal conditions. There is no equality. The fact that there is a power imbalance is often hidden behind terms such as dialogue or partnership.
It is therefore my conclusion that in every situation in which companies enjoy voluntariness, there is a systematic limitation for the success of such multi-stakeholder dialogues. I find them important, but one has to be aware of the limitations.
My approach to manage the exploitation of resources in a way to reduce the number of conflicts (full avoidance is impossible) consists of first, strengthening the civil society, second, strengthening the civil society and third, strengthening the civil society. Then I have the basis for further political initiatives such as multi-stakeholder dialogues. We need a change in perspective in this regard. The failed assumption that there is a balance of power is not helpful in my opinion because it does not address the fundamental causes of the problem and does nothing to stop (and instead fuels) the reoccurrence of severe human rights violations and conflicts."